In a phrase coined by Captain Arthur Connolly of the East India Company before he was beheaded in Bokhara for spying in 1842, a "Great Game" was played between Tsarist Russia and Victorian England for supremacy in Central Asia. At stake was the security of India, key to the wealth of the British Empire. When play began early in the 19th century, the frontiers of the two imperial powers lay two thousand miles apart, across vast deserts and almost impassable mountain ranges; by the end, only 20 miles separated the two rivals.
Peter Hopkirk, a former reporter for The Times of London with wide experience of the region, tells an extraordinary story of ambition, intrigue, and military adventure. His sensational narrative moves at breakneck pace, yet even as he paints his colorful characters--tribal chieftains, generals, spies, Queen Victoria herself--he skillfully provides a clear overview of the geographical and diplomatic framework. The Great Game was Russia's version of America's "Manifest Destiny" to dominate a continent, and Hopkirk is careful to explain Russian viewpoints as fully as those of the British. The story ends with the fall of Tsarist Russia in 1917, but the demise of the Soviet Empire (hastened by a decade of bloody fighting in Afghanistan) gives it new relevance, as world peace and stability are again threatened by tensions in this volatile region of great mineral wealth and strategic significance. --John Stevenson [via]