A well researched work by two journalists, one a Princeton professor; which shows in the way the book is presented: meticulous and with attention to details. So one gets to feel the fight when Cabul fell to the rebels, and fight the feeling of disgust when reading about how London chose to ignore the pleas of the beleagured British troops in favor of placating Russia.
In the Great Game of the 19th century, the two superpowers tried to shore up their strengths in British India and Russian Central Asia in an attempt to keep the gap wider between the two empires. Two schools of thought led the British initiatives: the Forward School, which advocated aggressive campaigns to stymie Russian ambitions, and the Status Quo school which preferred a 'live and let live' approach, safeguarding each borders and not wasting funds on millitary conquests.
Glimpses of heroism were evident throughout: both British and Russian adventurer- types who dared to brave the hostile terrain of Afghanistan and India, either to conduct survey work in inhospitable conditions, or capture remote locations populated by rugged tribes. In Calvagnari, one could emphatise with the goal of glory for King and country when this British envoy in Kabul decided to do a Custer's last stand against hungry and angry mobs. And one would be also puzzled as to what motivated people like Montgomerie who risked life and limbs to chart maps in locations so dangerous as to seem suicidal. But the creativity employed by the early surveyors in Tibet which closed its borders to the world, was eye opening: the pundits engaged by the British would travel incognito as pilgrims, and pace the way using exact strides to measure distances, while chanting coded mantras and moving the rosemary beads which were actually well designed measurement devices for survey work!
Reading this erudite book brings one to remote locations while at the same time educating oneself with morsels of knowledge not otherwise found in ordinary travelogues. An excellent read, and worth every second spent reading it.