Saturday, May 21, 2011
Introduction to the Great Game
Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game was the door that opened my armchair travels onto the deserts and secret spies of the the shadowy war for empire in Central Asia. Hopkirk introduced most of today's travelers to the region. He brings to life the struggle between Tsarists Russia and Victorian England. Their empires were first 2000 miles apart and ended up with outposts within 20 miles of each other. Little did I know when I picked up his first book in 1995 that I would end up living and working there, in very place that I thought inhospitable and mysterious. I bought his other books wherever I've found them.
1. The Great Game (1990). If you only read one of Hopkirk's books read this one. The scene setter that brings to life the stories of Russian and English spies who risked their lives disguised as holy men or native horse traders mapping secret passes and building alliances with powerful khans. "Borrowed" from wife.
2. Central Asia: A Traveler's Companion, Kathleen Hopkirk (1993). Hopkirk's wife, Kathleen Hopkirk, a Central Asian expert in her own right with over 30 years of observations in the area, wrote what amounts to a thinking persons guide to the region. Scholarly and exciting. Another "borrowed" book from wife.
3. Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire (1994). During WWI, the Germans and Turks created a secret plot to foment a Jihad to dislodge the British from India. The plot quickly got out of control with unintended consequences outside the region. Bought used at State Department books store.
4. Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia (1984). Lenin's Dream was to extend the reach of Bolshevik rule across Asia. Spies and madmen on either side of the shadowy fight. One spy is even hired by the other side to hunt himself down. Bought used at Dog-Eared books, Northport, Michigan.
5. Quest for Kim (1996). Hopkirk uses Kipling's Kim as his guidebook traveling the region looking for the source of its characters. He encounters an old Tibetan Lama, a retired old British Colonel, and Indian soldiers and spies. Bought used somewhere.
Other great works of Hopkirk's still to buy:
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia
Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Race for Lhasa