The Dark Defile: Britain’s Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan 1838–1842

Diana Preston. Walker, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7982-3
No nation has successfully occupied Afghanistan, known as “the graveyard of empires,” and many have been defeated by the harsh climate and unforgiving terrain as much as by fierce tribal forces. The British were no exception, and Preston, L.A. Times Book Prize winner for Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima recounts in chilling detail the trials and tribulations of the ill-advised British colonial campaign in the early 1840s. After a two-year attempt to take Kabul and install an Afghan figurehead, the British ruled for barely a year, concerning themselves primarily with obtaining foreign delicacies and throwing garden parties while ignoring the growing danger, before they were forced from power and driven to a disastrous retreat. In the end, only one British soldier escaped to safety, and, Preston writes, the governor general of India, Lord Auckland, upon hearing of the army’s annihilation, “could scarcely believe... that an army of well-trained, well-armed British troops could be wiped out by tribesmen with only muskets and spears.” Relying heavily on the personal diaries, correspondence, and official papers of the doomed British force, Preston grippingly illustrates the dangers of committing a nation to foreign conflicts without adequate understanding and foresight. 8 pages of b&w photos; 2 maps. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 02/14/2012
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