History well told — Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan

William Dalrymple started off as a writer of travel books. He then branched off into Indian history after a trip to India aroused his senses into the rich history of Mughal and British Raj history.

He is arguably the best living English historian on this era. His books are grounded on deep and thorough research of colonial and local records. He writes well.

For his Return of a King he went deep into Afghan records in Urdu and Persian. I don’t think he knows either, but he has good researchers and translators working for him.

The Return of the King is superb history told with gusto. Readers are treated to a tale of intrigue between two Afghans families fighting for the throne with the help of the great Sikh King Ranjit Singh. This tale takes us to page 144 before the book goes on to narrate the ill-fated invasion by the British army. The British managed to install their choice as the king but it was a hollow victory.

The British army was forced to retreat to Jalalabad. Legend had it only one Dr survived the retreat. This is not true. {p 387}.

The Last Mughal was touted by Dalrymple to be the first of his quartet on Mughal history, written backwards. {see p 72 The Sun Herald Dec 3, 2006}. I am not sure whether he has delivered on this quartet.

His latest book to be out soon is a history of how India spread Buddhism to China, Sanskrit and Hinduism to South East Asia and math and numerical system to the West.

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