Book Review : Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple

Aug 2014
I just finished reading Return of a King by William Dalrymple and i thought i should share my impression of the book here. Many people had recommended this book to me but i was dismissive about it as it is authored by a British and i thought it would be purely written from British perspective and purely utilizing British sources like other numerous authors. In a shop of used books, i found a used copy of this book with cheaper price and i decided to give it a try, and bought it. I was expecting a lot of errors that Westerns authors often make about specifics of Afghanistan and its people. To my surprise, its a very carefully written, and well-referenced book. The author is as neutral as any non-Afghan historian could be in writing the history of First Anglo-Afghan War. It is very abundant with references from Afghan sources much to my delight. The Afghan sources (not utilized by English-language books on the same subject before) make it very weighty and balanced research work. Those Afghan works of early 19th century in Farsi language are not published in other languages.. Particularly interesting were quotations from autobiography of Shah Shuja (written in 1836) and its supplement by Muhammad Husain Herati (1861), Naway Ma'arek of Mirza Nathan, Muharaba Kabul wa Kandahar by Munshi Abdul Karim (1851), Akbarnama of Maulana Hamid Kashmiri (1840s) and Jangnama of Ghulam Kohistani (1840s).

Its not collection of information and dry history writing. The author is evidently a good story teller and draws a very lucid picture of the entire episode of Anglo-Afghan war. The writing is very engaging and you do not get bore.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
I haven't read the book, though I have read other books on Afghanistan. Has the country really changed since those times? I very much doubt it. It remains a country in name, but its culture remains tribal. They also have this religion Islam with its roots in Arab tribalism. One reinforces the other, making it a fatal combination. Those Afghans who ended up in the British India when the border (Durant line) was drawn are probably the lucky ones.

The sad thing is no one in the world knows how solve this problem with Afghanistan, not even the Afghans. In the mean time, Pakistan tries it best to make everything worse for Afghanistan.
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Oct 2015
William Dalrymple is a good historian and a good writer as well. I have read two of his books: The Age of Kali and Nine Lives. And several articles - the one on East India Company was also very readable.

He lives in Delhi (India) where he has a farmhouse. You can follow him on Twitter. He often tweets / retweets paintings from the Mughal Era.

His father was in India in 1947 and was invited by Governor General of India (Lord Mountbatten) to Dinner given on the eve of India's independence.
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Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
I got about a hundred pages into it.... and then stopped. IMO, not easy reading, too flowery.