(Pre-World War I Materials)

The Great Game

The "Great Game" was played in Central Asia by the British and Russian Empires from the first decade of the 19th century until the Anglo-Russian alliance of 1907. It has echoes that reach into the present.

Beaver, William. Under Every Leaf: How Britain Played the Greater Game from Afghanistan to Africa. London: Biteback Publishing, 2012.

Peake, Studies 57.3 (Sep 2013), and Intelligencer 20.2 (Fall-Winter 2013): "Working with new material found in the British National Archives," the author "provides the first complete account" of the British War Department's Intelligence Department (ID). The ID was created to provide intelligence "in finished form, unprejudiced by military biases."

Dalrymple, William. Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42. New York: Knopf, 2013.

Peake, Studies 57.4 (Dec. 2013), says the author "does a magnificent job of describing the intricacies of 19th century Afghan tribal politics and what would today be called their insurgency approach to warfare. He demonstrates what can happen when these factors are ignored by politicians."

Edwardes, Michael. Playing the Great Game: A Victorian Cold War. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975.

French, Patrick. Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer. London: HarperCollins, 1994. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Surveillant 3.6: "Sir Francis Younghusband, a British army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent, was also a natural strategic intelligence and political-military officer and was a major player in ... the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians."

Hevia, James. The Imperial Security State: British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Peake, Studies 57.3 (Sep 2013), and Intelligencer 20.2 (Fall-Winter 2013), finds that the author focuses on "the origins and evolution of British and Indian Army intelligence organizations in the so-called 'Great Game' era in South Asia. His objective is to convey how both contributed to shaping contemporary Asia and modern intelligence practices.... This book is thoroughly documented and will be of value to military historians, analysts, and contemporary critics alike."

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia. London: John Murray, 1990. [pb] London: Oxford University Press, 1991. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha America, 1992. New York: Kodansha/Globe, 1994. [pb]

Surveillant 3.1 calls the book an "account of the epic struggle" by the agents of Great Britain and Tsarist Russia "in their attempts to conquer, or keep free, vast regions" in Central Asia. Hitchens, WPNWE, 5-11 Oct. 1992, comments that "innumerable pressing matters [today], from the status of Tibet to the continued Russian occupation of some Japanese home islands, date from the opening moves in the Great Game."

For Popplewell, I&NS 6.4, Hopkirk's work as "a masterly epic of action, in which the author uses his formidable powers of description to relate both secret missions and military campaigns." To Poth, IJI&C 7.1, the book is "something of a disappointment in detailing Russo-British intelligence activities on India's northwest frontier." It is "essentially a series of adventure stories"; however, it is "entertaining and informative."

Lebson, WIR 13.2, says that Hopkirk has produced an "easy-to-follow narrative about explorers in this vast, unknown region." He is "very effective at explaining the patterns of behavior of the key players and of the indigenous people." He also "describes the methods used by many of the protagonists in developing military information from their travels."

Hopkirk, Peter. Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet. New York: Kodansha/Globe, 1994. [pb]

Surveillant 3.6: The author "ends this history with the invasion of Tibet in 1950 by the Chinese Communists."

Huttenback, Robert A. "Kashmir and the 'Great Game' in the Pamirs, 1860-1880." In The Man on the Spot: Essays on British Empire History, ed. Roger D. Long, 141-159. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 1995.

Johnson, Robert. Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947. London: Greenhill, 2006. St. Paul, MN: MBI, 2006.

Kelly, I&NS 21.6 (Dec. 2006), notes the author's "impressive research in the pertinent archives." Johnson shows "how British India built up its intelligence network ... beyond the frontiers" with "listening posts." For Peake, Studies 51.2 (2007), the author demonstrates that "by the end of the 19th century, British military intelligence in India had become a professional service that did more than monitor the northern frontier. It also maintained India's domestic security through collaboration with the local Indian police."

Keay, John. The Gilgit Game: The Explorers of the Western Himalayas, 1865-95. North Haven, CT: Archon, 1979. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. [pb]

From publisher: "Keay describes the activities that had such far-reaching repercussions in the region. Through extensive research and his own intimate knowledge of the terrain, Keay sheds new light on the once top secret geographical discoveries made by these men, discoveries they were prevented from publishing during their lifetimes."

Meyer, Karl E., and Shareen Blair Brysac. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1999. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia. London: Little, Brown, 2001.

To Gilmour, NYRB, 24 Jan. 2000, Meyer and Brysac have produced a "well-written and fair-minded book" that leaves readers "with a powerful sense of what it was like to be a participant" in the Great Game. "The sheer sweep of the contest, its imperial style and exhilaration, are admirably conveyed." Goodwin, NYTBR, 9 Jan 2000, calls Tournament of Shadows a "brilliant history" that "is much more than a magisterial work of scholarship: it is an absorbing inquiry into men and motives that is one part le Carre, one part Indiana Jones." The book is "a mine of information" and is "written with elegant assurance."

Mewshaw, Washington Post, 30 Jan. 2000, comments that the authors "do a commendable job of dramatizing incidents and recreating a vivid cast of characters. Moreover, they do this from multiple points of view.... Unfortunately, [they] stray too often from their theme and its setting, as Central Asia seems to drift like one of Tibet's legendary wandering lakes.... Even when Meyer and Brysac stick to the point and to the appropriate area, there are puzzling digressions and narrative choices.... Still, it's churlish to complain since many of the book's greatest pleasures constitute, strictly speaking, incidental information." The authors also "cursorily examine present-day conflicts that replicate and, in some cases, stem from earlier clashes."

For Rosenthal, NYTBR, 15 March 2000, Tournament of Shadows is "an illuminating and engaging history" of the Great Game. The authors draw "upon an immense range of secondary sources as well as original archival research" in presenting the exotic personages who played the game of "empire and adventure."

Rice, Edward. Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the Kama Sutra, and Brought the Arabian Nights to the West. New York: Scribner's, 1990.

Ferris, I&NS 7.4, says that he can recommend this biography "only after much hesitation." The author writes well and has a good grasp of certain aspects of Burton's story, but he "entirely misunderstands his subject's role as an intelligence officer and agent of empire in the 'Great Game.'"

Richelson, Jeffrey T. "The IPCRESS File: The Great Game in Film and Fiction, 1953-2002." International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 16, no. 3 (2003): 462-498.

Share, Michael. "Along the Fringes of 'the Great Game': Imperial Russia and Hong Kong, 1841-1907." Round Table 377 (2004): 725-737.

Stewart, Jules. Spying for the Raj: The Pundits and the Mapping of the Himalaya.  Stroud: Sutton, 2006.

From publisher: In the second half of the nineteenth century, native surveyors, known as pundits, "explored regions to the north of India for the British Raj.... [D]isguised as traders or lamas (holy men)[,]... these servants of the Raj ... managed to map the Himalayas, Tibet and surrounding areas with remarkable precision."

Wade, Stephen. Spies in the Empire: Victorian Military Intelligence. New York: Anthem, 2007.

Peake, Studies 52.3 (Sep. 2008) and Intelligencer 16.2 (Fall 2008), comments that the topics dealt with here are not new "and they have been covered in more detail in other books." Nonetheless, this book "gives, in a single source, a broad overview of how the needed intelligence was acquired, used, and misused.... The book is an interesting summary, but it has few original insights."

Waller, Derek. The Pundits: British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1990.

Ferris, I&NS 7.4, comments that in the last half of the 19th century, the "Pundits" represented "a fully professional and modern intelligence service" that "was used for one task alone, the acquisition of geographical knowledge about areas beyond India's northern frontiers." Political intelligence collection was incidental to this main task, and the information gained was not trusted because it came from "natives." The story of this unit of the Survey of India is "far more a part of the history of geography than of secret intelligence in our sense of the word."

Waller, John H.

1. Beyond the Khyber Pass: The Road to British Disaster in the First Afghan War. New York: Random House, 1990. [pb] Austin, TX: University of Texas, 1992.

Surveillant 1.2 notes that this work deals with the "wars and international intrigues of the nineteenth century in India and Afghanistan." Beyond the Khyber Pass is a "first-rate history by this former OSS/CIA official."

2. "Josiah Harlan: American Freebooter in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 15, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 429-439.

Harlan played on multiple sides in the Great Game from 1823 to 1839.

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