Return of a King

Synopsis

In the spring of 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed shakos, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the passes and re-established on the throne Shah Shuja ul-Mulk. On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after little more than two years, the Afghans rose in answer to the call for jihad and Afghanistan exploded into rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain’s greatest imperial disaster of the nineteenth century: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world ambushed in the snows of the high passes, and there routed and destroyed by simply-equipped Afghan tribesmen.

This first disastrous entanglement in Afghanistan has important lessons for the present. Using a wide range of new sources from Afghan, Russian, Indian and Pakistani archives, including a series of previously untranslated Afghan epic poems and biographies, Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the First Anglo-Afghan War, and an important parable of colonial ambition and cultural collision for our times.

[Video] William Dalrymple introduces ‘Return of a King - The Battle for Afghanistan’

[Video] William Dalrymple talks with Fiammetta Rocco of the Economist about ‘Return of a King - The Battle for Afghanistan’

Editions

Return of a King Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 4 February 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408818305
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Return of a King Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 30 January 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408831595
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Reviews and Quotes

Alexander McCall Smith, New Statesman Books of the Year
“I have admired William Dalrymple's writing ever since I read his remarkable his remarkable account of the travails of the Christians of the Middle East, From the Holy Mountain. Dalrymple is a writer who can make the most recondite historical issues come alive and with each successive book he becomes a more entertaining and enlightening companion. His latest offering, Return of a King, is a tale of imperial plotting and folly in a region that has suffered from every sort of indignity and tragedy at the hands of local and foreign rulers. It is quite simply brilliant.”
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Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist
“Dalrymple, probably the best known British historian of India, has written eight acclaimed books on a wide variety of subjects, but this is the book he was born to write.”
John Darwin, The New York Times
“Ever since this fiasco, an entire phalanx of writers has denounced the arrogance, folly and incompetence of the British aggressors. The latest and most brilliant in this long line of critics is William Dalrymple and his Return of a King ... Those who have read his White Mughals and The Last Mughal will know what to expect: a readable style, a deep humanity and, above all, an extraordinary skill in evoking the lost worlds of Mughals and Afghans... Return of a King is much the fullest and most powerful description of the West’s first encounter with Afghan society ... Dalrymple is in no doubt about the moral horror of the British invasion. But he is too good a historian to fall back on polemic. The cruelty and treachery with which Afghans treated one another is crisply portrayed ... His pen-portraits are a masterpiece ...”
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David Gilmour, New York Review of Books
“Splendid and absorbing … William Dalrymple tells this tragic story with verve, skill, and—unexpectedly in the circumstances—some humor. Using unknown or underused sources from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, he recounts the tale from both sides, shifting the scenes, using eyewitness accounts, quoting at length heroic epic poems … This fine book."”
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Brian Sewell, Evening Standard Books of the Year
“Wherever this book is read, it will on every page transport the reader to the summer heat and bitter winter snows of Afghanistan, engulfing him in its violence, treachery and cruelty, its poverty and riches, not of today but in the 19th century when the British believed that control of that country would protect their interests in India. At one level it is a compendium of ripping yarns, but at another it is the work of a scrupulous historian telling, as though he were an eyewitness, a tale so pitiless and tragic that it should be read by every politician involved in our policies in Afghanistan now.”
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Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times Books of the Year
“For the Afghans this was their 'Trafalgar, Waterloo and Battle of Britain'. For the British it was a descent into hell with soldiers even reduced to cannabalism in their fevered attempts to stay alive. Dalrymple has produced a gripping new account incorporating little known Afghan souces, as well as lavish descriptive passages and blood curdling set pieces”
Sir Max Hastings, Metro Books of the Year
“This terrific page turner is written with all the elegance and scholarship readers have come to expect from this author. He tells the tale of one of Britain's most disastrous imperial follies with a wealth of Indian and Afghan sources, rather than just relying on the usual Western ones. Only in the conclusion does he draw the powerful parallel with modern times, but most of us are thinking of this from the first page to the last.”
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Patrick Bishop, Standpoint
“The story of the march into Afghanistan in 1839 to oust the supposedly pro-Russian Dost Mohammed Khan and the traumatic exit three years later has been told many times, but never with the verve, wit and dramatic force that Dalrymple brings to bear ... The galloping pace of the narrative will keep you turning the pages eagerly.”
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Justin Marozzi, The Evening Standard
“This is vintage Dalrymple: warp-speed historical narrative, meticulously researched. . . . My only regret reading this wonderful history is that it was not published a decade earlier.”
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Barnaby Rogerson, The Independent
“William Dalrymple is a master storyteller, who breathes such passion, vivacity and animation into the historical characters of the First Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42 that at the end of this 567-page book you feel you have marched, fought, dined and plotted with them all: once I had finished I turned straight back to the beginning. Return of a King is not just an animated and highly literate retelling of a chapter of early 19th-century British military history, but also a determined attempt to reach out and influence the politicians and policy-makers of our modern world. The parallels between the disastrous British occupation of Afghanistan in 1839, and the post 9/11 occupation of Afghanistan by the US and some of its NATO allies, are so insistent that they begin to sound like the chorus of a Greek tragedy... It is his mastery of the intimate details, as well as the landscape and the grand rivalry between empires, Dalrymple wins our trust and keeps our interest. There is no need for Flashman or Kim to flesh things out, for it is all here.”
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Rupert Edis, Sunday Telegraph
“As well as going deep into dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to research his book, Dalrymple has recovered some remarkable new Afghan and Indian sources. We see beyond the stereotypes of treacherous Afghan 'fanatics' to the complex and remarkable individuals some of them were. Like Dalrymple's heartbreaking, extraordinary White Mughals, this book is as taut and richly embroidered as a great novel . . . A masterpiece of nuanced writing and research, and a thrilling account of a watershed Victorian conflict.”
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Anatole Lieven, Financial Times
“Brilliant... The greatest new contribution and the single greatest strength of this book is its employment of Afghan and Indian sources to examine to examine the war from the point of view of the Afghans themselves and the Indian soldiers who made up the majority of the 'British' force. The other thing that has marked out Dalrymple's work is his unflinching look at British Imperial attrocities... Even 170 years later, the events described in Return of a King still have the power to shock- and so they should. It is to be hoped that any future British leader contemplating intervention in Afghanistan , or any other part of the Muslim world, will read Dalrymple's book. For while it is first and foremost a valuable contribution to the history of Afghanistan and the British Raj, it is also intended to draw parallels and convey lessons about the latest western involvement in the region.”
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Piers Brendan, The Literary Review
“Definitive... It is Dalrymple's achievement to elucidate this initial episode of the Great Game through a treasure trove of original sources. Many of them he unearthed abroad, mining archives in Kabul, Lahore and Delhi (even finding first-hand material in Moscow) and somehow coping with the languages involved... Dalrymple employs it discriminatingly, providing a rich new dimension to a familiar story... He writes elegantly, appreciating, like all masters of his craft, that history should aspire to the condition of literature. Long though it is, Return of a King, like a great classical tragedy, grips the reader's attention from start to finish... William Dalrymple's Return of a King is not just a riveting account of one imperial disaster on the roof of the world; it teaches unforgettable lessons about the perils of neocolonial adventures everywhere”
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Diana Athill, The Guardian
“Of the books swooped into being by Dalrymple's scholarship this one is the most magnificent.... The seductive artistry of Dalrymple's narrative gift draws the reader into events that are sometimes almost unbearable, but his account is so perceptive and so warmly humane that one is never tempted to break away... No novelist is better at portraits than Dalrymple. He is also a subtle scene-setter... This book would be compulsive reading even if it were not a uniquely valuable history; which it is, because Dalrymple has uncovered sources never used before. To the rich material in British archives and private collections, and in Russian, Urdu and Persian archives, he has been able to add nine previously untranslated full-length contemporary Afghan accounts of the conflict, including the autobiography of Shah Shuja himself. It is this that gives his book its depth and resonance.”
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James Dellingpole, Mail on Sunday
“Few writers could go wrong with a story populated with so many villains, rogues, poltroons, swashbucklers, spies, assassins and heroes. But none would make a better job than William Dalrymple in his thrilling, magnificently evocative Return of a King.”
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Saul David, The Daily Telegraph
“Dalrymple has written some marvellous books on the British in Asia but this, I think, is his best. Extensively researched (with much new material) and beautifully written, it covers the story from the perspective of both invaders and invaded, and is by far the most comprehensive history of the conflict yet written. It also says important things about war and why it’s waged.”
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Max Hastings, Sunday Times
“Dazzling... Dalrymple is a master storyteller, whose special gift lies in the use of indigenous sources, so often neglected by imperial chroniclers... Almost every page of Dalrymple’s splendid ­narrative echoes with latter-day reverberations.”
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Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, New Statesman
“William Dalrymple is a scholar... [and] his book is a major contribution to the historiography of south-west Asia and the British empire. No Afghan field trip, no excursion along the highways and byways of the archives if Britain, Russia, India and Afghanistan has been too much for Dalrymple. Mixing primary and secondary sources and taking the time to acquaint himself with the terrain on which the tragedy was played out, Dalrymple has resurrected an oft-told tale and brought it convincingly back to life. Return of a King will come to be seen as the definitive account of the first and most disastrous western attempt to invade Afghanistan... Dalrymple's afterword should be put on college syllabuses on both sides of the Atlantic.”
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Jason Burke, The Observer
“[Return of a King] shows all the elements we have come to expect from Dalrymple: the clear, fluid prose, the ability to give complex historical events shape, story and meaning, the use of new local sources to allow the voices of the people to be heard alongside the much-better documented accounts of the invaders, the deep knowledge and affection for the magnificently rich culture of the Mughals and their various copiers and a lack of patience with tiresome orientalist visions of the ‘proud Pashtun’ or ‘noble Afghan.’ This is clear-eyed, non-judgmental, sober history, beautifully told.”
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From the print edition, The Economist
“A masterful history . . . As the latest occupying force in Afghanistan negotiates its exit, this chronicle seems all too relevant now. . . . The signal achievement of this work is that it makes a nearly two-century-old war seem disturbingly fresh.”
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Maggie Fergusson, Intelligent Life
“William Dalrymple is a scholar... [and] his book is a major contribution to the historiography of south-west Asia and the British empire. No Afghan field trip, no excursion along the highways and byways of the archives if Britain, Russia, India and Afghanistan has been too much for Dalrymple. Mixing primary and secondary sources and taking the time to acquaint himself with the terrain on which the tragedy was played out, Dalrymple has resurrected an oft-told tale and brought it convincingly back to life. Return of a King will come to be seen as the definitive account of the first and most disastrous western attempt to invade Afghanistan... Dalrymple's afterword should be put on college syllabuses on both sides of the Atlantic.”
... read full review
Michael Fathers, The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Dalrymple's writing is sly, charming and clever. His histories read like novels. … This latest book delights and shocks as he points a finger at both sides for their deceit, treachery and cruelty.”
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Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
“It is a huge tribute to the tact of the distinguished British historian William Dalrymple that it is not until page 435 of his dramatic, richly peopled, and spell-binding history of Shah Shuja and the first British battle for Afghanistan, when he at last draws the inevitable parallel between the British attempt to subdue and control Afghanistan in the mid-19th-century and America’s own disastrous war there over the past decade”
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Michael Dirda, Book Forum
“By turns epic, thrilling, suspenseful, and utterly appalling, at once deeply researched and beautifully paced, Return of a King should win every prize for which it’s eligible.”
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Bron Sibree, The West Australian
“Hailed by the British literary establishment as his best book”
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David Robinson, The Scotsman
“What will be the books that open our imaginations the furthest, that most change our perception of the world, challenge our prejudices or bring the past to the most vivid life? An early contender must surely be William Dalrymple’s The Return of a King, out in February from Bloomsbury. As Salman Rushdie has pointed out, Dalrymple is “that rarity – a scholar of history who can really write”. And in this account of Britain’s first Afghan war, which began in 1839 with the aim of securing the Indian Empire’s north-western frontier against the Russians and ended in 1842 with the annihilation of an entire army, he has found the perfect subject. Drawing on Afghan, Russian, and Indian sources, he tells a truly epic story of imperial ambition and hubris with profound lessons for our own times. Compared to this – Britain’s greatest military defeat in the 19th century – Custer’s Last Stand is an insignificant skirmish. I doubt that I’ll read a better written or more important history book all year.”
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Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler
“This is a monumentally important book.....Exemplary historian that he is, Dalrymple has discovered hitherto unknown sources... This is history as it should be written: revisionist, readable and rollicking.”
Rosemary Goring, Sunday Herald
“A meticulous historian and felicitous writer, Dalrymple is also a deep thinker. This is one history book that matters for making sense of Afghanistan, and Britain, today as well as in the past.”
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S. Prasannarajan, India Today Review
“Afghanistan in mid-nineteenth century was a story of imperial hubris and tribal horror. Today, courtesy imperial intervention, it is a better place, in spite of the return of the Taliban and because of the empty caves of Tora Bora. William Dalrymple tells the back story of the Great Game in a narrative that matches the best of historical fiction.”
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Tom Tivnan, The Bookseller
“In his rollicking look at the First Afghan War, Britain’s military inclusion into the region in 1842, Dalrymple has certainly gone a mile or two further than most historians with his research ... Yet for all its current geopolitical echoes, Return of a King’s strengths are - like Dalrymple’s two other history titles, the bestsellers White Mughals and The Last Mughal - in the characters and its combination of sprightly readability and serious research ... Likely to become the definitive book on this highly topical subject”
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Pavan K Varma, Business Standard
“William Dalrymple combines in himself three remarkable talents. First, he is a researcher par excellence. Second, he has the insight of a historian. And third, as a writer of exceptional dexterity, he is able to make historical research very readable.The story is told in graphic detail (the book is over 500 pages), but it unfolds like a cinematic screenplay through the lives of the principal dramatis personae — their personalities, personal quirks, motivating ambitions and family background are etched out to make them living characters travelling along with the reader’s journey. It is not easy to recount dry historical facts in this manner, but Mr Dalrymple – as he has done with all his historical books – personally travelled to the principal venues, revisited the sites of battles, forts, palaces, towns and ordinary homes, and talked to scores of people to capture the flavour of the times about which he is writing. In addition, he has located crucial new material in Russian, Urdu and Persian from archives in South Asia and used, for the first time in English, nine previously untranslated full-length accounts of the conflict, including the autobiography of the key Afghan king, Shah Shuja.”
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David Robinson, Scotland on Sunday
“The story of Britain’s First Afghan War – our greatest military disaster in the 19th century – has been told before, but never as brilliantly as by William Dalrymple... No Scottish historian writes with as much panache, breaks as much new ground, or brings the past as vividly to life. A superlative achievement.”
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Saurabh Kumar Shahi, Sunday Indian
“To call it anything less than a triumph would be an understatement.”
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Hugh MacDonald, Sunday Herald
“[A] marvellous book . . . brilliant, exact language . . . There is much in Dalrymple’s superb book that has contemporary resonance.”
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Edward Burke, Dublin Review of Books
“The story of the first Anglo-Afghan war and the retreat from Kabul in 1842 has been told many times before. But Dalrymple does it better; he has spent years piecing together archival material in Delhi, Lahore, London and elsewhere. He has wandered the streets of Kabul looking for, and finding, traces of Afghan epic poetry on the conflict. Many of his sources are previously untouched by other Western writers and as with his previous books, his vivid prose is a joy to read”
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Matthew Price, The National
“William Dalrymple's outstanding history of the first Anglo-Afghan War, is a pointed, all-too-relevant chronicle of a distant event that casts long shadows over modern Central Asian entanglements...[and] a brilliant fusion of innovative scholarship and thrilling storytelling... Dalrymple has emerged as a superb historian of the British Raj; he is certainly one of the most entertaining.... He excels at character, scene setting, and shifting between multiple points of view. His use of sources is stunning, particularly the trove of Persian-language material - epic poems, court histories and other accounts - he found in Kabul during a research trip. No other western historian has given such a complete account of the other side. One other reason Dalrymple is such a superb historian is that he avoids self-righteous theatrics about the wrongs of imperialism; he shows, not tells”
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Somnath Batabyal, The Sunday Guardian
“The start of the West's violent and protracted engagement in Afghanistan makes for fascinating, often horrifying reading. Arguably the most important work in Dalrymple's impressive oeuvre, Return of a King elegantly demonstrates that the British might make fine historians, but they learn nothing from history.... As well as producing a work that is germane to our present geo-political crisis in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East, Dalrymple brings to history a breathless sense of intrigue and wonder.... Dalrymple not only has the first-rate novelist's sense of depicting character, his well-known talent as a travel writer serves the book well. The depictions of the mountainous stretches of Afghanistan, the routes of the advance of the Imperial Army and the city of Kabul itself are etched in riveting detail. Though eminently readable, Return is based on rigorous and painstaking research. Dalrymple's use of primary source material is exemplary and his use of contradictory reports adds nuance to characters and incidents... The author has adroitly drawn a picture of imperial folly and refusal to learn from mistakes. If context is important, reading Dalrymple is paramount.”
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Michael Keating, The World Today
“Dalrymple tells a cracking good story, drawing upon new British, Indian, Russian and, above all, ‘elusive’ Afghan sources, including contemporary accounts and epic poems. The result is a captivating picture of one of the most foolhardy exercises in British imperial history, viewed through the eyes not just of British military and East India Company officials and their camp followers but also of the Afghans themselves. It illuminates the mechanics of patronage, the shifting nature of tribal alliances, the Afghans’ deft hedging skills, their sense of humour, their hospitality and compassion as well as capacity for brutality, and above all, their sense of pride – particularly when their independence and sovereignty is challenged.”
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The Rough Guide to Sufi Music (Second Edition)

Synopsis

Passionate and ecstatic, spiritual and entrancing, Sufi music acts as a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West reflecting the most accessible, liberal and pluralistic aspects of Islam. Curated by best-selling author William Dalrymple, this Rough Guide takes you on a journey from the traditional dervish and qawwali forms to explore the modern innovators inspired by the spirit of Sufism.

Editions

The Rough Guide to Sufi Music (Second Edition) Cover
Format: DVD
Publication Date: 25 July 2011
Publisher: World Music Network
ISBN: B0052EV9TU
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Raghu Rai’s Delhi

Synopsis

Raghu Rai is Indias most famous and most lauded photographer. Here, he lends his creative genius to capturing the changing face of Delhi, the place of his birth and Indias capital city, over the last forty years.William Dalrymple says in his introduction to the book that [this is] the work of a sympathetic insider and has a tender and knowing intimacy that no outsider like myself can come close to. That quality is displayed to stunning effect in this spectacular, large format book, which will be prized by anyone with an interest in modern India or photography.

Editions

Raghu Rai’s Delhi Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 6 April 2008
Publisher: Thames & Hudson · Reprint edition
ISBN: 978-0500543771
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The Monumental India Book

Synopsis

This extraordinary volume of photography by Amit Pasricha documents India’s architectural heritage, on a scale never seen before. The book presents breathtaking panoramic views of India’s famed monuments and sites as well as little-known architectural gems. It also includes remarkable access to the interiors of India’s finest palaces and monuments. It features sprawling Hindu and Jain temples, imposing Islamic tombs and mosques, serene Buddhist monasteries, colonial and royal palaces, and majestic forts. The camera enters magnificent darbar halls where maharajas once held formal audience, and the opulent interiors of their private apartments, with mirrored decorations, chandeliers, and heavy brocades. Amit Pasricha enlists the elements – sun, snow, mist, and cloud – to give the photographs cosmic drama, and his mastery of the panoramic format underscores the majesty of nature and the glory of man-made structures. William Dalrymple’s insightful text completes this beautiful collection of photographs, making The Monumental India Book a limited edition to be preserved and treasured.

Editions

The Monumental India Book Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 16 October 2008
Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 978-1845298821
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Edge of Faith

Synopsis

Located on the west coast of India along the Arabian Sea, Goa officially became an Indian state in 1987 after nearly five hundred years of Portuguese rule. This conflict of cultures is captured by Indian photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta in “Edge of Faith”. The book’s seventy striking photographs create an intimate portrait of the Catholic community in Goa rarely seen before - a portrait of people torn between their fidelity to a history of Portuguese faith and culture and their post-independence Indian identity. In addition, acclaimed travel writer William Dalrymple provides an accompanying text that explores both the history of Goa’s Catholic past and its struggle to deal with its multicultural, multireligious present. “Edge of Faith” captures Catholic Goa in a haunting, but beautiful, impasse - caught in a time warp between comforting nostalgia and a doubt-ridden, insecure future.

Editions

Edge of Faith Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 24 November 2009
Publisher: Chicago University Press
ISBN: 978-1906497316
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Visions of Mughal India

Synopsis

The Mughal Empire, which conquered and ruled virtually all of today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh over several centuries, created one of the richest and most colourful of all historical periods. Peoples of different cultures - including Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others, originating from Iran, Central Asia, Europe and South Asia itself worked, traded and travelled throughout the Empire, contributing to its dynamism and power. A few of the Europeans who began crisscrossing the roads of Mughal India wrote, in the forms of diaries, letters and travelogues, about the people and lands they encountered.This illuminating and carefully chosen anthology contains a collection of among the best writings by European travellers from England, Italy, Russia, France, Spain and Portugal as they journeyed the length and breadth of the Empire over a 200-year period (1471-1671). Their experiences and observations form fascinating and informative visions of travel and life in India during this period and provide invaluable contributions to our understanding of life there at the time.

Editions

Visions of Mughal India Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 23 May 2007
Publisher: I B Tauris & Co Ltd
ISBN: 978-1845113544
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Begums, Thugs & White Mughals

Synopsis

Fanny Parkes, who lived in India between 1822 and 1846, was the ideal travel writer - courageous, indefatigably curious and determinedly independent. Her delightful journal traces her journey from prim memsahib, married to a minor civil servant of the Raj, to eccentric, sitar-playing Indophile, fluent in Urdu, critical of British rule and passionate in her appreciation of Indian culture. Fanny is fascinated by everything, from the trial of the thugs and the efficacy of opium on headaches to the adorning of a Hindu bride. To read her is to get as close as one can to a true picture of early colonial India - the sacred and the profane, the violent and the beautiful, the straight-laced sahibs and the more eccentric ‘White Mughals’ who fell in love with India and did their best, like Fanny, to build bridges across cultures.

Editions

Begums, Thugs & White Mughals Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 1 November 2002
Publisher: Eland Books
ISBN: 978-0907871880
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Sufi Soul, The Mystic Music of Islam

Editions

Sufi Soul, The Mystic Music of Islam Cover
Format: DVD
Publication Date: 9 September 2008
Publisher: Riverboat / World Music Network
ISBN: B001CFEC4M
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Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857

Synopsis

Between the years 1707 and 1857, the cultural centre of Delhi in North India was the locus of a dramatic shift of power with the decline of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the British Raj. This critical transitional period altered Indian culture, politics and art, and brought unprecedented artistic innovation and experimentation. The artistic flowering of this time is evident in jewel-like portraits, miniature paintings, striking panoramas, and exquisite decorative arts crafted for Mughal emperors and European residents alike. Sumptuous colour illustrations of such works illuminate the pages of this book, painting a vivid portrait of this important city and its art, artists, and patrons. Masterworks by major Mughal artists, such as Nidha Mal and Ghulam Ali Khan, and works by non-Mughal artists demonstrate the dynamic interplay of artistic production at this time. This largely overlooked period is explored in thought-provoking essays by a panel of distinguished scholars of Indian art, history, and literature to present an engaging look at this dynamic artistic culture in the midst of rapid change.

Editions

Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 3 February 2012
Publisher: Yale University Press
ISBN: 978-0300176667
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Reviews and Quotes

Martha Schwendener, New York Times
“”
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Nine Lives

Synopsis

From the prize-winning author of White Mughals and City of Djinns, Nine Lives is a distillation of twenty-five years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions – a modern Indian Canterbury Tales which introduces us to characters and takes us deep into worlds we could never have imagined existed.

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends years trying to atone for the violence by hand-printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a tantric in a skull-filled hut in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as an incarnate deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison.

An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi – or temple prostitute – initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling.

Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite and mesmerising, and told with an almost biblical simplicity, William Dalrymple’s first travel book in a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change.

Editions

Nine Lives Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 25 September 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408800614
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Nine Lives Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 7 July 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408801246
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Reviews and Quotes

Tom Adair, Scotsman Books of the Year
“The outstanding read of the year…. Entirely absorbing and beautifully lucid, it follows the paths of nine modern pilgrims into the meaning of their quests, evoking the truth of present day India in its spiritual dimension. Dalrymple is cleverly unobtrusive yet enquiring, always absorbed and yet detached. The sub-continent rises, bemusing, bedazzling, a sensory tapestry crafted brilliantly by a writer who touches its texture as only Mark Tully has managed before him.”
Khuswant Singh, Telegraph
“Of this year’s books, I rate William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives very high. Dalrymple writes about India with more knowledge and elegance than does any Indian I know. And this is one aspect of Indian life I was not fully aware of — the bizarre ways adopted by religious cults in their search for divinity. Although strictly factual, his narration grips the reader. It is unputdownable… Full of information and written in beautifully lyrical prose… Dalrymple never passes judgment, nor questions the rights of these people to the truth as they see it. It is a priceless documentary of different people whose existence I was only vaguely aware of. I feel enriched after reading Nine Lives and strongly recommend it.”
Amabel Baraclough, Pen Pushers
“The need for thoughtful, intelligent observation of other parts of the world has never been greater, and today the travel writer must be trained to observe the nuances of complex societies, to investigate the warp and weft of history, politics and religion. Dalrymple has the breadth of knowledge that allows him to incorporate the often manifold forms of truth he comes across… At a time when religion is associated with dogma and fanaticism, an understanding of its complexities has never been more urgent, and Dalrymple’s writing itself is a cause for optimism… He has become a repository of knowledge of the subcontinent, and Nine Lives is in many ways a culmination of his life as a writer.”
Sunil Gangopadhyay, Tehelka
“Very interesting… Dalrymple writes in a fascinating manner… There is a feeling of real authenticity about the work.”
Anthony Sattin, The Times, Books of the Year
“Dalrymple’s storytelling skills and eye for the bizarre make this a fascinating and entertaining window onto spiritual India.”
Celia Brayfield, The Times
“The event of the year in travellers’ tales is William Dalrymple’s new book, Nine Lives : In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, an act of dedicated reportage. It captures facets of the extraordinarily rich and complex spiritual life of the sub-continent, using a blend of classic journalistic interviews, exquisitely written contextual passages and slices of oral history in pure Studs Terkel style.”
Nick Smith, Bookdealer
“One of our most important travel writers… there are simply few better than Dalrymple. With Nine Lives he has proven once again that you don’t need to prolific to be of literary importance… Nine people, nine lives, all based on interviews in eight languages and all cracking entertainment. The cast of characters, drawn from different walks of life, with their heart-breaking, life-affirming and often plain weird stories, invites immediate comparison with Chaucer’s pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales… the deftness of the brush strokes, rather than the detail, paints a subtly textured and unexpectedly complex piece that has Dalrymple’s fingerprints all over it. That Nine Lives is unmistakably and so assuredly from the pen of Dalrymple is a tribute to his depth of knowledge of the people and places of India. His main strengths are his instinctive feel for what details matter, how much they weigh and how to articulate them in his understated, but quite lovely prose. While so many of today’s travel writers shift from territory to territory in search of new thrills, Dalrymple goes deeper and deeper into the landscape of India in order to return with clearer images of the people who live there. And in trying to appreciate their lives, we enrich our understanding of our own, and this is why Nine Lives might well be William Dalrymple’s most important book to date.”
Huma Imtiaz, Jang
“Fascinating… celebrated travel writer William Dalrymple's Nine Lives is a fitting reminder of why one has faith, and the wondrous, colourful lives of the faithful. From the shelter of Dharamsala to the courtyard of Sehwan Sharif, Dalrymple brings to life the different places in the subcontinent, which are venerated sites of various religions and more importantly, touches upon the different reasons of what brings people closer to God, their sacrifices to achieve peace, the highest state of spirituality and the difficulties they face in maintaining their unwavering devotion to their God... In writing this book, Dalrymple has not just brought to life the lives of those who sacrifice everything for faith and the threads that bind them together, but has done a great service by preserving these stories for many of us, who may never get the chance to meet the characters or see any of the places that make up Nine Lives.”
Nandhini Parthib, Indian Express
“Dalrymple is a genius… In his first travel book in ten years, Dalrymple gives us a peek into the exotic traditions that have shaped India for centuries, and which continue to struggle and strive for space and survival. He follows some of the country’s oldest and holiest of trails to understand and de-mystify cultures, practices and people. Nine Lives is an amazing eye-opening book that journeys along with the people to provide a perspective to their harsh lives. From austere Jain monks to beautiful devdasis, Dalrymple has followed nine very interesting people whose spectacular professions are not about the money but about the essence of their beliefs that binds them to their often difficult jobs and the ties that continue to provide a comfortable cover in the face of the cold reality of their lives… Dalrymple is awesome, as usual, and what adds such credibility to the book is that he allows his subjects to tell us their stories without attempting to cushion it with his narrative or judgment. Considered his first travel book in ten years Dalrymple gives us a peek into the exotic traditions that have shaped India for centuries, which continue to struggle and strive for space and survival.”
Brian Schofield, The Sunday Times
“Beautifully written, ridiculously erudite and, more than any of his previous work, reveals Dalrymple to be remarkably warm and open-hearted. A towering talent.”
Ruaridh Nicoll, Observer
“William Dalrymple’s study of the people and beliefs of India ranks with the very finest travel writing… Nine Lives is a travel book, but it is also a series of biographies which unpick the rich religious heritage of the subcontinent. It makes its political points more powerfully than any newspaper article, while quietly adjusting a readers attitude to faith. It displays deep knowledge of the culture. At its best travel writing beats fiction, firing the imagination with tales of foreign peoples drawn close by our common humanity. This is travel writing at its very best. I hope it sparks a revival”
... read full review
Bron Sibree, Canberra Times
“William Dalrymple’s riveting depiction of subcontinental religion is heavenly reading… It is the singular achievement of Dalrymple, in his strikingly chaste and selfless book, to give us the lives and voices of some regular Indian and Pakistani worshippers without judgment, speculation or high-flown abstraction. As an erudite scholar, Dalrymple gives us a precedent and a context. As a fluent and vivid travel writer, he evokes the landscapes of the land he loves. Behind the uninflected stories of Nine Lives, though, lies an elegiac keening. For as fast as rural people are streaming into India’s exploding cities and logging companies are cutting down sacred groves, the traditions that have sustained the devout for generations are being threatened. Dalrymple brings a powerful restraint and clarity to precisely the two subjects – India and faith – that cause most observers to fly off into cosmic vagueness or spleen. The result is a deeply respectful and sympathetic portrait. "How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?" G.K. Chesterton wrote at the beginning of his book Orthodoxy. In Nine Lives, Dalrymple and his subjects give us an answer.”
Pico Iyer, Time Magazine
“The celebrated historian and traveller at his exuberant and erudite best… It is impossible not to be profoundly moved by the stories in Nine Lives. It’s a book that never fails to astonish, to beguile, as it journeys to the outskirts of mainstream religion, keeping company with folk poets, dreadlocked sadhus, minstrels and theyyam dancers. Its not so much a travelogue as a hybrid collection of stories that weave oral history, ethnography, travel writing and the short fiction form into a rich poignant narrative that lingers in the memory long after reading.”
... read full review
Partha Chatterjee, Indian Express
“Heart wrenching… Wanderlust has made Dalrymple among the most perceptive and humane of travel writers. He shows a rare ability to connect with spiritually beleaguered people trying their best to find themselves. This book is also his sustained, spirited effort to understand a culture and the different religious faiths within it, at complete variance with his own faith and cultural upbringing. This dedication pays off handsomely in the course of the book. Each of the nine stories is illuminating, speaking of the resilience of the human spirit when fighting against impossible odds. This is a work of non-fiction, no doubt, but Dalrymple’s innate gift as a storyteller makes it glow.”
... read full review
Pankaj Mishra, The National
Nine Lives remains oddly gripping, and often very moving, in its first-person accounts, framed by minimal explanations, of spiritually-minded people that Dalrymple meets on his travels across the subcontinent. Across the country, Dalrymple comes across instances of popular religiosity and the stubborn persistence of beliefs and ritual practices amid rapid change. Characters rarely allowed into contemporary Anglophone writing about India are given an opportunity to describe their deepest aspirations without the slightest hint of authorial condescension. They speak eloquently of the varieties and specific content of religious experience in India; its remoteness from the political mobilisation of religion, and its role as a marker of identity… The true vitality and continuity of Indian religions is still to be found where most of India’s one-billion-plus population lives. Still widely practised, folk religions and pluralist traditions constitute the norm rather than the exception… As Dalrymple’s book vividly illustrates, the country’s heterodox religious and philosophical traditions remain stronger than the imported idea of the homogenous nation-state, and have survived much of its immense violence.”
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Peter Kirkwood, The Australian
“For those who enjoyed Dalrymple’s earlier travel adventures, this latest book is written with the same verve and sense of immediacy. But it is perhaps more serious and its insight is more mature. Dalrymple has a great facility for creating a sense of place and bringing these colourful characters to life on the page, and the knack of drawing the universal from the particular. In a deft way he shows how the tensions, dilemmas and changes in the lives of these individuals illustrate the vast transformation of Indian society, so creating an overall work like ‘a modern Indian Canterbury Tales’. As eccentric as Chaucer”s characters, the people who inhabit these pages are a deliciously motley crew. Vibrant and engaging, Dalrymple paints a compelling portrait of this complex sprawling giant of a country at a time of momentous change.”
... read full review
Tabish Khair, Biblio
“A fascinating text… It is an index of Dalrymple’s ability as a writer and his complex immersion in Indian cultures that he deftly avoids any hint of ‘Orientalism’… Dalrymple succeeds in juxtaposing the sacred and the secular without diverting the captivating flow of his prose. This is a rich book, teaming with fascinating characters and places worth visiting; it is a travel book that takes the reader not only across the wide expanse of the Indian subcontinent but also into intriguing aspects of India’s past and present. In the process, it also provides much insight into such topical and convoluted matters as Islamist fundamentalism.”
Lewis Jones, Spectator
“Dalrymple’s characteristic wit and sympathy are fully evident in the interviews he has conducted, as are his love and knowledge of the sub-continent ... this fascinating book ... beautifully illustrates the relationship between tradition and modernity in India.”
Sadanand Dhume, Wall Street Journal
“Despite venturing deep inside inherently exotic territory, Mr. Dalrymple pulls off the difficult task of not exoticizing India. In a lesser writer&rsquos; hands, the same material might have read like a retread of old colonial tropes about snake charmers and ascetics. Instead, the reader gets the sense that the author is driven by an unquenchable curiosity about a country he loves. Dalrymple never mocks his subjects. Indeed, his prose is often tinged with tenderness and a sense of longing. In flashes of brilliance, Dalrymple”s work reveals an India still rich in religious experience, its spiritual quest—or rather, quests—still very much part of the warp and weft of daily life. Amid all the excitement about economic growth, an older India endures.”
Nilanjana S Roy, Business Standard
Nine Lives is a fast-paced book, moving swiftly from the perspective of a Jain nun contemplating the slow and voluntary relinquishing of her life to the dilemma of the Dalit theyyam who shuttles between his job as a prison warden to his life as a man in the grip of religious ecstasy. These are compelling contemporary stories, and at times Dalrymple seems to be channelling a modern-day avatar of Kipling, who was so fascinated by India’s multiplicity of faiths…. Embedded in each individual’s stories are disturbing questions about faith and the way it’s practiced in 21st century India.”
Kendall Hill, Sydney Morning Herald
“Dalrymple is the author of many respected books on religion and the subcontinent. From the start his writing has been characterised by rigorous scholarship as the self-effacing but brilliant young Scot stumbles across extraordinary cultures and adventures, and weaves them together into riveting, riotous stories rich in detail and understanding. In Nine Lives the author is on the road again, but deliberately takes a back seat, allowing his characters to tell their own spellbinding. Dalrymple’s exhaustive research and deep feeling for Indian culture and ancient faiths mean he writes with clarity, erudition and engagement. With his guidance and context, each reads story like a rare insight into a multifarious and often impenetrable culture. Nine Lives is India at its most pure but also its most fragile. Dalrymple”s stories always strive for a higher purpose than simply recounting adventures in the manner of so much contemporary travel writing. In Nine Lives, that purpose is to record and conserve these unique, fantastical histories, before they disappear forever.”
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Maya Jasanoff
“William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives takes the charm and natural verve of City of Djinns, marries it to the intellectual and spiritual engagement of From the Holy Mountain, and brings it off with all the narrative skill developed in his history books, combined with his ever more profound understanding of India.”
James Lamont, Financial Times
“His most ambitious yet, taking the reader into lurid, scarcely imaginable worlds of mysticism, it is also a neat study of the panoply of arcane religious devotion across South Asia. The Nine Lives of the title are touching otherworldly vignettes, carefully chosen. Dalrymple encounters animal sacrifice, epic poetry, trance and a fearsome realm of spirits. He has an inimitable way of conjuring the Indian landscape, and one of his greatest charms is his observation of India’s combination of the sacred and mundane. Behind the devotion and the sense of the epic is always a strong sense of human frailty. Descriptions of exotic transcendental ritual are intertwined with painful personal narratives. An overwhelming sense of fragility surrounds India’s sacred worlds. Dalrymple, as always, impresses with his scholarliness, explaining the religious context of his subjects with erudition.”
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Gaurav Jain, Tehelka
“In clear, simple telling Dalrymple takes us to the beating heart of devotion.”
Rasheeda Bhagat, Hindu Business Line
“Fascinating… Dalrymple’s remarkable book gives us Indians an intriguing package of our own country, seen through the eyes of a westerner who has made an earnest attempt to understand the mystique, asceticism, religious frenzy and philosophy. And, the historian and researcher in him have meticulously etched these vivid portraits, placing their lives in the right perspective. Dalrymple’s characters are vibrant, compelling and with a rare inner strength, and he evokes them in lucid prose. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Dalrymples’s mosaic of these Nine Lives is that his protagonists talk about their faith, spirituality and vocation with a disarming simplicity. His characters talk about their lives without any hyperbole, sense of self-importance or great sacrifice. They are simply good storytellers and the author documents their tales vividly and faithfully.”
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Hirsh Sawhney, Guardian
“A blend of travelogue, ethnography, oral history and reportage, Nine Lives is compelling and poignant… The author tails a remarkably diverse array of characters – the dreadlocked Tantric holy man who listens to cricket on his radio, the religious sculptor whose son will give up the family’s centuries-old trade for a job in computers – who have in common a deep faith in religion that stands against the modern world’s technology, disease, poverty and warfare. The book’s oral histories also paint an uncompromising portrait of globalisation and migration. William Dalrymple thrives on illuminating the points at which seemingly antagonistic cultures intersect.”
Wendy Doniger, Times Literary Supplement
“Any of these stories could make a great film or play, they are so full of passion, tragedy, violence, compassion, and religious fervor, and so vividly evoked … Their human concerns, not unlike ours, melt seamlessly into the bizarre, almost unimaginable circumstances of their ritual life, and eventually we see that that, too, is quite human, that there is nothing weird at all about drinking warm blood or pulling out your hair by the roots. Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off this astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy.”
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Raghu Karnad, Time Out
“Nine stories so exquisitely twisted between secular suffering and spiritual commitment, they are capable of changing the way you think about devotion.”
David Robinson, The Scotsman
“There is no other writer whose work explains the East to the West as thoughtfully, stylishly and enjoyably… Few reach this level of empathy able to show at once the fullness of faith and the fragility of the life that led to it.”
Gurcharan Das
“I was enchanted by these poignant and magical stories. By artfully weaving together travel, history, and legend--all without guile--he creates a compelling narrative, reminding us why India is one of the world”s greatest story telling cultures, and why he is one of its greatest story tellers.”
Parvathi Nayar, The Hindu
“Nine Lives is that rare collection of stories that encompasses the mystical, the improbable and the quotidian, a microcosm of India’s dualities and contradictions, the extremities of compassion and violence… Deeply engaging and strangely moving.”
... read full review
Peter Parker, The Daily Telegraph
“This absorbing book… Dalrymple is a lively, knowledgeable and sympathetic guide to this world of faith.”
Melissa A. Bell, Mint
“Compelling… Dalrymple is a modern-day Geoffrey Chaucer, writing an Indianized version of The Canterbury Tales. Just as Chaucer depicts 14th century British life through religious pilgrims, Dalrymple distils some of the societal clashes of modern India through the prism of the spiritual awakenings of nine people. As with his other books, Dalrymple has a sensitive eye for his subjects and he travels to corners of India often left unnoticed. But unlike his earlier writings, here he stays largely outside the book. The voices in the book are not Dalrymple’s, but the nun’s, the Baul’s, or the monk’s. It is a compelling, respectful technique, empowering the subjects by making them their own narrators. By giving the well-digger, the prostitute and the Muslim refugee a voice, Dalrymple dignifies them and their spiritual quests.”
Shevlin Sebastian, New Indian Express
“A remarkable book.”
John Keay, The Literary Review
“Impressively honest…The reader relishes the sense of immediacy and conviction. Dalrymple reconstructs the testimony of his interviewees brilliantly, without apparent contrivance or condescension.”
Jason Webster, Sunday Telegraph
“The contrast between the ethereal and the worldly, the old and the new, is at the heart of William Dalrymple’s latest travel book. The profiles he presents form a kaleidoscopic vision of the religious life of India – a scattered effect which ultimately is successful in creating a coherent whole. With each one Dalrymple gently pushes them to reveal secrets of their faith and practices, and tales of how they arrived at their present position. Some, like a maker of Hindu idols in Tamil Nadu, are following a family tradition stretching back hundreds of years. Others, like the ’Red Fairy’ – a holy woman dressed in red at a Sufi shrine in Sindh, recount stories of great hardship, forced to leave their homes and families and travel long distances across the subcontinent in search of refuge. His intention in the book, he says, is to ”keep the narrator firmly in the shadows’, allowing the characters to present themselves. This is a brave decision, and that it doesn’t then become a work of simple reportage is testament to Dalrymple’s skill as a writer.”
Kumar Chellapan, Deccan Herald
“Memorable: it is doubtful if anyone has succeeded in showcasing the Indian hinterland as Dalrymple has.”
Salil Tripathi, The Independent
“In India, Dalrymple seems to have found a home, and India has reciprocated. Dalrymple’s nine characters live on the margins of a society transforming at a bewildering pace. These individuals are gripped by a divine madness they cannot explain. In some cases it induces trance; some express it through dance or song; and with some, that mystical current helps them create sculptures or paintings of exceptional beauty. They are on a spiritual quest, making incredible sacrifices, obliterating identities, in search of a salvation which may remain elusive, and Dalrymple listens with a rare empathy. Throughout his writing life, Dalrymple has valued Sufi syncreticism and Baul brotherhood, and is affectionate towards those who have undergone mystical experiences. Dalrymple the historian knows the forces that make religions and ethnicities fight; Dalrymple the journalist has described that violence; but Dalrymple the travel writer lets these nine people speak. The journey of intermingled faiths and lives remains surprising and delightful.”
... read full review
Mani Shankar Aiyer, Outlook
“A travel writer of huge talent, even genius.”

The Last Mughal

Synopsis

At 4 p.m. on a hazy November afternoon in Rangoon, 1862, a shrouded corpse was escorted by a small group of British soldiers to an anonymous grave in a prison enclosure. As the British Commissioner in charge insisted, ‘No vestige should remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Moghuls rests.’ Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the last Mughal Emperor, was a mystic, a talented poet, and a skilled calligrapher. But while Zafar’s Mughal ancestors had controlled most of India, the aged Zafar was king in name only. Deprived of real political power by the East India Company, Zafar nevertheless succeeded in creating a court of great brilliance, and presided over one of the great cultural renaissances of Indian history. Then, in 1857, Zafar’s flourishing capital became the centre of an uprising that reduced his beloved Delhi to a battered, empty ruin. When Zafar gave his blessing to a rebellion among the Company’s own Indian troops, it transformed an army mutiny into the largest uprising the British Empire ever had to face. The Siege of Delhi was the Raj’s Stalingrad: a fight to the death between two powers, neither of whom could retreat.

The Last Mughal is a portrait of the dazzling Delhi Zafar personified, the story of the last days of the great Mughal capital and its final destruction in the catastrophe of 1857. William Dalrymple’s powerful retelling of this fateful course of events is shaped from groundbreaking material: previously untranslated Urdu and Persian manuscripts that include Indian eyewitness accounts, and the records of the Delhi courts, police, and administration during the siege. The Last Mughal is an extraordinary revisionist work with clear contemporary echoes. It is the first account to present the Indian perspective on the siege, and has at its heart the stories of the forgotten individuals tragically caught up in one of the bloodiest upheavals in history.

Editions

The Last Mughal Cover
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 1 October 2006
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-0747586395
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The Last Mughal Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2 April 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-978-0747587262
Buy Now

Reviews and Quotes

Khuswant Singh, Telegraph
“Of this year’s books, I rate William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives very high. Dalrymple writes about India with more knowledge and elegance than does any Indian I know. And this is one aspect of Indian life I was not fully aware of — the bizarre ways adopted by religious cults in their search for divinity. Although strictly factual, his narration grips the reader. It is unputdownable… Full of information and written in beautifully lyrical prose… Dalrymple never passes judgment, nor questions the rights of these people to the truth as they see it. It is a priceless documentary of different people whose existence I was only vaguely aware of. I feel enriched after reading Nine Lives and strongly recommend it.”
Amabel Baraclough, Pen Pushers
“The need for thoughtful, intelligent observation of other parts of the world has never been greater, and today the travel writer must be trained to observe the nuances of complex societies, to investigate the warp and weft of history, politics and religion. Dalrymple has the breadth of knowledge that allows him to incorporate the often manifold forms of truth he comes across… At a time when religion is associated with dogma and fanaticism, an understanding of its complexities has never been more urgent, and Dalrymple’s writing itself is a cause for optimism… He has become a repository of knowledge of the subcontinent, and Nine Lives is in many ways a culmination of his life as a writer.”
Sunil Gangopadhyay, Tehelka
“ery interesting… Dalrymple writes in a fascinating manner… There is a feeling of real authenticity about the work.”
... read full review

White Mughals

Synopsis

Set in and around Hyderabad at the beginning of the nineteenth century, White Mughals tells the story of the improbably romantic love affair and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a rising star in the East India Company, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi princess. Pursuing Kirkpatrick’s passionate affair through the archives across the continents, Dalrymple unveils a fascinating story of intrigue and love that breaches the conventional boundaries of empire. As Kirkpatrick gradually goes native (adopting local clothes and enduring circumcision) he becomes a secret agent working for his wife’s royal family against the English, as he tries to balance the interests of both cultures.

However, White Mughals is by no means just an exotic love story. It is a vehicle for Dalrymple’s understanding of the complex legacy of the English Empire in India, that he defines more in terms of exchange and negotiation than dominance and subjugation. It is a powerful and moving plea by Dalrymple to understand the cultural intermingling and hybridity that defines both eastern and western cultures, and a convincing rejection of religious intolerance and ethnic essentialism. Elegantly written and at a pace that belies its length, White Mughals confirms Dalrymple’s status as one of the most important non-fiction writers of his time.
– Jerry Brotton

Editions

White Mughals Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 29 March 2002
Publisher: Harper-Collins
ISBN: 978-0006550969
Buy Now

Reviews and Quotes

Frank McLynn, The Independent on Sunday
“Love and war are usually thought to inhabit different spheres and, except in Tolstoy, we do not expect them to mix. Part of the achievement of this magnificent book is the way William Dalrymple effortlessly melds the two motifs so that the public story of the British conquest of India and the poignant tale of a love affair interpenetrate, with each adding a dimension to the other. Much of Dalrymple’s narrative has the pace of a thriller... [but] above all this book is a bravura display of scholarship, writing and insight. No brief review can do justice to its manifold excellence and all one can say is that Dalrymple manages the incredible feat of outpointing most historians and novelists in one go. This is quite simply a stunning achievement.”
... read full review
Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
“A gorgeous, spellbinding and important book... A tapestry of magnificent set pieces and a moving romance. William Dalrymple’s story of a colonial love affair will change our views about British India.”
Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph
“Enthralling... this rich and splendidly sprawling book.”
... read full review
Charles Allen, Literary Review
“The most touching love story to have come out of India since Shah Jehan and Begum Mumtaz, whose death inspired the Taj Mahal... It is far more romantic than any work of fiction could be, and more tragic in its outcome, with a final twist guaranteed to make the eyes dazzle. Dalrymple is the most perceptive and sympathetic observer of the Asian scene writing today, and for the Indophile, the lover of romance and the lover of the written word, White Mughals is nothing less than a kush bagh, a garden of delights...”
Amanda Foreman
“White Mughals is destined to become an instant classic.”
Ahmed Rashid
“Imaginitively conceived, beautifully written, intellectually challenging and a passionate love story- this is Dalrymple’s lifetime achievement and the best book he has ever written. He has done for India and the British what Edward Said did for the meeting between the West and Arab world in ‘Orientalism’. Despite its setting in the 18th century, this is a hugely important contemporary book. Dalrymple has broken new ground in the current debate about racism, colonialism and globalization. The history of the British in India will never be the same after this book.”
Francis Robinson, The TLS
“Moving, wide-ranging and richly textured... Through massive research blessed with serendipity, and through imagination and empathy, Dalrymple has evoked the world of the British in late 18th century India as no one has before... A wonderful book, a story of love and the humanity we share.”
Hugh MacDonald, The Herald
“White Mughals stands as a convincing indictment of imperialism and an affecting story of a love affair... Dalrymple is one of the most captivating writers of non-fiction at work today.”
Selina Hastings, Daily Mail
“Fascinating and enthralling...William Dalrymple unscrolls a wide panorama: a vivid and often turbulent panorama of India during the 18th Century. Impressively research and written with vigour and panache Dalrymple is a gifted narrator who brings vividly to life the dealings between the Indian princes and the East India Company. He brilliantly depicts some of the leading characters.”
Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian
“Technically ambitious... There is a scholarly seriousness here; also a moral passion. This capacious book is never more engaging than when Dalrymple describes with a novelists compassion, the tragic costs of Kirkpatrick’s rebellion”
Karen Armstrong
“Brilliant, poignant,and compassionate, White Mughals is not only a compelling love story, but it is also an important reminder, at this perilous moment of history, that Europeans once found Muslim society both congenial and attractive, and that it has always been possible to build bridges between Islam and the West.”
David Robinson, The Scotsman
“A superlative, groundbreaking story that fully justifies all the effort, all the costs, all the risks [it took to write].... At a time when Islamaphobia is rising to danger levels in the West we need this reminder more than ever that once, however breifly, East and West met in tolerance and peace- and love.”
... read full review
Ashok Malik, India Today
“With his historical Hyderabadi love epic, Dalrymple shows the best on-fiction about India is still written by sympathetic outsiders ...”
... read full review
New Yorker writer, New Yorker
“At the end of the eighteenth century, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the promising young British Resident at the Shia court of Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, an adolescent noble woman and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The story of their romance and semi-secret marriage endured in local legend and family lore but was otherwise forgotten. After five years' work with a trove of documents in several languages, Dalrymple has emerged not only with a gripping tale of politics and power but also with evidence of the surprising extent of cultural exchange in pre-Victorian India, before the arrogance of empire set in. His book, ambitious in scope and rich in detail, demonstrates that a century before Kipling's "never the twain" - and two centuries before neocons and radical Islamists trumpeted the clash of civilizations - the story of the Westerner in Muslim India was not one of conquest but of appreciation, adaptation, and seduction.”
Maya Jasanoff, New York Sun
“The cross cultural romance between Khair un Nissa and James Achilles Kirkpatrick- the gripping central narrative of this book- is an extraordinary tale... Mr Dalrymple first began exploring the mingling of East and West as a travel writer, and his sensitive memoir of a year in Delhi, City of Djinns, established him as Britain's premier author on South Asia. In White Mughals he has pulled off a tour de force of scholarly research. Academics rarely let themselves get so close and the result is a veritable travelogue through the past, packed with detail and sense of place. The book breathes. You can almost smell the spiced meats in the Hyderabad biryanis or the flowering fruit trees Kirkpatrick planted in the Residency garden. Mr Dalrymple researches like a historian, thinks like an anthropologist and writes like a novelist. It is a winning combination.”
Kendal Hill, Sydney Morning Herald
“Dalrymple's work is mesmerising, both for its extraordinary scholarship and his facility for language. He also has a wonderful sense of humour, a BAFTA award for his Indian Journeys television series, a fellowship with the Royal Society of Literature (the society's youngest ever fellow), and he has just completed what he reckons is his best story... White Mughals is another stunning piece of erudition, this time reconstructing the romance between an 18th-century British general and a Muslim princess in colonial India. In the five-year process of researching and writing it, Dalrymple managed to debunk the Victorian notion of a subcontinent strictly bisected into the rulers and the ruled. Using rare, forgotten or otherwise ignored texts from British and Indian sources, he reveals the lengths to which the colonisers and their subjects loved, lived and prospered together. Not the least "fabulous" element of the story is Dalrymple's own charmed discoveries in the British Library's India Office Library, his chance find of a crucial 1600-page autobiography buried in a dusty bookshop at the back of a Hyderabadi bazaar, and the unearthing of some obscure letters in an Oxford library that revealed the conclusion to the love affair. To reveal too much of the plot here would be an injustice to Dalrymple's denouement. But the strength of the story can be judged from the fact its hardback sales are already more than three times those of his previous books, from his receipt of England's major history prize, and from the academic and critical acclaim it is attracting.”
Phillippa Barrett, Next
“Spellbound I finished this epic true tale in one six hour session. Its the extraordinary grand scale story of James Kirkpatrick, amorous adventurer, British diplomat and soldier who scandalised society by falling in love with a high born Muslim girl. He impregnated her, married her and built and built a palace for her and her two children. Their romance was littered with personal and political intrigue, treachery, debauchery, betrayal and tragedy. Expert narration and impressively researched detail make this book a must-read.”
Marion McLeod, Dominion Post
“This is history in the Tolstoyan mode, a cross-over narrative that makes a history of the 18th century read like a gripping novel, for all that it is clearly a work of meticulous scholarship.... A wonderful weaving of history and romance... poignant and finally tragic.”
Khushwant Singh, The Tribune
“Thoroughly researched and well-told – I haven't read anything as gripping since Dalrymple's earlier City of Djinns.”
Ahdaf Soueif, TLS Books of the Year
“I've always enjoyed William Dalrymple's work. His White Mughals is a wonderful book. A love story- with the saddest consequences- between a Hyderabadi princess and the English Resident is the occasion for an exploration of the relationship between Britain and India before the Raj set in.”
Atul Chaturvedi, Indian Express on Sunday
“A triumph of the historian's craft.”
Kirkus Review
“Masterfully demonstrating that truth can trump fiction, English travel writer Dalrymple relates a wrenching tale of love's labours lost on the Indian subcontinent. Dalrymple argues that the Brits 'went native' a lot more than is commonly thought and that West can meet East when love is the lingua franca. Rigorously researched, intelligent, compassionate. A tour de force.”

The Age of Kali

Synopsis

William Dalrymple, who wrote so magically about India in City of Djinns, returns to the country for a series of remarkable essays. Featured in the pages of Age of Kaliare fifteen-year-old guerrilla girls and dowager Maharanis; flashy Bombay drinks parties and violent village blood feuds; a group of vegetarian terrorists intent on destroying India’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and a palace where port and cigars are still carried to guest on a miniature silver steam train. In the course of his travels Dalrymple meets such figures as Imran Khan, Benazir Bhutto and Baba Sehgal, the Indian Gary Glitter; he witnesses the macabre nightly offering to the bloodthirsty goddess Parashakti – She Who is seated on a Throne of Five Corpses; he experiences caste massacres in the badlands of Bihar and dines with a drug baron on the North-West Frontier; he discovers such oddities as the terrorist apes of Jaipur (only brought to book when the municipality began impregnating their bananas with opium) and the shrine where Lord Krishna is said to make love every night to his 16,108 wives and his 64,732 milkmaids.

Editions

The Age of Kali Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 21 July 1998
Publisher: 
ISBN: 978-0006547754
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Reviews and Quotes

Robert Twigger, Spectator
“William Dalrymple has superseded Mark Tully as the voice of India… He may well be the greatest travel writer of his generation.”
Harry Ritchie, Mail on Sunday
“Dalrymple is amazingly gifted… Not content with analysis, he is mad enough to interview many of the armed and dangerous people who are hell bent on leading India into the Age of Kali, the era of destruction and darkness. The result is reportage of the highest order… Brilliant and persuasively frightening.”
Michael Thompson-Noel, Financial Times Books of the Year
“The most admired young travel writer today is the industrious and preternaturally talented William Dalrymple, without whose presence all prize-lists seem grotesquely naked. With the Age of Kali he has pulled it off again… Witty and eagle-eyed, Dalrymple is, above everything, a fine observer and reporter.”

From the Holy Mountain

Synopsis

In the spring of 587 AD, two monks set off on an extraordinary journey that would take them in an arc across the entire Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. On the way John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist stayed in caves, monasteries and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the stylites and the desert fathers before their world shattered under the great eruption of Islam. More than a thousand years later, using Moschos’s writings as his guide, William Dalrymple set off to retrace their footsteps. Despite centuries of isolation, a surprising number of the monasteries and churches visited by the two monks still survive today, surrounded by often hostile populations. Dalrymple’s pilgrimage took him through a bloody civil war in eastern Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the vicious tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in southern Egypt. His book is an elegy to the slowly dying civilisation of Eastern Christianity and the peoples that have kept its flame alive.

Editions

From the Holy Mountain Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 5 May 1997
Publisher: Flamingo
ISBN: 978-0006547747
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Reviews and Quotes

Peter Levi
“Any travel writer who is so good at his job as to be brilliant, applauded, loved and needed has to have an unusual list of qualities, and William Dalrymple has them all in aces. Dalrymple’s ear for conversation is as good as Alan Bennett’s. The best and most unexpected book I have read since I forget when.”
John Julius Norwich, Observer
“Nobody but William Dalrymple – and possibly Patrick Leigh Fermor – could have produced so compulsively readable a book.”
Sara Wheeler , Independent
“A rich stew of history and travel narrative spiced with anecdote, opinion and bon mots … The future of travel literature lies in the hands of gifted authors like Dalrymple who shine their torches into the shadowy hinterland of the human story – the most foreign territory of all.”
Edward Marriott, The Times
“Compelling reading … Dalrymple’s eye for the revealing moment is as acute as ever. From the Holy Mountain is rare indeed: a book that will endure.”
Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times
“Dalrymple stands out as one of our most talented travel writers. Energetic, thoughtful, curious and courageous.”
Alan Taylor, Scotsman
“Dalrymple’s threnody for Eastern Christianity ranks with the great modern travel books, Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Time of Gifts and Eric Newby’s Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.”

City of Djinns

Synopsis

Watched over and protected by the mischievous, invisible djinns, Delhi has, through their good offices, been saved from destruction many times over the centuries. With an extraordinary array of characters, from elusive eunuchs to the last remnants of the Raj, Dalrymple’s second book is a unique and dazzling feat of research. Over the course of a year he comes to know the bewildering city intimately, and brilliantly conveys its magical nature, peeling back successive layers of history, and interlacing innumerable stories from Delhi’s past and present.

Alive with the mayhem of the present and sparkling with William Dalrymple’s irrepressible wit, City of Djinns is a fascinating portrait of a city.

Editions

City of Djinns Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 20 September 1993
Publisher: Flamingo
ISBN: 978-0006375951
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Reviews and Quotes

Jan Morris, Independent
“Dalrymple has pulled it off again … in it we see the first fine rapture of In Xanadu deepening into a profounder dedication.”
Trevor Fishlock, Sunday Telegraph
“There are beautifully chiselled descriptions of a grand capital… but much of the book’s strength lies in Dalrymple’s skill in peeling the historical onion and showing how the New Delhi resonates with the old… A splendid tapestry.”
Nicholas Wordsworth, Financial Times
“A sympathetic and engaging portrait of this age old city… Pursuing his research through the narrow alleys, mosques, abandoned ruins and tombs of Delhi, Dalrymple encounters a range of folk who continues to give it its special character. Pigeon fanciers, Sufi mystics, Muslim healers, musicians, calligraphers, philosophers and a guild of eunuchs all provide Dalrymple with entertaining insights… It is fine, entertaining, well written stuff, thoroughly researched but with none of the stern academic tone that so many historical profiles adopt. What sustains it, apart from his erudite knowledge, is Dalrymple’s sense of historical adventure. Just open your eyes, he says. If you know how to look, even the abandoned ruins of the past are alive.”

In Xanadu

Synopsis

At the age of twenty-two, William Dalrymple left his college in Cambridge to travel to the ruins of Kublai Khan’s stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. This is an account of a quest which took him and his companions across the width of Asia, along dusty, forgotten roads, through villages and cities full of unexpected hospitality and wildly improbable escapades, to Coleridge’s Xanadu itself. At once funny and knowledgeable, In Xanadu is in the finest tradition of British travel writing. Told with an exhilarating blend of eloquence, wit, poetry and delight, it is already established as a classic of its kind.

Editions

In Xanadu Cover
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 20 September 1989
Publisher: Flamingo
ISBN: 978-0006544159
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Reviews and Quotes

Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Spectator Books of the Year
“William Dalrymple's In Xanadu carries us breakneck from a predawn glimmer in the Holy Sepulchre right across Asia... It is learned and comic, and a most gifted first book touched by the spirits of Kinglake, Robert Byron and E. Waugh.”
Sir Alec Guinness , The Sunday Times
“The delightful, and funny, surprise mystery tour of the year.”
Alexander Maitland, Scotland on Sunday
“In Xanadu is, without doubt, one of the best travel books of the last twenty years. It is witty and intelligent, brilliantly observed, deftly constructed and extremely entertaining… Dalrymple’s gift for transforming ordinary, humdrum experience into something extraordinary and timeless suggests that he will go from strength to strength.”