The First Review of Sikunder Burnes, by Peter Oborne. 80

The Daily Mail has published the first review of Sikunder Burnes, and I am happy to say it is extremely good. An extract:

By Peter Oborne

His latest book is a rollicking life of Alexander Burnes, the British adventurer, diplomat, warrior and spy, whose life was straight out of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels.
A great-nephew of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns, Alexander was only 16 when he signed up for the private army of the East India Company.
A brilliant linguist, he was soon dispatched on a series of secret missions through Persia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the Punjab and Sindh in modern Pakistan. He often travelled in disguise, taking incredible risks.
Murray identifies with his subject, perhaps not least for the way that Burnes inveigled himself into the harems of the rulers he visited along the way.
However, there was a deadly serious purpose to his travels. The British were convinced the Russians planned to send an army across the Khyber Pass to conquer India. The aim of Burnes’s exploration was to survey the terrain and assess tribal alliances in order to combat the Russian menace.
Burnes argued that Britain should ally with Afghan ruler Dost Mohammad Khan, in order to create a barrier against Russia.
However, his bosses overruled him. They believed the only way of stopping a Russian invasion was by getting rid of Khan altogether and replacing him with a puppet ruler supposedly loyal to Britain.
In 1839, with many misgivings, Burnes agreed to play a leading role in a military expedition to overthrow Khan, a man he liked and admired.
At first, the British Army met with success. Kabul fell, and by the summer of 1840, British forces were in occupation of the Afghan capital and the puppet ruler was duly installed.
However, deposed Khan proved an astute enemy and his Afghan tribes combined to rise up against the invader.
The story of Burnes ends with him being hacked to death by a tribal mob in his home in Kabul — the prelude to a grisly period which saw the expulsion of all British soldiers from Afghanistan. He was only 36.
The parallel with Britain’s 21st-century overseas misfortunes are astonishing.
Murray shows how Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, architect of the Afghan invasion, deliberately misrepresented Burnes’s advice to persuade MPs of the case for invasion.
The comparison with Tony Blair and Sir John Scarlett’s dodgy dossier ahead of the 2003 Iraq invasion is even more mind-boggling.
Like Blair and Scarlett, Palmerston paid no price for his deception, rising to become one of Britain’s most celebrated prime ministers.
It is also remarkable that nearly 170 years after Burnes’s death, British forces were once again dragged into Afghanistan.
Tony Blair’s calamitous decision to send British troops to Helmand Province in the south of the country led to a similar uprising to that by the very Afghan tribes which did for Burnes in 1841.
And today, just as in 1841, the British military and political establishments are convulsed by Russophobia.
Apart from its scholarly merits, Murray’s book is a terrific read. He has done full justice to the life of a remarkable British hero, without ignoring his faults.
M urray shows, for instance, how in Burnes’s final months he grew arrogant, aloof and brutal as his personality was warped by the fatal decision to invade Afghanistan.
Yet Murray challenges the established view, accepted by all modern historians, that Burnes inflamed Afghan opposition by taking liberties with the native women.
He certainly does not challenge the notion that Burnes was a womaniser, but he shows that, alive to the danger of alienating Afghan pride, Burnes brought with him to Kabul a harem of beautiful Kashmiri women to cater for his needs.
For all his failings, Burnes remains one of the great heroes of the British imperial adventure, and Murray has done him proud.
Apart from anything else, this splendid book contains all the ingredients for a truly magnificent movie.

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80 thoughts on “The First Review of Sikunder Burnes, by Peter Oborne.

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  • Roger Whittaker

    I pre-ordered the book on Amazon a while ago, and today I got a mail:


    We’re still trying to obtain the following item[s] you ordered on August 31 2016 (Order# 206-0052476-9960352).

    Craig Murray “Sikunder Burnes: Master of the Great Game”

    We’re awaiting a revised estimate from our supplier, and will email you as soon as we receive this information.


    Is there a problem at the publisher’s side?

    • nevermind

      and do send a copy to Fassbinder, he’s one of the directors who would/couldtake this on without turning it into a hellfire, brimstone and up the empire Hollywood fairytale.

      Great review, good luck with trying to get Birlinn to print enough copies between now and yesterday. Have you tried Bertelsmann for speed..;)

      • paul

        He’ll have to contact the afterlife to do that. Hasn’t been around since 1982.

        Werner Herzog might be a good choice.

    • craig Post author


      Yes, I emailed them yesterday about that email which loads of people have got. They said copies are going out to Amazon now. But I don’t understand why amazon don’t seem to know that.

      • Alcyone

        They (your publisher) is playing The Little Game with you. I’ve seen it enough times!

        As for the review, even my ADD is tempted to read it myself! And you could not have written a better review yourself.

        The parallels with contemporary times is interesting, though unsurprising. We live in patterns, I’ve seen that enough times too. The players change but the song remains the same.

        Please read my last comment on the previous thread re: the Jaipur event, the timing couldn’t be better.

        • craig Post author

          If you could explain your first comment, because I confess I am a bit confused by it and by why the publisher hasn’t got enough books to Amazon. On Jaipur Literary Festival, yes I have been working on it.

          • Alcyone

            Happily, Craig.

            Time is now monetised, even the clerks. Hard work is out of the window; often the further down the food-chain you go the worse it is. People do not have a proprietorial sense of ownership, leave aside pride in what they do. ‘Manager’s’ do not want to own their responsibility. It’s just excuses. And, yes, it’s fashionable to explain your problems to the ‘customer’. Why the fuck should the customer care what their problems are, and their darned (detailed explanations of their) ‘processes’. Conversely, am I the customer expected to share all my problems with the other? My approach is ‘No Excuses’ — it’s like playing ping-pong and I make it very clear, I don’t want to play their Little circular Games. I’ll go top-down where at least theoretically you have a better understanding. They need to own the darned thing and deliver a result.

            Hard and smart work are out of the window these days. It’s all about so-called ‘balance of life’. And then the ‘system is down’…. 😉

            PS Reiterate please let me know if you need a nudge on Jaipur. I should be surprised if they’d be anything other than open, receptive and welcoming! Again, if you’re dealing with people at the right level, NEVER the gatekeepers!

          • Shatnersrug

            Good old fashion underestimation Craig, I doubt they were expecting to shift more than a few hundred in the first week. Not everyone going crazy and buying two like I did! Let’s hope it roles on eh?

            You do need a PR person (propaganda isn’t always bad, not if it’s true anyway)

  • AdrianD

    Excellent stuff. I’ve just started reading it.

    I was wondering if you’ve arranged any events, talks or appearances in support of the book?

    • craig Post author

      Hi, great. No, not as yet on talks, but very much hoping now its out bookshops and literary festivals etc will start to invite me. I gave the publisher a list of possible societies etc who might be interested, but no return from that yet. I think people have been waiting to see if the book is any good before committing!

      • Alcyone

        Publisher’s apparently are not necessarily publicists. You need a friendly pro-bono or affordable PR firm. It’s not rocket science.

        I dare say it’s not impossible for you to do it yourself. You do have to, however, remove any possible glass-ceilings inwardly, psychologically. Natural for what you’ve been through. But you’re good at what you do. It’s also natural that attention is energy, inattention or deferral is loss of energy. Applies to all of us.

        Just articulating and not being judgmental in the slightest. A lot of shallow people around–as much on here as outside. Your observations clearly reflect deep thinking, in the nature of insight rather than mere analysis.

      • Julian

        Hi Craig,

        Alcyone is right. Small authors are generally ignored as far as publicity goes by their publishers so it is DIY. I’ve heard good things about although I haven’t used them myself. They have a range of packages on their website.

  • Alcyone

    “A brilliant linguist, he was soon dispatched on a series of secret missions through Persia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the Punjab and Sindh in modern Pakistan.”

    ‘Modern Pakistan’ is one helluva oxymoron. Modern-day, perhaps, Peter?

    What is this fascination people have with Pakistan these days anyway? Can you please explain? Is it political correctness? I’m afraid so as Pakistan (Land of The Pure) is one of THE most fucked countries on the planet. It is also a disgustingly psycho country and Society, it’s chief export being terrorists.

    And, anyway, isn’t the larger part of Punjab, undisputedly in India? A reply would really be appreciated.

  • barkbat

    Tried to get a copy in the huge Foyles in central London yesterday and they still don’t have stock but are expecting it ‘soon’.

  • Habbabkuk

    Pleased to hear you got a good review from Mr Oborne – and am sure other good ones will follow!

  • Juteman

    Waterstones in Dundee say it is being released on the 31st and they will have it in stock after then.

    • Bob Smith

      Don’t. First rule of producing a book, don’t even give free copies to your friends!

  • john young

    I have read about Burnes previously,somethings “plus change plus cest la meme chose”The never ever understood/understand Afghan culture/history or did they? but carried on regardless,not their “heads on the block”.All these present day warmongers should be asked the simple question,will you or your close family/relatives be in the front line?.Your book will make an ideal Christmas present.Good luck.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Review was too much a precis of the book, and nor enough detailed analysis of its good and bad points.

    I still don’t see that Palmerston didn’t pay anything for causing the First Afghan War as he and his Whig colleagues were voted out of office while it was taking place, and he would not have returned if Peel had not split the Tory Party by repealing the Corn Laws while increasing coercion in Ireland.

    Wish Blair and Bush had been voted out of office while the current war in Afghanistan got started.

    • Trowbridge H. Ford

      Still hoping for some mention of Lord Auckland, the Governor General of India who issued the Simla Declaration, deposing Dost Mohammed Khan.

      Seems that Palmerston was only covering up for what Brougham’s brother-in-law had caused.

      When Lord Chancellor Brougham was hopelessly a drug addict, he tried to appoint Auckland a Deputy Controller of the Exchequer, but he was ineligible for a second Crown appointment.

      Too bad he couldn’t serve at home as it would have quite likely prevented the war.

      Brougham was back up to speed when the war broke out. and when Auckland;s replacement, Lord Ellenborough went off the rails too, he helped see to his recall.

  • Flinx

    Is it not possible that Alexander Burnes is perhaps yourself in a previous life Craig – haha? The ‘coincidental’ parallels to a lot of your current life are quite astounding?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Can’t find Peter Oborne’s review on DM’s British news. Did find a piece about lying Tony trying to arrange a new vote of Brexit, though.

    Is the DM just being clever about deceiving us again?

  • Tony_0pmoc

    Peter Oborne is often on form too. One of the last of a dying breed of journalists with courage and integrity.

    Brill Review. I am going to have to buy it now.

    • Shatnersrug

      Peter’s a funny old stick. He’s very loyal to the Tories even though he seems to disagree with what they’re fundamentally about. It’s like he feels loyal to them even though they’re not loyal to him.

  • Tony_0pmoc

    Publishing has always been a very dirty messy business even if the product is excellent, and politically, non-controversial. This is particularly true, if the publisher is very small, and the creator relatively unknown.

    However, if attempts are made to ban the product, by for example The BBC – or Government, the News leaks out by other sources, that it has been banned. People wonder – why has it been banned – it must be really good???

    In such a situation, particularly if it involved music or computer games, it could ultimately result in absolutely Massive sales.

    Well, that was the situation, even 15-20 years ago. The internet has changed all the rules.

    In around 1984, the BBC attempted to ban this

    “Relax don’t do it – Frankie goes to Hollywood”

    (its only the audio version – the video is a bit strong)

    I agree with Peter Oborne. I reckon your book would make a brilliant film.


  • RobG

    Peter Oborne finishes with this: “Apart from anything else, this splendid book contains all the ingredients for a truly magnificent movie”.

    For gawd’s sake, Craig, try to resist the money, because if Hollywood get hold of your book they’ll do a ‘London Has Fallen’ job on it.

    On related matters, the FBI have now opened a second investigation of Hillary Clinton, in light of what Wikileaks have been releasing…

    There’s less than two weeks to go before the US presidential election.

    I’ve never seen anything like it…

  • Teflon Don

    Read about Burnes in the Great Game. Fascinating stories and definitely could make for interesting viewing…such as the time when the British army rescued Russian slaves…

  • Tony_0pmoc

    I know The Telegraph has been shiit – well since even before Peter Oborne resigned on Principle…

    But I have to say Jemima Khan has got the best outfit for Halloween (it seems to have been toned down a bit)

    Oh and see the real video that Michael Moore did – rather than the opposite propaganda that was spun.

    It’s Awesome

    Basically he has got an audience in his home town in Michigan – and the photography is nearly as good as his speech. I was wondering about that – why is the lighting so good? why is the editing so good of very quick shots of the locals – who I guess he invited for free..

    Well he is a film director


  • davidb

    Book purchased at Book Depository ( they say they have stock ) at the reduced £18-68 price. I hope you get a movie deal. But for Christs sake don’t let them cast Ewan MacGregor. There are way better Scottish actors than that 🙂

    • Bob Smith

      Just tried the book depository and they don’t have it in stock. It seems to me that Craig’s publishers have cocked up with distribution as nowhere seems to have it at any price. I have it on order from Hive but no indication when I might get a copy.

  • Anon1

    Hardly a review, though, is it? More like calling in a favour from a well refreshed old mate.

    And it’s from the ‘Daily Heil’, so as I’ve been instructed here it should be automatically discounted as a work of hate speech.

    • craig Post author

      Hardly an “old mate”. Actually I had never met Peter Oborne before he submitted his review, although I did subsequently for the one and only time, afterwards.

      I don’t know what is wrong with you. You have been coming to this site regularly for years to disagree and criticise. I have no problem with that. But in the last few days all your comments have been really nasty and personal – and, like this one, misguided.

      • Anon1

        Fair enough. It did look like it had been scribbled on the back of a beer mat for a drinking buddy, though.

        No they’re not nasty and personal (any more than your characterisations of those with different political views to your own as vicious, nasty, far-right, neocon, racist, xenophobic; motivated by greed, hatred and so on).

        But that doesn’t bother me so much. It’s just the left are so deeply immersed in the belief in their own moral superiority, that they don’t see it the same way when they do it.

        What irks me of late is all these imagined conspiracies to silence you. For a while it didn’t look like your book was getting out there. So it then becomes a conspiracy by the MSM and the publishing houses and Big Bookstore to silence the great and virtuous human rights campaigner and scourge of the Establishment, because he is a whistle-blower. But why should your book be plastered all over the newspapers? You do not automatically deserve recognition. And then Oborne and the Daily Mail come along and slap your theory down, but you just carry on unabashed. (At which point some of your followers invented a conspiracy that Oborne’s review was being deliberately hidden on the Mail’s website!). The Establishment that wants to silence you, yet you constantly tell us you are best mates with everyone in that Establishment.

        Or when you went to America. The conspiracy to silence Craig Murray for his great human rights works and opposition to torture. It turned out you were merely flagged like thousands of others and allowed to proceed. But no, rather than admit that, you created a story about how it was only the intense pressure brought about by the devotees of the saintly Murray on social media that forced the US into an embarrassing climbdown.

        The conspiracies to silence you, all this wailing away in your perceived victimhood when things aren’t going well for you. I can’t stand it. To an extent you are egged on by a hardcore of followers who think you will be assassinated every time you walk out the front door, but get a grip on reality. To achieve recognition and make money as a bestselling author is extremely difficult. You don’t deserve it any more than anyone else.

        If that is what you want, of course. If you want to be a serious writer and not, say, a Dalrymple (who has an army of low-paid researchers to propel him), then obscurity comes with the territory I am afraid (and your books will cost 40 quid and no one will read them).

    • RobG

      Nay, it’s the work of Beelzebub.

      On the star sign page of the Daily Mail can be found the mark of the beast!

      The beast has four hooves and the mark of sixes on its rump.

      “All are welcome”.

      “All are welcome”.

      To be dead, to be really dead, that must be glorious!

      • Anon1

        Nope. I do not comment on the Mail website. In fact, the only time I read it is when you link to it.

  • RobG

    For those who want an alternate reality, here’s yesterday’s Question Time on the BBC…

    It’s so contrived it reminds me of East Germany back in the 1970s and 80s (when I used to travel there often and was very familiar with it). Ken Loach didn’t do too bad, but at the end of the programme he appears to have no understanding of what depleted uranium is.

    The same depleted uranium munitions (which, incidentally, are banned by Geneva conventions) that are being used right now by Uncle Sam and his poodles in places like Syria and Yemen.

  • Becky Cohen

    “Apart from anything else, this splendid book contains all the ingredients for a truly magnificent movie.”

    The bit about the dressing up in a disguise and romping around in the harems would have certainly made a classic Carry On film LOL:)

    • RobG

      Yes, LOL, or ROTFL, or any other of the abbreviations that are used by egits who don’t have two brain cells to rub together.

      ZZZ (cause I’m too dumb to type that I’m bored and am going to bed).

      God help the human race…

  • kief

    Reviews are a mixed bag. It’s a reflection of the reviewer, as they typically are hopelessly mired in the persona they must maintain without cognitive dissonance.

    The general rule of thumb is it takes seven positives to overcome one negative in human endeavors.

    It’s best to take it with a grain of salt.

    • Alcyone

      Oh really, is this another ‘theory’? Do you have ANY FACTS, at all?

      “as they typically are hopelessly mired in the persona they must maintain without cognitive dissonance.”

      Can anyone please translate academic American into English please? Lysias, perhaps you can help?

      “The general rule of thumb is it takes seven positives to overcome one negative in human endeavors.”

      This too please, what EXACTLY are you TRYING to say and please provide context as to how this relates to Craig or the review? A SOURCE too please for this piece of illustrious Wisdom.

      Btw, can you ever speak directly about the ‘thing’, without punctuating with your cliched metaphors? And did you know of Oborne before today?

      I do genuinely fear you are, as usual, talking through your sphincter.

      God, I detest these pretensive Americans. Give me Trump anytime, at least I understand what he is saying.

      • kief

        It’s about this time every day that you go deep into your fears.

        That, like everything else in this World, is not coincidental.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      No publicity is bad publicity, and if it’s free, it’s terrific. Without wanting to even suggest a parallel, the reviewers always took particular pleasure in panning Jeffrey Archer (rightly). But every charity shop in the land has multiple donated copies of his back catalogue. Someone bought them.

      • kief

        Indeed. I forgot that Peter Principle, Ba’al.

        But I think Craig wishes all his reviews were fair and balanced….a bridge too far.

        Though I suspect his ledger is sufficient for today.

  • Sharp Ears

    Herald Scotland 11th September 2016
    Sex, spies and masonic secrets: wild life of Burns’ swashbuckling relative uncovered
    Karin Goodwin

    IT IS a story of spying, sex and Freemasonry – of shipwrecks, double crossing secret agents, seduction, treachery and the making of the myths that form the basis of the Da Vinci code.

    But this is not the plot of the next blockbuster film, but the real life story of our national poet Robert Burns’ forgotten relative.

    Previously undiscovered details of the story of Captain Sir Alexander Burnes, whose father was the Bard’s first cousin, are to be brought to life in a new book by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan


    (OT but this in the sidebar made me laugh
    Ruth Davidson wins Herald Scottish Politician of the Year prize after reviving Tory party !)

    • Brianfujisan

      Sharp Ears

      The Ruth D award says it all for media up here..Stay Strong

      P.s… Worth a the event of a film.. can we At the blog get a wee shout as extras. Not that wanta drive the Ladies Crazy ( 😉

  • bevin

    While taking a break from reading ‘the book’ (which is very readable) on Kindle, I noted these two examples of the complete reliability of the MSM:
    The first, which needs to be read in the context of Clinton campaign assertions that the Russian government is not only hacking its emails but, in undisclosed instances, changing their meanings is this one. It is well worth reading for a variety of reasons, not least because it gives an idea of the complete incompetence and credulity of the campaign team which is likely to supply many key personnel in the next US government

    Then there is this one, from MoA regarding the dreaded zika virus which had America in a panic a dew weeks ago:

    And now back to Kashmir, almost 200 years ago and our genial host’s refreshingly, almost Cobbettian, egotistical prose style.

  • Marco

    Congratulations Craig, well deserved! I’m reading your book on my iPad and rather enjoying it. Very different in ambition from your previous books, which I respect!

    By the way, your site footer only mentions Samarkand and Togo – you may want to update that to highlight Sikunder.



  • Blair paterson

    I am always amazed why we are supposed to feel pride for scots who helped make England great under the guise of Britain i am reading a book Highlander about the brave Highland Scottish soldiers who fought all over the world with great bravery and courage and I think if only they had fought that way for their own country Scotland then we would have been free long ago

    • craig Post author

      Blair your comment is quite correct, but at the same time appears to make a mistaken assumption about the content or import of Sikunder Burnes.

  • Anon1

    Anyway, best of luck with the book. As I said, I shall be buying a copy in due course.

    Ps, what will you do if Hollywood offers you $x million for the exlusive rights to turn it into an action blockbuster, starring Brad Pitt, at the same time as a small Scottish arthouse studio?

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