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49 thoughts on “So Far So Good



    I am a few chapters in and enjoying learning about a place and time I knew little of. I’m a ponderous reader, and reading on my desktop computer is even slower. But it is a lively read and hard to stop.

    • craig Post author

      Thank you – I am glad you are enjoying it. I can’t ever read a whole book electronically myself. But I fear I am just old and outdated!

  • Habbabkuk

    Well done and congrats, Craig!

    May I also be allowed to salute the commercial acumen of bringing out your opus in the run-up to Christmas?

      • Habbabkuk

        It is not crap but a well-known fact that book sales do especially well in the run up to Christmas.

        • nevermind

          Good news all-round Craig, as yet no sign of Waterstone’s, or the book hive txt’ing me.

          In your circles reading might only be done around the yule period only, habby, us normal folk has to read every day.

          • Habbabkuk

            “In your circles reading might only be done around the yule period only, habby, us normal folk has to read every day.”

            It is well known – and publishers statistics bear this out – that book sales show an upswing in the run up to Christmas. Which is not to say that people read more at Christmas than at other times, since it is perfectly possible that many of the books offered as Christmas presents remain unread by their recipients. I hope that helps.


            NB to this evening’s Mod: your colleague on duty yesterday castigated me – and then deleted the posts in question – for naming the person(s) I was replying to.

            I am delighted to note that you do not share that strange quirk (the word “habby” refers) 🙂

        • Shatnersrug

          I probably wouldn’t have bought two if it wasn’t Christmas soon! It’s the perfect tree prezzie for my dad!

  • Alcyone

    Great news! First call made today, the ball is rolling towards the Pink City. This will undoubtedly help.

    Agree with Habs, for all the Birlinn-bashing, spot-on timing. Hope that supply chain now keeps up and they adequately stocked. I would want to get an update and look at the forecast–3 versions: optimistic, pessimistic and realistic, along with underlying support and rationale for assumptions.

    I did say that Luck was required here, rather more than at a Parliamentary Committee. Now, it rather looks to me like the stars are well-aligned. Actually that is an insight I had last month. Wish you a Winter of Content. Deserved.

  • bevin

    Apart from the fact that this work contains a shocking attack on an ancient academic institution located in Scotland -which is bound to be detrimental to its prospects- I am even more convinced, after finishing the book that this will be a best seller. And deservedly so-studies of the Empire in this era with an honest and reasonable understanding of its fundamental faults are rare. The reality is that the Empire survived despite the corruption, stupidity and hubris which surrounded its rule. In this case the appointments of McNaghten, Auckland and General Elphinstone are examples of the weaknesses of a system of patronage in the hands of an oligarchy.
    A few more random thoughts.
    * It is interesting that the “cure” that Benjamin Rush used to kill thousands in the yellow Fever epidemics in Philadelphia (and which also killed George Washington) were still in vogue in India in the 1820s:
    ” The Transylvanian physician to the Sikh Court, John Honigberger, was frustrated: ‘As for the deadly poisons calomel and opium! These glitter as brightly on the East Indian medical horizon as they do amongst English physicians.”

    *The baneful influence of Macaulay and the perfidy of the Whigs in ‘editing’ Burnes’ despatches are a reminder that the duopoly of two authoritarian parties protecting privilege long ante-dated Blairism.

    *Thomas Love Peacock was also the father in law of George Meredith, one of the most interesting of the Victorian novelists. It is astonishing how many men of genius the EIC had on its payroll at various times, JS Mill, for example, inherited his job from his father James (of the Montrose Academy) author of a History of India which was felt to be all the more authoritative because Mill had never been to the country and knew nothing of it except what he had culled from books.

    •The Great Game is essentially the struggle between Mongols and Vikings- the sea empire against the land empire. In which Russia, whose origins are in both founding camps, is the key. Burnes represented the sea power. The Afghans the Mongol raiders from the central Asian interior. (This is said to be a view shared by Alexander Dugin!)

    •One very useful aspect of the book is the light it sheds on the founding of the British ruling class, an Institution of far more than local import, a sociological template and a central part of what we call our culture. The story of the Burnes family’s rise, from tenant farming smallholders to solid bourgeois status and wealth is exemplary. Similar tales lie behind families such as the Stracheys, the Stephens, etc etc. There was enormous social mobility in the !8th and early C19th. And of no nation was this more true than the Scots bourgeoisie.

    •As you suggest in the final chapters, the Empire can only be understood in terms of the radical liberal ideology, rooted in Malthus, Bentham and Smith which had quickly become the real religion of Empire, a religion with which Evangelical Christianity had reached an amicable modus vivendi. Burnes, the protégé of Joseph Hume (one of the proto-typical Radical MPs , the Parliamentary sponsor of the 1824 Combination Act repeal) was clearly a thoroughgoing Free Trader, literally laughing at the moral economy in which most of the world, including Afghanistan, still believed. And as Cobbett had noted the ideology in question had become a “Scotch feelosophy”. It was an ideology which perfectly justified-as progress both desirable and inevitable- an enterprise which ensured enormous material gains to the ruling elites and their agents.

    • One regular commenter recently referred to a book-Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire-in which econometric historians ‘prove’ that Britain gained nothing from its empire and would have been better off with a more enlightened investment programme. In some senses the authors are right but in general terms, as your story makes clear, it is impossible to conceive of Victorian England (which I take to begin in 1830) without the Empire and particularly the Indian possessions of the EIC. In your final chapters you outline the scale of the salaries of those involved, the vast salaries involved at a time which bridged the era of private trading, and the rapid accumulation of personal fortunes from a variety of means which were close to outright criminality, and that of the well organised plundering of the government system under which, every year, enormous amounts of money were repatriated from India to the UK. I am not sure how things are today but when I was a child large numbers of private homes-my grandparents’ included- were filled with tiger skins, ivory carvings, brass work and other exotic imports from India.

    • Particularly deft, I thought, was your treatment of the nature of imperial relationships: without descending to anachronisms, and in the face of the conventional wisdom of identity politics, you carefully dismantle many of the racist myths of Empire. Both the conventional story of British troops holding firm while ‘natives’ shivered with fear or ran away, and the ‘modernistic’ re-iteration of the superiority of Brummagem muskets to the firelocks of the guerrillas are exploded.

    • And then there is the story of the Tommy which Kipling, in, as you say, his own way, began to tell. It is the story too of millions of Indians of mixed race, the descendants of both Tommy and his bosses. Perhaps one way of putting it into perspective is to understand what the life of a farm labourer in southern England- earning about 6/-a week and, at this time becoming liable to imprisonment in the workhouse when unemployed or sick-meant. One of the best reports on the working of the Poor Law in 1834 came from Somerset-the county in which the 13th of Foot was based- in it a clergyman (whose name escapes me) chronicled the conditions of his parishioner labourers which no Afghan would have envied.

    • Kempe

      ” It is interesting that the “cure” that Benjamin Rush used to kill thousands in the yellow Fever epidemics in Philadelphia (and which also killed George Washington) were still in vogue in India in the 1820s ”

      Blood letting wasn’t seriously challenged by medical science until the second half of the nineteenth century. It’s still practiced as part of some “alternative” practices today.

    • craig Post author


      Thank you or that super critique. I think I agree with most of that. I would add to the bit on the dismantling of the myths of Empire, that I try to show that the Afghan elite were part of the same cosmopolitan ruling class as the British, not the “barbarians” of most historic portrayal, and were participating in joint activities with the British in fields like agricultural improvement and Bactrian archaeology.

      It would much oblige me if, getting rid of references to “you” and to other commenters and otherwise mutatis mutandi, you were to post your observations as a review on Amazon or goodreads or other platform.

      • Shatnersrug

        Crossing all crossable parts for you Craig thought I doubt you need it :-). You really deserve the best xx

    • lysias

      That radical liberal ideology was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine.

      The same cold-bloodedness survived to allow the Bengali Famine of 1941-3, which killed millions.

      • Tony_0pmoc


        Congratulations to you too re Hillary Clinton. I asked how do you know that? It seems everyone will know soon.


      • Habbabkuk

        Are you suggesting that the person you refer to (and whose name, if I mentioned it, might get this post deleted) has NOT actually read Craig’s book?

        • Trowbridge H. Ford

          Well, he has to finish fast with stuff supporting his review, as in my reading the book, I haven’t found one iota for what he wrote.

          Who is he? Sir John Scarlett? Peter Wright’s ghost? Who?

          And thanks, Tony. Will add something after I have refreshed my memory.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Thanks for the free sample. You’ve sold another copy on the basis of that. Your research seems to have been exhaustive, and it was no mean feat to make it not only readable, but entertaining. PhD thesis meeets CS Forrester…

  • Bill Dale

    Tried to buy on Amazon UK this morning. Said delivery in one to two months! Is there any way of getting a hard copy sooner?

    Would love to read this, having also read Return of a King.

      • Bill Dale

        Just rechecked and they sill show delivery at one to two months, so I ordered on Books etc (shown on Amazon page) and should get delivered in a few days, saving £8 on Amazon list price!

        Thanks for replying promptly.

      • Roger Whittaker

        I had the following “delivery update” from Amazon this morning:

        Craig Murray “Sikunder Burnes: Master of the Great Game”
        Estimated arrival date: November 21 2016 – December 09 2016

        • Roger Whittaker

          And now, I’ve had another mail from Amazon beginning:

          We’re writing about the order you placed on August 31 2016 (Order# 206-0052476-9960352). We don’t have an estimated delivery date for the items below. We’ll provide you with periodic updates on your delivery date, and notify you as soon as the items are ready to dispatch.

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

    • Kempe

      Amazon, my vendor of last resort it has to be said, seem to exaggerate standard delivery times to try and persuade you to pay more for express delivery or sign up to Prime. I’d be prepared to bet that if you ordered the book it would arrive much quicker than they claim.

      • Squonk

        The book hasn’t been eligible for Prime delivery until now. Amazon have however updated yet again giving a release date for tomorrow, 2nd Nov, and for the first time I see a Prime symbol and tick. That should mean they actually have physical copies in stock finally!

        Amazon copies are full price and they are no longer listing the discounted copy via Books etc. Books etc still have the book listed as available at £14.97 including P&P on their own website.

        • Squonk

          Amazon now back to telling me “delivery to Prime Members once available”. No option to specify a Prime delivery slot.

          I think these books must be travelling by river barge and cart-horse in homage to Burnes. Stuck up the Khyber Pass no doubt.

  • Bob Smith

    Still waiting for Hive to get it in stock and send it. It is being shown as on order. Most frustrating.

    • Bob Smith

      Just found a new copy on eBay for £20.24 with free postage. Duly ordered. If a copy from Hive ever turns up, it will make a wonderful Christmas present for someone.

  • Demetrius

    Interesting, very interesting. What of Turner Macan? He and his family deserve a book on his own. Then there is Ralph Henry Sneyd, his brother in law, Commander of the Governor General’s Bodyguard who named a son Charles Theophilus Sneyd. They connect to William Nott, another Great Game warrior.

  • Clydebuilt


    Placed order with Amazon on Oct 26th Auto Confirmation “Delivery Date Pending” ,
    received email today Revised delivery date Nov. 22nd to Dec. 12th.

    • craig Post author

      Just received this from my publisher

      This is incorrect. They must not have booked the stock in at their end yet – the “one to two months” is a standard message they stick up when stock gets delayed. It will not take anything like that long for books to be released – they will go out this week.

  • Fuddlededee

    There has ben at least one copy sold over here in Deutschland as I bought my electronic copy this morning. For infor it cost 9.16€ so somebody is making money out of the GBP/Euro exchange rate. Given the furore in the English “newspapers” I was expectng it to cost about 2€.

    I can’t see a review of the book in the London Review of Books 🙂
    My favourite bookshop, Blackwells in Oxford, have the book listed as “unavailable, Not available for sale” even though publication date is given as 26th October 2016.

  • Sharp Ears


    laidbackviews TO TimHannigan 6 Sep 2016 20:11
    Another one due out imminently which is right up your Khyber Pass is Sikunder Burnes. It is the work of Craig Murray, who amongst many other things was the Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

    In reply FROM Tim Hannigan
    How do you spot these things? Thank you – that one will definitely be on the autumn reading list. It was about time someone did a proper modern biography of Burnes. There’s an existing one called Bokhara Burnes by James Lunt, but it’s short, not particularly exciting, and long out of print. He pops up here there and everywhere, of course – from the first Flashman to the most recent Dalrymple, but no proper dedicated treatment.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Nixon’s “October Surprise” involved his running mate Spiro Agnew calling South Vietnamese President Thieu, telling him that his country would get a better deal from them if he refused to agree to LBJ’s peace proposals, which he did, and Reagan’s running mate G.H.W. Bush had Jimmy Carter so stalked by John Hinckley, Jr. that he ended up trying to kill Poppy, but settled for shooting The Gipper.

    Now Director Comey has illegally taken over doing the dirty work.

  • Chris S

    Any word on US distribution? I probably won’t wait that long but look forward to ordering it in to sell from Powell’s Books.
    Then we’ll have to try to get you out on tour!

    • craig Post author

      Not so far. I see that has February as US release date. I have asked my publisher about this but received no response yet. At the moment trying flat out to find out why the book is in practice unavailable in the UK.

      • Alcyone

        Typical UK mediocrity. Offer excuses, point fingers, just go along and make it up. Which is why I said you need to meet The Publisher-Owner, personally with no added-room for wriggling. Get them to admit they have screwed up, feel some sense of guilt, pick up where you are with the actual ‘What Is’ and chart a course. Then determine a measurement mechanis with daily updates of action steps and results.

        Walked into a major Waterstones yesterday, but not Piccadilly. They said the book was released on 31 Oct. They had no copies, nor any on order, but I could order. So I did, several copies and they will text me on arrival. Estimate: one week. I shall believe it when I see it and will keep you posted. Pds 25.

        You’d do well to read your contract with the Publisher and take some initial advice, irrespective of whether you act on it legally or with moral suasion in everyday, but firm, business language. There is very obvious loss of income involved here and incompetence, if I am reading this correctly.

      • Alcyone

        Question: Why can there not be a sell button right here on this site, set up within a week/ten days and meantime asf Birlinn to send you 1,000 copies. That may partially make up for lost sales and will reveal more on the ‘What Is’. Given the extent of readership you have, this should get things fucking moving.

        There was a reason why Krishnamurti said ‘The “What Is” is Sacred’. He was undisputedly, not that the man himself matters, The Einstein of The MInd. I challenge all here to point out a wiser man than he in modern times where one is examining Life factually not as some vague philosophical theory.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    For those with ADD, here’s the Sun’s plot synopsis, combined with a plug for George Macdonald Fraser. I think it’s a review.

    For those without ADD, I just fell over this -no doubt mentioned before and cited by Craig, but I haven’t got his book yet –

    “Travels Into Bokhara: Being the Account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary, and Persia : Also, Narrative of a Voyage on the Indus, from the Sea to Lahore, with Presents from the King of Great Britain ; Performed Under the Orders of the Supreme Government of India, in the Years 1831, 1832, and 1833 ; in Three Volumes, ”

    By Sikunder Burnes, and looks like a damn good read too.

  • DavidH

    Mine’s still on order at Along with Murder in Samarkand, they’ll ship as soon as they have stocks. Looks like demand is outstripping supply right now but no hurry – look forward to reading as soon as it comes!

  • Paul Rooney

    Very good review by Peter Oborne. If Oborne says it’s a great read, then it’s a great read – he’s reliable.
    I’ve read (online, I think) the Catholic Orangemen – I enjoyed it. So, my Christmas present to myself will be real paper copies of all three of your books. Are they all available in hardback?

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