Return of a King

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Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
Return of a King book cover.png
First edition cover
AuthorWilliam Dalrymple
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectTravel writing/religion
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover,)
Preceded byNine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India 

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, written by the Scottish historian William Dalrymple and published in 2012, is an account of the First Anglo–Afghan War from 1839 to 1842.


Return of a King is an account of Britain's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 1839–42, known as the First Anglo–Afghan War, which was fought between British East India Company and Afghanistan. The conflict resulted in the near complete destruction of an entire British army, with deaths of 4,500 British and Indian soldiers, plus 12,000 of their camp followers.[1] It was one of the worst defeats Britain would experience during the Victorian colonial era, and considered by many Afghans to be one of the greatest triumphs in their national history. It was the first major conflict of The Great Game, the 19th century competition for power and influence in Asia between the United Kingdom and the Russian Empire.[2]


The book on publication has received very positive reviews. Jason Burke's review in The Observer mentions, "Return of a King is perhaps the most directly relevant to the present day. The author spent time in both Afghanistan and Pakistan during its research and elaborates on the obvious parallels with the current situation,"[3] Barnaby Rogerson in The Independent says "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."[4]

Rupert Edis in the Sunday Telegraph said "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."[5] Max Hastings in the Sunday Times described the book as "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."[6]

Awards and honours[edit]

The book won the 2015 Hemingway Prize'.[7] It also won 2015 Kapuściński Prize,[8][9] was a finalist for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize,[10] the Duff Cooper and the Hessell-Tiltman Prize.[11]


  1. ^ Baxter, Craig. "The First Anglo–Afghan War". In Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Afghanistan: A Country Study. Baton Rouge, LA: Claitor's Pub. Division. ISBN 1-57980-744-5. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
  2. ^ Keay, John (2010). India: A History (revised ed.). New York, NY: Grove Press. pp. 418–9. ISBN 978-0-8021-4558-1.
  3. ^ Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple – review The Observer 26 January 2013
  4. ^ The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, By William Dalrymple The Independent 1 February 2013
  5. ^ [1] The Sunday Telegraph 4 February 2013
  6. ^ [2] The Sunday Times 27 January 2013
  7. ^ Bloomsbury is Delighted to Announce That the Italian Edition of William Dalrymple's Return of a King The Telegraph 23 June 2015
  8. ^ William Dalrymple wins the Kapuściński Prize David Godwin Associates 14 September 2015
  9. ^ Kapuściński Prize for RETURN OF A KING Bloomsbury India's Twitter account 11 September 2015
  10. ^ Charlotte Higgins (30 September 2013). "Samuel Johnson prize 2013 shortlist – in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  11. ^ Timothy R. Smith (9 April 2014). "David Reynolds wins PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 June 2014.