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This is a very well-written history of a relatively unknown part of the world. It has all the qualities of a riveting read. Perfect for those who want to know of the history of Asia. It has some great anecdotes, amusing and tragic.
Well documented and realistic historic account of the known visitors to Tibet from the very first Europeans to enter the country until the final full Chinese invasion of 1959. A superbly written book, very readable and comprehensive. I learnt so much about the country, and what it was like in the 1700's onwards, giving me a much improved understanding of the country I have read so much about since reading 'Seven Years in Tibet' in the 1970's.
For centuries Tibet was the innermost core of one of the most inaccessible, and therefore most mysterious, places on earth. The country was ringed by mountains and protected by sub-zero temperatures. There was Everest (and possibly an even higher peak). There was Lhasa with its "golden domes like tongues of fire" and its Potala palace of a thousand rooms rising into the clouds from a sheer rock face. There was Tibetan Buddhism which could instal a Dalai Lama from the cradle. Small wonder that the brave and the curious wished to see for themselves.
Stripped to basics, these are adventure stories: Somerset Maugham meets John Buchan. But in detail they are revealed often as accounts of immense courage in overwhelmingly forbidding circumstances, sometimes of almost unbelievable foolhardiness. Remarkably but perhaps not surprisingly, virtually everyone who made the attempt wrote about it afterwards. Hopkirk has read the books, feretted among the official archives, travelled the area himself. The narrative is vivid and anecdotal but there is enough political and historical background to establish context. If the voice is the voice of Empire it is at least authentic.
The reservation of other readers that this book does not look at the trespassers from the point of view of the Tibetans would only be valid if the author had set out to provide a rounded account. But that is matter for other writers with other perspectives. Peter Hopkirk unashamedly sets out to tell the many stories of those who attempted - and mostly failed - to penetrate the forbidden kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Terrific account of an extraordinary episode shedding much light into an otherwise little known chapter of history which explains much about not only the human desire to seek out the rare and unusual ways of life but also human behaviour in past times. A wonderful read, hard to put down. Highly recommend, especially for anyone with the slightest interest in Asia and or China and its relationship with Tibet.
This book is little more than an overview of Western travelogues about Tibet in the late 19th and early 20th century. This is interesting enough but the book is missing much critical analysis of the racial attitude and overweening entitlement which led these white explorers to be willing to risk their lives and the lives of their Tibetan, Indian and Chinese friends and servants to gatecrash Tibet's holy sites. Also missing is what exactly the Tibetans made of all these Westerners trying to force their way in.
I was recommended to read this book by a friend who once drove overland to Australia in the 1960's, when it was more straightforward than now. He had also once met Peter Hopkirk. This book introduced me to an area of history that I knew very little of hitherto. It tells the story of the efforts of westerners to gain access to Llasa for a variety of reasons - and it was not that long ago. a fascinating read.