Desert explorer and author Michael Asher has reconstructed this classic tale in vivid detail. Having covered every inch of the ground and examined all eyewitness reports, he brings to bear new evidence questioning several accepted aspects of the story. The result is an account that sheds new light on the most riveting tale of honour, courage, revenge and savagery of late Victorian times. A very readable history of the Mahdist period of Sudan, albeit written from the British point of view. Asher knows Sudan and the Sudanese, as well as deserts, camels and the military, and is able to His tale is full of the English professional soldier, the incompetent but beloved officers and a healthy respect for the dervish as fierce, brave and determined fighters.
He also eve The author is an ex-soldier and long-time resident of Sudan. He also even includes the names of soldiers and NCOs rather than leaving them nameless as most military histories do. The pointlessness of the whole affair and the lose of so many lives is just sad.
Mar 22, Colleen rated it it was amazing Shelves: Funny how just last week thanks to that book on Stanley Livingstone I realized how little I knew about African history, and found this in my stack next up!
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Sudan was the first African country to have a successful revolt against its colonial overlord--but the reason for the revolt was the new ban on slavery Tur Funny how just last week thanks to that book on Stanley Livingstone I realized how little I knew about African history, and found this in my stack next up! Sudan was the first African country to have a successful revolt against its colonial overlord--but the reason for the revolt was the new ban on slavery Turkey enacted under British and European pressure.
Arab traders who had settled in Sudan, who were used to raiding villages to the south, killing all the men, and enslaving the women and children, found themselves with no economy. At the same time, Egypt-Turkey decided to modernize Sudan and passed ruinous taxation. The Turks were also horrible rulers, with corrupt officials pouring civil servant and army wages right into their own pockets.
Some troops hadn't been paid in years and were on the verge of mutiny. Insert one religious fanatic, the Mad Mahdi, who thinks he's the second coming, to fight along Jesus in an apocalyptic battle against the apostates--just what ISIS believes. And this is the birth of Islamic fundamentalism. From women going around in loincloths in a fun communal atmosphere, the Mahdi forces strict dress codes on all females over 5, and floggings for all sorts of crimes.
He gathers his dervishes: God's perfect idiot, General "Chinese" Gordon is now dispatched to Khartoum to get the lay of the land and prepare an evacuation. On no circumstances is he to say that the British are coming to the rescue--he goes about his mission in perhaps the worst way ever.
The author is pretty pro-Gordon and is upset about his reputation's fall and the fact the Gordon statue got quietly taken down in Trafalgar Square--but he seemed ridiculously stupid to me. Granted he went out nobly, but he also ordered every male over 8 to join him in defense. When the situation that you personally bungled horribly is now officially ruined and you're going to make a last stand, it seems kind of bad to institute a Hitler Youth defense.
Especially since he seemed a little pedophile-ish, but I guess no way to know for sure. Gordon's death and the fall of Khartoum was Queen Victoria's personal low point of her reign. It's surprising that there was not a constitutional crisis, because it seemed pretty obvious how much she hated Gladstone and her views on the "rescue attempt. The death tolls and mass rapes in this book are on the sobering massive size and the author does a good job showing the panoramic of the disaster. The US ambassador was also killed; so was the Austrian ambassador and his family--gruesomely, even his pet parrot.
There was a half-hearted attempt eventually that had some success with all British troops, but the British military really didn't want to fight in Sudan and took advantage of distractions in Afghanistan to retreat. The Mahdi died soon after, from disease or poisoned by a woman whose family he killed, and his henchman, takes over. Book picks up here with Lord Kitchener taking it over and you see why he was such an icon. The railroad he had built to ferry the troops across the desert is still in use in Sudan and you can see one of his gunboats used in Cairo. Winston Churchill, still a puppy, manages to sneak into the troops with a press pass and is there to witness most of the war's great events.
Sometimes ahead of the front lines, since he seemed to get himself cut off in front of the enemy, getting hit by friendly fire, quite a bit in his excitement. First time British used special forces. The rise of the Egyptian Army. The last regimental cavalry charge. Last time a medieval army fought. I had no idea this war was so monumental. Currently, there's probably no war in the past that affects us so much today presently. The Mahdi were anti any technology invented after Mohammed, so guns were out as apostate tools.
They suborned or bribed a pagan tribe from the hills as rifleman, but majority found with spears and swords. He stressed this a bunch, but when he later talks about the bullet factories run by the Mahdists and how Abdallahi's son was the general of the rifleman, I'd have liked more explanations. The Mahdi and his successor Abdallahi, while their rise from penniless drifters to absolute power is amazing, were tyrants.
And it's hard to feel sad about the takedown of first radical terrorists, it seems a lot went down with them and even the British were shocked at the slaughter.
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The dervishes many said were the greatest enemy the British empire ever fought against "beyond perfection" and on one day in the Battle of Omdurman, entire villages and tribes walked into machine guns. None of the dervishes even made it within yards of the British front lines. Some of the British soldiers in this battle later were mown down themselves at the Somme. Giant points to the author for what happened after portion--so many don't do that--with a wrap up for all the main personages. How Kitchener after Sudan in Egypt worked for pro-Arab revolt against Turkey, dying on the day it broke out.
How Mahdism always lurked beneath the surface in Sudan, springing out again with the same platform in You can't help also reading in this book, about the herds of elephants numbering a thousand that you know are not there now. Or anything to do with Darfur, which has parallels throughout this book. Anyways, if you were like me, and knew absolutely nothing about Sudan in s, this book will tell you everything you need to know. View all 5 comments. Jul 30, Rowland Pasaribu rated it really liked it. This is a historical period that has long interested me. It covers the time between in the Sudan.
It was huge and the Nile flowed right through it. I wondered how it had been both British and Egyptian. As a college student of Asian civilizations I had done a large research project on the Taiping rebellion in China in the 19th Century, and there found mention This is a historical period that has long interested me.
As a college student of Asian civilizations I had done a large research project on the Taiping rebellion in China in the 19th Century, and there found mention of a charismatic leader Charles Gordon who had helped end the conflict and seemed to be a principled and righteous British officer who often went against his orders and always did what he thought was right and usually acted to reduce the suffering of the people he was dealing with.
There was a mention there that he had died defending Khartoum in the Sudan. My interest was raised, and when I saw a trashy paperback in a bookstore I bought it, and quickly read Gordon of Khartoum. It was quite a fanciful retelling of the story of how Gordon was governor-general of the Sudan when it was ruled by the Turks-Egyptians-British, how he had worked to end the slave trade and eventually was reappointed elsewhere.
Gordon had died defending the city because the relief column sent to rescue him arrived about 18 hours too late. I knew it was largely history romanticized, but I enjoyed it.
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I certainly was not as aware as I am now, so the story of a righteous Christian imperialist dying defending his beloved people appealed to me. Later I saw the movie of the same name staring Charlton Heston, which I instantly sensed was entertaining but a load of tripe.
As I was browsing the bookstore shelves buying books for my trip to Mexico a very serious undertaking I saw this volume, inspected it, and bought it, hoping that I would now have a more historically accurate picture of the events. As usual, I began by finding out more about the author. Some background information usually helps me ascertain my feelings about the text. He had been a British military officer in the SAS and then had become an author, achieving much success in many different types of writing.
He also was fascinated by this region of the world and had won awards for desert exploration in the Sudan from the Royal Geographic Society. He lived in Sudan for ten years and spoke fluent Arabic. He now lives in Kenya with his Arabist wife and two children. There are several interesting points about the text that are worth remembering. First, it seems somewhat balanced.
A European will always tell such a story from a European perspective, but he did try to balance the story. His indictment of many officers was specific and cutting. These elements were interesting to me as they showed the arrogance of the British forces in specific detail with stories of specific officers and how they behaved. He showed remarkable respect for the Sudanese people, their various cultures and their tremendous survival skills.
Book Review: Khartoum: the ultimate imperial adventure, by Michael Asher
He talks a lot about how the Beja, specifically, had been defeating invading armies since the time of the Pharaohs and had always been successful. He specifically praises the skills and cleverness of the Haddendowa leaders Osman Digna, a survivor who outlived it all. His salute to the Sudanese as fighters also seems sincere, whether for the courage of those fighting for the Mahdi and for the steadiness and reliability of the Sudanese and Egyptians who fought with the British.
His strongest indictment comes of the Turco-Egyptian ruling class both in Sudan and Egypt as corrupt, cowardly and self-centered. He seems to agree with Gordon, that they were the roots of the problem there and that the people had good reason to rise up against them.
Second, he saw the conflict as not exclusively religious. The Mahdi provided a charismatic figure around which to rally, and while many did so for religious reasons, there were also many practical reasons to support this regime given the corruption and mismanagement of the Turco-Egyptian government. Many of the ethic groups had not rallied to the Mahdi, but when the existing government collapsed and Gordon was killed, they naturally rallied to the winning side.
Likewise, when the Mahdi died soon after the fall of Khartoum, the Islamist state introduced by his successor was a bit too harsh for them and fractures began to develop along ethnic lines. Third, the descriptions of the battles themselves are detailed and horrifying. I wish I had read this as a boy, and it might have cured me of some of the lingering military romanticism that it took me another ten years to eliminate. His descriptions of steel-on-steel battles quite often the British steel failed and the movements of troops were also gripping.
The fact that many battles were over quickly but seemed like an eternity was fleshed out by substantial detail and comments written later by soldiers who survived. His strongest salute was to the individual soldiers who showed courage and determination in the face of tremendous adversity, both with the opponents and with the elements.
Fourth, water was often the key. Running around the desert with large military forces requires water, and it was often pivotal. The railroads that were built solved some of this problem, but even they had to carry huge amounts of water to power the steam engines, and at one point half of the train was carrying water for itself. One interesting story is how a surveyor and water diviner brought in by the British actually found two new water supplies that were critical in assisting them cross a route no native would think could be used.
Fifth, the book does a good job of setting the stage for the modern phase of Islamic fundamentalism without becoming too preachy. This was one of the first truly Islamic states established, and was the only colony to win independence by force of arms in Africa. The agenda of the Mahdi and his regime very much set the stage for future Sudanese politics and the rise of Bashir in Osama bin-Laden spent years in Sudan soaking up the teachings of the Mahdi and his modern followers.
It also documented the severe ethnic divides in the country that are being played out today in the crisis in Darfur. I liked the way he made his point but let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. It was a very good read and I would commend it to all persons of a serious bent. The relief mission arrived 2 days too late. The result was a national scandal that shocked the Queen and led to the fall of the British government. Twelve years later it was the brilliant Herbert Kitchener who struck back.
Achieving the impossible he built a railway across the desert to transport his troops to the final devastating confrontation at Omdurman in