Travels to the Roof of the World by Julian Mackenzie

The Tibetan plateau, situated at some 15,000 feet (4500 metres), surrounded by great mountain ranges which include the two tallest mountains in the world, Everest and K2, was one of the last areas of the globe to be explored by Western travellers. The mixture of Tibetan Buddhism, presided over by a spiritual leader chosen as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, alongside popular tales of the Yeti, or ‘abominable snowman’, combined with its remoteness, has given this vast area more than a whiff of exoticism. This, however, is not the whole story.

The plateau forms borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. As such it was part of ancient trade routes and from the seventh century onwards was fought over by Mongol, Chinese, Nepalese and British forces. In addition its glaciers and snow-fed highlands feed Asia’s great rivers, the Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze, Indus, Yellow and Salween, giving it great strategic importance.

The Indian pundit, Sarat Chandra Das, made two journeys to Tibet in the 1880’s, reaching Lhasa. He was reputed to have been a spy for the British and his observations would have provided vital information for the British invasion of Tibet in 1903, one the last and most infamous events played out in the Great Game between Britain and Russia, with Britain determined to defend its British Indian territories against possible invasion from the north. His account was first published in 1902 as Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet.

Henry Savage Landor was an eccentric English explorer, who scorned special equipment (like ropes for mountaineering), and whether in the jungle of the mountains, dressed as if he was in Bond Street (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He travelled in Western Tibet in 1897, and in attempting to reach Lhasa (closed to non-Bhuddhists), was captured and tortured by the Tibetans. His account, In the Forbidden Land, 1899, is an incredibly handsome 2-volume work, profusely illustrated.

The first great scientific expedition to Tibet was by the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin. He was notable for using local scientists and assistants to aid him and located the sources of the Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej Rivers. An essential work in the exploration of the plateau is Trans-Himalaya discoveries and adventures in Tibet, 1909-1913.

 

 

In 1938, John Hanbury-Tracy published Black River of Tibet. This was an account of the exploration of South-east Tibet in 1935. The author claims to have seen the footprint of the abominable snowman. We offer a fine copy in dust-wrapper.

 

Finally, a book on Tibetan Buddhism. Sir Charles Bell spent eighteen years in Tibet, including a year in Lhasa. In The Religion of Tibet, 1931, he tells how Buddhism came to Tibet, and its influence on the country. We offer an attractive first edition in dust-wrapper.

View more antique maps and vintage travel books available at Shapero.

St Petersburg by Eleanor Moore

On the boggy delta of the Neva, Peter the Great founded his ‘window to the West’ in 1703. Through sheer determination and at the cost of thousands of lives, European architecture was imported to this marshland and Russia had a new capital. Undeniably beautiful, I could wander for days along the canals and through the museums. From endless white nights in summer, to hours of bitterly cold darkness in winter, it has an atmosphere quite unlike anywhere else.

The conception of Russia’s very own Venice can be attributed to Peter the Great’s iron will to modernise the Empire in every field of national life. His reforms were not always popular but did undoubtedly change the course of history forever. Word of his feats quickly reached England and John Mottley’s expansive work on the Emperor’s life was printed in London in 1739.

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What seemed like a distant dream a century before had largely been achieved by the end of the 18th century. With palaces, formal gardens, opera houses and a dominance of the French language, St Petersburg had successfully imitated its Western counterparts. This was largely due to Catherine the Great, who carried on the city’s cultural and political legacy. The inner workings of her court and the aristocracy are detailed Secret Memoirs of the Court of St Petersburga fascinating account by Charles Masson, a Frenchman who spent ten years living there.

 

By the second half of the 19th century, Petersburg was facing rapid development, industry was growing and merchants were becoming ever busier. In an effort to regulate the import and export of goods, an address book listing all the Russian and foreign merchants was published. This rare example from 1863 contains details of all the brokers dealing at the commodities exchange, as well as quality control inspectors at the port. Who knows if such transparency helped things become more ‘efficient’.

By 1905 calls for social reform were growing and in an effort to appease striking workers in the city, Nicholas II established a democratically-elected state parliament, or Duma. Grand Duke Mikhail Mikahilovich, the grandson of Nicholas I, owned this fine example of the document establishing the Duma, which is in an imperial portfolio.

The Duma was ultimately ineffective but the city played an important role in 1917 with the arrival of Lenin from Finland and the seizure of the Winter Palace by revolutionaries.

Did they really do that? by Julian Mackenzie

Did they really do that?

Some of the greatest feats of British exploration have occurred in my lifetime – Hilary’s ascent of Everest, Fuchs traversing the Antarctic, and Francis Chichester’s solo circumnavigation. The episode I remember most clearly however, was not a triumph but the bizarre and tragic story of the yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, who, taking part in a round-the-world yacht race that he realised he would not be able to finish, faked his log books and ultimately lost his life trying to perpetrate the pretence that he had in fact completed the voyage.

Later, as a bookseller I became aware of a great body of hoax and imaginary voyages. The daddy of them all is of course Utopia by Thomas More. In this More encounters a traveller who has just returned from voyaging with Amerigo Vespucci and who tells him of the island of Utopia where various ideals dear to More such as common ownership are espoused. The idea of a voyage to an imaginary land as a means of conveying complex philosophical ideas was to prove very popular. Early editions of Utopia, first published in 1516 in Latin and 1551 in English) are uncommon.

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Inspired by More, Joseph Hall’s Mundus alter et idem, is not only the first Utopia set in Terra Australis, but its descriptions of strange lands in the South Seas, such as Crapulia and Moronia, populated by gluttons, nags, fools, and thieves, is widely regarded as a source for Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Our copy is bound with two other Utopian works, Francis Bacon’s Nova Atlantis, and Thomas Campenela’s Civitas Solis. Bacon’s work, encompassing China, Japan, Mexico, and the Mediterranean, introduces us to the island of Bensalem, a place dedicated to scientific research. It is a very prophetic work that envisages electric cars amongst other future inventions (Ray Howgego, Imaginary Voyages). Campanela’s work is quite disturbing, dabbling with eugenics and summary justice. These three early editions from 1643 are attractively bound in contemporary vellum.

Andrew Ramsay’s The Travels of Cyrus, the second edition, 1727, is an example of a book of instruction in the form of a romance telling of the wanderings of the Cyrus, the King of Persia, who travels the ancient world meeting philosophers such as Zoroaster, as well as love story of Cyrus and Cassandra. This was an incredibly popular work which went through many editions. Ours is an attractive country house (Painswick House).

 

To return to where we came in, there is nothing like a good hoax and hoaxer-in-chief was the German, Christian Damberger. He was a specialist in hoax voyages and we have a copy of his third such works, Travels through the interior of Africa from the Cape of Good Hope to Morocco (1801).

This purports to be a traversal of Africa from south to North. A feat not achieved until Grogan and Sharpe’s epic venture almost a hundred years later. Carefully constructed from known accounts, this was immediately accepted as a true account. Ours is a beautiful copy in contemporary tree calf.

The Holy Land in the original cloth by Julian Mackenzie

The other day I received an e-mail offering me a copy of Brand’s History of Newcastle (1789). Or at least some of it, it was an odd volume lacking most plates and binding, quite stained, but as the seller put it: ‘in good condition considering its age’. I suppose it was an understandable statement because really there is no substitute for being able to visit a rare book shop or fair, and being able to see and handle the beautiful, sensual objects that books can be, in order to understand the age-condition conundrum.

The books I’ve chosen for my weekly selection need no apology where condition is concerned. The Holy Land, the cradle of three great religions, steeped in antiquity of an age that is difficult to fathom for those of us from more recent civilizations, has always attracted travellers and writers.

Cloth became the dominant binding for books sometime in the early nineteenth century, and it was not long before very attractive examples in a wide variety of styles were being produced.

George Robinson’s Travels in Palestine and Syria, an elegant work from 1837, in pale blue fine ribbed cloth, with restrained blind-stamped decoration, is quite hard to find in any condition. Little is known of the author save that he was obviously a man of some means, able to travel for years on end without having to work. The present book gives an account of a visit to a friend in the Ionian Islands in 1829 and was tempted by the proximity of the Levant into making his present journey. He travelled via Egypt having spent a winter in Smyrna. From there he travelled to Jaffa visiting the whole of Syria and Palestine arriving at Constantinople at the end of 1831. It is a very perceptive account with interesting chapters on his time in Palestine.

Nowadays when thinking of the Church of England (C of E), we don’t normally think of fervour. In the not so distant past, however, the C of E was far more self-confident, and nothing quite displayed this like a tour of the Holy Land. For this reason, I’m always a bit wary of reverends in Holy Places. James Laird Patterson’s Journal of a Tour (1852), could easily have fallen into that category. I think, though, that he has managed to steer a middle course between enthusing about his beliefs and what he observed around him. The book itself is more elaborately bound than Robinson’s and shows the rapid sophistication of cloth bindings.

A little more to my personal taste is the account of the Frenchman, Louis de Saulcy. His Narrative of a Journey round the Dead Sea, 1854, was occasioned by his looking for something interesting ‘in a place fraught with danger’. De Saulcy made several important discoveries including the site of the city of Jericho. This second edition shows the continuing elaboration of cloth with pictorial blind-stamped camels to the covers.

April 28, 1789: The Mutiny on the Bounty

The Mutiny on the Bounty

William Bligh (1754-1815) will forever be remembered for the mutiny, led by his second-in-command Fletcher Christian, which occurred on 28th April, 1789, shortly after leaving Tahiti where Bligh’s mission was to collect breadfruit. Posterity’s view of Bligh has been mixed, with some regarding him as a cruel taskmaster, and the mutinous crew as rather a romantic, hard-done-by bunch. The truth as usual is somewhere in between. Life on these early voyages was not for the faint-hearted, the accommodation for the crew extremely cramped and with no privacy. It took a certain sort of man to endure this, and another sort to keep order.

Bligh was cast from the ship with 14 loyal crewmen in the Bounty's launch (see image below) with only a week’s rations and a compass. A master navigator who had served on Cook’s third and final voyage, Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor, the nearest European settlement, after a 47-day, 4000-mile voyage, with only one casualty. Not only that, he also mapped large parts of the north-east coast of Australia. It was the greatest feat of seamanship in the annals of British maritime endeavour.

There is a considerable body of literature associated with Bligh, notably A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship Bounty (1790), Bligh’s first-hand account, rushed through the press to give his side of events; and two years later, the official account, A Voyage to the south Sea undertaken by command of His Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit tree to the West Indies, in His Majesty’s ship the Bounty (1792), ostensibly by Bligh and based on his journals, but written by James Burney under the supervision of Joseph Banks. Both these works are very desirable, but only of medium rarity.

A book of extreme rarity however is the advance issue of the Breadfruit Voyage, which was issued with the sheets of the first edition of  A Narrative of the Mutiny.  No copy of this has appeared at auction since 1965.

A French edition of Bligh’s account first appeared in 1792, the same year as the Breadfruit Voyage.  Here you see a superb copy in the original wrappers.

 

What happened to the Mutineers? They ended up in two groups, with most staying in Tahiti. These were hunted down by the Royal Navy, and eventually, after surviving the infamous shipwreck of HMS Pandora, ten were brought back to England to face court martial. Four were acquitted, three found guilty but later pardoned, and three were hanged.

This sensational trial led to three pamphlets. The first, and most substantial, was Minutes of the Proceedings of the Court Martial (1794), written by Stephen Barney, the attorney for one of the mutineers. only a handful of copies were printed for distribution among the interested parties and the ministers of state at that time.  A legendary rarity, the remarkable copy found is stitched as issued.

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A smaller group were led to Pitcairn Islands by Fletcher Christian, where they lived as free men for the rest of their lives, establishing a thriving settlement. The finest early views of this island paradise are provided by Conway Shipley, a young naval officer, in his Sketches in the Pacific (1851). Copies are rarely offered for sale. This example is particularly fine in the original decorative cloth binding.

The search for, and capture of some of the mutineers, is recorded in George Hamilton’s A Voyage round the World in His Majesty's Frigate Pandora (1793), a wonderful, immensely readable account of a disastrous voyage; and of course the three exceedingly rare court-martial pamphlets.

Books not Borders – An Interview with our Senior Travel Specialist Julian Mackenzie

As part of our Books not Borders series, where we're breaking down the barriers to the rare book world, introducing you to the many specialists at Shapero and exploring the world they inhabit, we're interviewing Julian Mackenzie, our Senior Travel Specialist.

Julian has been in the rare book trade for over 40 years, and his knowledge of rare books and their values expands well beyond works on Travel and Exploration. When not working he is a keen practitioner of Chinese martial arts and is a part-time instructor in Tai-Chi. His other favourite pastime is walking his dog. He holds a law degree from Cambridge University.

How did you get in to rare books?

By Chance. I was living above a record shop in Cambridge next door to G. David, the great local antiquarian bookshop, and saw a sign in the door advertising a vacancy. I got the job, managed to be an hour late on my first day, and have been in books ever since.

What is your favourite rare book?

One that evokes the past, that captures a time we can now only glimpse. Preferably with great provenance.

What's the most expensive book you've ever sold?

At Shapero there is a constant procession of books of great value – atlases, natural history folios, landmarks of science. I work with travel and exploration, generally a more modestly priced field and don’t really focus on price. In any case, some books are worth more than money: I recall having T.E. Lawrence’s copy of Arabia Deserta, and Stanley’s copy of Livingstone’s Missionary Travels – how cool is that?

The rare book world is global, where has this job taken you?

The usual places on the rare book circuit, the U.S.A., most of Europe, Qatar, South Africa, Hong Kong, Tokyo. Alas the stays are too short to really get to more most places. I probably enjoyed Tokyo the most – such a strange, exciting city.

Any advice for budding young collectors?

Learn as much about your subject as you can – knowledge is everything.

If you had to choose one book currently on the shelves at Shapero to add to your own collection, what would that be?

England is blessed with great architecture and I would get years of pleasure from a set of Tipping and Avery’s English Homes.

Your new catalogue Exploration & Travel has recently been published, what are some personal highlights from the collection?

This has been a really difficult catalogue to put together. Buying opportunities have been as rare as the books themselves. Fortunately I was sitting on a collection of books on Ethiopia, in the hope (abandoned) of doing a specialised list. This formed the backbone of the Africa section. I was also lucky enough to buy a good group of Ottoman books. Items I particularly like are the two manuscript/typed items in the Africa section: the Abyssinia travel diary, 1912 (Item 1), difficult to decipher but very evocative of the time; and Item 44, Press, A banker in Abyssinia (item 44), very readable and really should be published. It really captures the tension between the Italians and the British.

What do you think it is about Travel that makes for such an exciting area of book collecting?

The astonishing bravery of many of the explorers, who were literally going into the unknown as far as they were concerned, often poorly equipped, and a long way from home with no easy means of communication.

Given you’re our resident Travel expert, where have your personal journeys taken you?

My most frequent travels have been to Central America. I have particularly enjoyed Guatemala and Honduras. They are both a bit edgy, I guess, but at least you are not completely overwhelmed by the commercialization you find in the Yucatan. The Mayan ruins at Copan are completely other-worldly, and Copan is pretty safe (or at least it was). My most memorable journey was through the Algerian Sahara. Tamanrasset in the Hoggar left quite an impression.

If you could pick only one book from the catalogue for your personal collection, which one are you taking and why?

Press, A Banker in Abyssinia. For the reasons given above.

Richard Burton in West Africa: Three fine first editions in original cloth

The start in a regular Blog series with our roving Travel expert Julian Mackenzie.

Julian begins with one of the great men of his age, Richard F. Burton (1821-1890) - a true polymath:

'With an extraordinary talent for languages Richard Burton was famed as both explorer and scholar. In 1853, he became the first English Christian to enter Mecca freely as a true Mohammedan pilgrim whilst travelling in disguise as an Afghan Pathan. Whilst he later published unexpurgated translations of great works including the One Thousand and One Nights and the Perfumed Garden.

In 1861 Burton married Isabel Arundell and resolved to take up useful employment in the British Consular service. He was hoping for a glamorous posting, perhaps Damascus, but ended up on the island of Fernando Po, then considered to be a graveyard posting as the climate was thought to be unhealthy for Europeans.  Undaunted by the fact Isabel Burton was not allowed to accompany her husband, Burton used the opportunity to visit Abeokuta, the Yoruba capital in western Nigeria; to climb Mt. Cameroon; to search for gorillas along the Gabon River; to explore the estuary of the Congo River; and to make contact with the Fang people.

In 1863, Burton published Wanderings in West Africa, which included accounts of his journeys to Sierra Leone and Nigeria.  Having heard of stories of gold and gold mining he aimed to discover the truth of these rumours and his writing is credited with drawing public and corporate attention to mining prospects in a region hitherto largely ignored.

A mission to Gelelee is one of Burton’s more sensational books. Despite Dahomey having the reputation of being the most bloodthirsty land in Africa, Burton had wanted to visit since arriving at Fernando Po, but the British government turned down his request. Eventually Lord John Russell gave permission for an official visit to protest about King Gelele's participation in the slave trade and his continuing to practise human sacrifice.

When Burton arrived, he was greeted by the King and toasted with rum drunk from a human skull, whilst the King subsequently laid on enough human sacrifice for Burton to leave quite revolted with Gelele and his kingdom.

Burton returned to West Africa in 1882, with Verney Lovett Cameron (the first European to cross Central Africa), to make an expedition in search of gold to the (later proved non-existent) Kong Mountains – renowned in film as the home of the eponymous great ape. They did however find gold in the valley of the Ancobra river but were unable to make a long-term commercial success of the venture. This proved to be Burton’s last expedition as told in: To the Gold Coast for Gold.'

Why Collect Rare Books?

Why Collect Rare Books

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book lover, in possession of an enquiring mind, must be in want of a collection’ (to paraphrase Jane Austen).

For the non-collector among us (are there really people who don’t collect books?), the idea that collectors spend their hours fawning over dust jackets, variant bindings, issue points and even deckled edges is such an alien one that people often ask why - usually with a look etched across their faces that suggests we might be mad. The same look takes on an all-together more bewildered guise for our non-collector friends, when they find out the value of a first edition by an author such Jane Austen …. (the answer? Well, click here).

As these are questions that we hear, as booksellers and collectors, on a regular basis, in our working lives, at countless dinner parties, after-work drinks and school reunions (the latter a particularly fertile breeding ground), we thought it might be a good idea to jot down a few thoughts on why exactly people collect rare books.

For some it’s their hobby and others their art form. Some say it’s their obsession, with the writer and collector Nicholas A. Basbanes once calling it ‘a gentle form of madness’! Some put their faith in books, whilst others invest in them, speculators you might call those collectors.  Yet more people squirrel away their fortunes ready for the day when they find the great treasure they’ve been hunting for, sometimes for decades.

However, if you were to boil it down, many a collector might say simply, what an unbridled joy it is to own the first edition of their favourite book, be that by Fleming, Piranesi or Livingstone. For them there is nothing else quite like it. While contemporary readers will often queue outside a bookshop overnight with a flask of cold coffee and a ham sandwich so that they can be the first to own the new literary sensation, collectors of rare antiquarian books and first editions will also stop at nothing (well perhaps murder) to get our hands on the earliest copy of the books we love, be that manuscripts, uncorrected proofs, or signed limited editions. Bibliophiles are bibliophiles at the end of the day, and we are all collecting something.

Now that we’ve shone a light on why we collect rare books, why not let our specialists advise you on starting your own collection, based on your individual tastes and of course finances.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Writers and Spies

Upon discovering at the impressionable age of seven that my home in sleepy Hampshire was once the childhood home of the charming spy Guy Burgess, I embarked on a rather unhealthy fascination with the none too salubrious world of spooks, spies, and spy writers - I mean, it's pretty normal to pretend to be a KGB spy infiltrating your school at 7 isn't it? A fascination that continues to this very day.

Decoding the world around them, breaking through the surface to get to the truth beneath, the worlds of Writers and Spies are all too alike. Both study characters and types, they observe and record; a turn of phrase here means something else there, and of course the creation of narrative (or throwing people off the scent of a narrative) is above all the name of the game for both.

Below I look at writers and spies from the 20th century, 19th century players in The Great Game, as well as some truly classic spy stories.

If you have any questions about any of the works, or if there is a particular work not featured here which you would like use to source, please do get in touch.

Twain’s adage ‘write what you know’ could have been written for the authors whose works follow below. Having all worked for British Intelligence, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and W. Somerset Maugham were inspired by their time in the shadows, putting pen to paper and coming up with some of the greatest spy stories of the 20th century.

The last author in this Writers and Spies section came as an absolute blindside, but on reflection it's actually rather indicative of the character of the hard drinking, fight-loving man, throwing himself into everything (good and bad) that the world offered up.

Ian Fleming. Casino Royale. 1953. £32,000.

No spy write-up could ever be complete without the incomparable Ian Fleming and of course his creation James Bond.

As the tale goes, the inspiration for Bond came from Fleming’s time in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. Whilst playing a baccarat game in Lisbon, the author is alleged to have whispered to his friend ‘just suppose these fellows were German agents—what a coup it would be if we cleaned them out entirely!’

The end of the war saw Fleming demobbed and working in a dreary job for a newspaper in London. Holidaying every winter at his beloved home of Goldeneye in Jamaica, it is here that he wrote all of the Bond stories, starting with Casino Royale in 1952. Fleming later claimed that he wrote the novel to distract himself from his forthcoming wedding, and called the work his ‘dreadful oafish opus’!

For the main character, in many ways an alter ego to the author, he sought to choose a name as boring and nondescript as possible.

Looking around his library, the author’s eyes alighted on a book entitled Birds of the West Indies by an ornithologist named James Bond…

Ian Fleming. Dr. No. 1958. £1,900.

As a lovely bit of trivia, the publishers Jonathan Cape were highly unenthusiastic about Casino Royale, with even Fleming’s friend, the writer and literary editor William Polmer remarking ‘so far as I can see the element of suspense is completely absent’! Fourteen books and 24 films later, Fleming definitely had the last laugh!

Already an established writer by the time British Intelligence came calling at the outbreak of the First World War, Maugham had the perfect cover for espionage. Dispatched both to Switzerland and to Russia, which was in the early throes of Revolution, Maugham passed largely unnoticed under the guise of finishing a play and doing some book research.

W. Somerset Maugham. Ashenden. 1928. £3,800.

It is this Russian trip that has elicited the most fascination, with the true nature of the mission a mystery even a hundred years later. Rumours have abounded that he was there to assassinate Lenin, with the author even going so far as to state he was there ‘to devise a scheme that would keep Russia in the war and prevent the Bolsheviks, supported by the Central Powers, from seizing power’.

Ashenden or, The British Agent is in large part based on the author’s own undercover experiences. Initially there were 31 stories but as the story goes, 14 had to be destroyed on Churchill’s orders as they were in breach of the Official Secrets Act (perhaps Maugham’s mysterious Russian mission was revealed?).

Both his established career as a writer, and his penchant for travel, made Graham Greene the perfect candidate for MI6. Recruited in 1941, he monitored the Vichy forces in Sierra Leone, searching ships for smuggled diamonds and documents.  Under the ruse of book research, he travelled widely across China and the USSR, observing and reporting.  Later he worked under the famous Soviet mole Kim Philby, the two becoming friends even after Philby’s unmasking as a traitor.

Graham Greene. England Made Me. 1935. £16,500.

The Philby connection also gave Greene a rather dubious honour: whilst spying for MI6, he was himself the subject of investigation by the FBI due to his links with the Cambridge Spy Ring. With wonderful irony, whilst the author was under investigation by the Bureau, the CIA were helping to turn one of his novels into a film.....

Ernest Hemingway. In Our Time. 1925. £15,750.

An unexpected addition to this list, all the more surprising since Hemingway signed up as a spook not for his native America, but shockingly for the NKVD, a precursor to the KGB!

Code named Agent Argo by the Russians, apparently he was an absolutely god-awful spy and was dropped rather quickly after failing to 'give any political information' and was never 'verified in practical work' - more a spy in name than action.

Theories have been circulated as to why Hemingway would have worked with them, one is that he was merely a pseudo-spook, possibly seeing his clandestine dealings as potential literary material.

The steppes and mountains of Central Asia were a hotbed of espionage in the 19th century as John Bull (the British Empire – think of a stout red-faced farmer in a top hat and high boots) and the Russian Bear (the clue is in the name there) faced off in a shadowy political confrontation over Afghanistan, central and South Asia and the ‘jewel in the Crown’, India.

Immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in 'Kim', The Great Game, as it came to be known, began early in the 19th century, with both sides suspecting the other of looking to expand their control in the region.  The Russians believed that the British intended to move northwards through Afghanistan (a correct guess on their part), whilst the British feared that India was threatened by Russia (an incorrect guess by the Brits). At the start of The Great Game, the frontiers of the two imperial powers were separated by two thousand miles; by the end, only 20 miles kept them apart.

With the belief that a confrontation would take place in Afghanistan, both sides dispatched explorers, writers, spies and diplomats. These men crossed vast deserts and almost impassable mountain ranges, surveying , mapping and monitoring the approaches to the Jewel in the Crown.

Below are some of the most fascinating books to have been written about The Great Game.

At only 26, Alexander Burns was one of the first agents to be sent to Afghanistan by British Intelligence. Labelled both ‘the master of The Great Game’ and more recently the ‘Victorian James Bond’, double-crossing deals, secret mapping, intercepting Russian documents and espionage were the name of the game for Burnes.

Sir Alexander Burnes. Cabool. 1842. £1,850.

Amongst his many exploits, he surveyed the route through Kabul to Bukhara (earning the nickname ‘Bukhara Burnes’), produced the first detailed accounts of Afghan politics, travelled over a thousand miles up the Indus River (to prepare the way for a future assault on the Sindh), and produced the bestselling book Travels into Bokhara (1834).

Sir Alexander Burnes. Travels into Bokhara. 1834. £1,850.

Charles Masson

The first British man to explore Afghanistan on foot, and the father of Afghan archaeology, Charles Masson is an incredibly colourful character. Previously known as James Lewis, he deserted from the East India Company artillery, changed his name and tried to pass himself off as an American all the while living in Afghanistan.

Charles Masson
Charles Masson. Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan. 1842. £5,000.

After his former masters discovered his true identity, he was blackmailed into becoming a secret agent for the East India Company, spying in the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan.

Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan
Charles Masson. Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan. 1842. £5,000.

During his time on the run he excavated over 50 Buddhist sites around Kabul and Jalalabad in south-eastern Afghanistan, building up an extraordinary collection of artefacts which are now housed in the British Museum.

Muravev’s arrival on the playing field of The Great Game was the earliest significant move to come from the Russian side.

The young spy was sent to Western Uzbekistan with the aim of establishing contact with Muhammed Rakhim, the Khan of Khiva. After a century of no communication with Russia, his mission was to persuade the Khan to redirect caravan routes towards the Russian port at Krasnovodsk, as well as to gather intelligence on the Khan’s military capacity.

Nikolay Nikolaevich Muravev. Путешествие в Туркмению и Хиву в 1819 и 1820 годах. 1822. £8,000.

He also attempted to negotiate the release of as many as 3,000 Russian slaves of the Khanate. The Khan was hostile to Muravev’s arrival, yet surprisingly he returned alive. Received by the Tsar on returning, he published Journey to Khiva through the Turkoman Country, the only work published in his lifetime and a bestseller in Russia.

We couldn't wax lyrical about the exploits of the players in The Great Game, without including the book that arguably popularised the term.

Rudyard Kipling. Kim. 1930. £9,500.

Rudyard Kipling was never involved in spying, yet Kim, the author’s greatest novel and a key element in his winning the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature is set amongst the political pressures and derring-do of The Great Game

Introducing the theme of great power, rivalry and intrigue, the titular character is very much a player, stealing secrets from two agents of the Russian Empire in the mountains of Asia.

Kipling romanticised the idea of The Great Game in the minds of a Victorian public hungry for tales of adventure -  even the term invokes images of rugby on the playing fields of English public schools.

Inspiring, thrilling and best of all fun, we couldn't explore Writers and Spies without looking into a number of classics from the genre alongside a rather curious work (secret agents infiltrating a communist devil-worshiping cult.... Dennis Wheatley, I'm looking at you!)

Whilst the following writers can't be said to have been spies themselves, their impact and contribution to the Spy Fiction genre definitely earns them a seat at this table.

For those that like their Spy Fiction peppered with a healthy dash of satanic ritual and occultism, look no further than Dennis Wheatley!

Secret agents infiltrating communist devil-worshiping cults, businessmen making deals with a satanic clergymen, a daughter baptised into Satan's church, and a character that was one of the main inspirations for Fleming's James Bond stories, Wheatley is 'the Prince of Thriller Writers'.

Dennis Wheatley. The Satanist. 1960. £275.
John Buchan. The Thirty-Nine Steps. 1937. £220.

The archetypal English Spy thriller, The Thirty-Nine Steps has gripped and enthralled readers since its publication - often earning a place in critics greatest lists.

With the stark landscape of Scotland serving as a backdrop, the narrative sees a man on the run accused of murder, all the while trying to uncover and stop an assassination plot. Ironically, with a plot dealing in an awful lot of running, Buchan penned the book from bed whilst recovering from a duodenal ulcer.

Set in the 1920s and based on an actual event, Liam O'Flaherty's The Assassin provides a snapshot of Dublin life in a way that no other fiction writer has succeeded in doing. Michael McDara, the assassin, together with fanatical revolutionary Kitty Mellett, and Fetch, a brutal thug with a conscience, plan an execution and a daring escape.

Stemming from O’Flaherty’s own political-activist experiences, this novel is an investigation of the mind and motives of a political murderer.

Liam O'Flaherty. The Assassin. 1928. £975.

The Layered Legacy of Captain Cook

On the anniversary of Cook’s arrival in Botany Bay, we look back at an article from the archive by our Travel expert (and fount of bibliographic knowledge), Julian Mackenzie, in which he explored how Cook changed the face of exploration forever.

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