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Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer
Younghusband The Last Great Imperial Adventurer Author:Patrick French He was a journalist, spy, guru, geographer, writer, staunch imperialist, Indian nationalist, philosopher and explorer... At the age of only twenty-four he found a new land route across the Gobi desert, descending the impassable Mustaugh Pass wearing nothing on his feet but a pair of worn leather stockings. His supposed death in the Pamirs at the... more » hands of Russian agents almost caused an Indo-Russian war. As a prominent Great Gamer he mapped swathes of Central Asia and tried to tame the Mir of Hunza ("no doubt he was impressed by my bearing," Younghusband recorded at the time). Yet after retiring from frontier life he began to preach free love to shocked Edwardians, and set up a strange patriotic movement during the First World War with Jerusalem as its specially composed rallying song. He wrote over thirty published books, founded numerous outlandish societies, attempted to start a new world religion and organized the first four expeditions up Mount Everest. He took cold baths at very low temperatures, had great faith in the power of cosmic rays, and claimed there were extraterrestrials with translucent flesh on a planet called Altair.
This book is an excellent achievement by a young British writer. Patrick French has meticulously researched all aspects of the life of this enigmatic 'empire builder'.
In the earlier stages of his life Francis Younghusband was desparately trying to gain fame and get his name into the annals of British imperialism. In a way time was running out, for the era of great explorations was coming to an end. Therefore the young officer set his eyes on the last frontier: Central Asia.
Very soon Younghusband was caught up in the hike-stake 'Great Game': the competition between Britain and Russia for control over the enormous expanses of inner Asia. Both states considered this region as vital for its strategic interests. The British feared that control of Turkestan and Tibet would bring the Russians too close to the mountain ranges separating India from the rest of Asia. The Russians in turn considered the steppes and deserts of Central Asia as a buffer zone between its Far Eastern territories and British-ruled South Asia.
Younghusband's travel experiences through the Himalayas, Karakorum, Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains would turn out to be essential for the formation of his later-day personality and activities. By temperament Younghusband fits into that strange category of the late Victorian soldier-adventurer with a spiritual bend. Just like General Charles 'Chinese' Gordon and T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), he paired a love for action with unmistakable spiritual inclinations.
After his military and administrative career in the British India service had come to an end, Francis Younghusband started a new mission in life. He became involved in a myriad of organizations concerned with inter-religious dialogue and the pursuit of world peace. Although, along the lines, he maintained a vivid interest in all 'things Asian' and was deeply involved with the first Mount Everest Expeditions.
French has been extremely thorough in investigating this second career of Francis Younghusband, pursuing all kinds of vague leads and intent on turning over the last stone. Patiently sifting through years of correspondence and personal journals, he pieces together a very detailed picture of Younghusband's later life and relationships with the people around him.
French's five year involvement with the life of Francs Younghusband was nothing short of an obsession, with the writer being determined to get into the head of his subject. The result is one of the best and most entertaining of biographies.« less