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Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer

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Sir Francis Younghusband was the last of the great imperialists—a dashing adventurer, who in 1903 single-handedly invaded Tibet, wiped out its entire army, and then became a mystic. Admired by H.G Wells and Bertrand Russell, he launched early assaults on Mt. Everest, held the world record for the 300-yard dash, was the first European since Marco Polo to travel from Peking Sir Francis Younghusband was the last of the great imperialists—a dashing adventurer, who in 1903 single-handedly invaded Tibet, wiped out its entire army, and then became a mystic. Admired by H.G Wells and Bertrand Russell, he launched early assaults on Mt. Everest, held the world record for the 300-yard dash, was the first European since Marco Polo to travel from Peking to Central Asia, discovered the source of the Indus, and, as a spy, his presumed death nearly sparked an Indo-Russian war. The quest to discover this man led Patrick French from the Himalayas to Kashmir and into Tibet in search of clues.


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Sir Francis Younghusband was the last of the great imperialists—a dashing adventurer, who in 1903 single-handedly invaded Tibet, wiped out its entire army, and then became a mystic. Admired by H.G Wells and Bertrand Russell, he launched early assaults on Mt. Everest, held the world record for the 300-yard dash, was the first European since Marco Polo to travel from Peking Sir Francis Younghusband was the last of the great imperialists—a dashing adventurer, who in 1903 single-handedly invaded Tibet, wiped out its entire army, and then became a mystic. Admired by H.G Wells and Bertrand Russell, he launched early assaults on Mt. Everest, held the world record for the 300-yard dash, was the first European since Marco Polo to travel from Peking to Central Asia, discovered the source of the Indus, and, as a spy, his presumed death nearly sparked an Indo-Russian war. The quest to discover this man led Patrick French from the Himalayas to Kashmir and into Tibet in search of clues.

30 review for Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer

  1. 4 out of 5

    Daren

    This is an incredibly thorough biography of Sir Francis Younghusband - almost reaching a point of being too thorough for me. It turned into quite slow read - which is not what I expected. Without peer in the achievements he made for the British army, Indian Civil Service and as an explorer in his own right, he is a fine example of mental and physical ability. Small of stature, and as Partrick French discloses in this book, being thoroughly bizarre in some of his thoughts, was no bar to his overta This is an incredibly thorough biography of Sir Francis Younghusband - almost reaching a point of being too thorough for me. It turned into quite slow read - which is not what I expected. Without peer in the achievements he made for the British army, Indian Civil Service and as an explorer in his own right, he is a fine example of mental and physical ability. Small of stature, and as Partrick French discloses in this book, being thoroughly bizarre in some of his thoughts, was no bar to his overtaking of obstacles. His expedition through the uncharted Gobi desert undertaken in much hardship, and his headstrong taking of Tibet are probably his most active achievements, but some of his activities post military are also worth mention. It is a confident man who can change his option based on newly learned fact - his wholehearted support of Indian Independence having spent a good many years of his life in the British army in the control of British India, and pushing out into Central Asia and Tibet to secure and increase her borders. Younghusband was also elected the youngest member of the Royal Geographical Society and received the society's 1890 Patron's Gold Medal. He was later the president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1919 to 1922, and Chairman of the Mount Everest Committee which set up various expeditions, including the ill fated Mallory expedition in 1924. However, hand in hand with his achievements, Patrick French also describes in great detail the odd sexual repression Younghusband felt, having been brought up devout Christian. This impacted nearly all his relationships with women, including a relationship with his sister (hinted at being incestuous), and various women he came to fixate on (some of which became lovers, others asexual relationships). He was in later life to become open to a multitude of religions, in fact founding the World Congress of Faiths, and wrote a large number of terrible sounding books on spirituality. It was this part of the biography I could have survived with far less of. His terribly infantile sounding love letters - almost enough to stop me reading. Nevertheless - a full biography it is, and without doubt his achievements outweigh his personal issues, which really only became public knowledge due to the archiving of his personal paperwork. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    French mixes his own personal journey to Younghusband's stamping ground with history. So far, a gripping yarn.... But I didn't finish it. Despite Patrick French's wonderfully engaging writing, in the end I wondered why the hell I was reading something about a fervent, misguided, egotistical imperiaist. I couldn't answer this question and stopped reading.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Even ten years on, this book still lives up to its original rave reviews. This will certainly be the definitive biography of one of the 19th century's greatest - and least remembered today - adventurers. Previous books on Younghusband focused on his physical adventures - rightfully so, as they remain the true accomplishments of his life, and are as amazing today as they were at the time (crossing China from Manchuria to India - including the then-unexplored Gobi Desert - virtually by himself, an Even ten years on, this book still lives up to its original rave reviews. This will certainly be the definitive biography of one of the 19th century's greatest - and least remembered today - adventurers. Previous books on Younghusband focused on his physical adventures - rightfully so, as they remain the true accomplishments of his life, and are as amazing today as they were at the time (crossing China from Manchuria to India - including the then-unexplored Gobi Desert - virtually by himself, and at the ripe old age of 24!). But French takes the more difficult path of tackling the whole life, including the much more complex second "metaphysical" act, and generally does a good job making even the relatively dull stretches come alive. Overall the book does a better job of humanizing Younghusband than has been tackled before - both pro (Seaver) and con (Verrier) - and while this includes sometimes voyeuristic details of his unhappy marriage and slide into far-left-field eccentricity (even by British standards); it paints a complex, three dimensional portrait that - to me at least - only makes his achievements that much greater. (And yes, as the facts really speak for themselves, French could have downplayed his own 21st century opinions at times - doing away with the unnecessary and at times unsupported commentary on Younghusband's "fantasies," "instability," etc. - again, we're generally talking Victorian England here - who wasn't a little crazy?) I've been a fan of Younghusband since first discovering him in Bayonets to Lhasa some thirty years ago, and so thought I knew him pretty well. But thanks to French's literary sleuthing this book offered a wealth of new information. And the name-dropping of those Sir Francis knew and befriended in his various roles: all the expected Great Gamers of course; but also Sven Hedin, Aurel Stein, Howard Carter, George Mallory; Lindbergh, Gandhi, Churchill, Rhodes; Verne, Russell, Kipling, J.M. Barrie, H.G. Wells, A.C. Doyle, G.B. Shaw - what a time, what a life!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Dean

    Not many historical figures counted both Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, and Bertrand Russell as good friends. Francis Younghusband made a name for himself on Victoria's imperial frontier, then had a second act as writer and organizer on spiritual and religious issues. He did an about-face and fully supported India's independence after years of paternalistic writings and actions. This works best as social history, covering the late 19th to mid 20th centuries and roaming from Imperial India to the Not many historical figures counted both Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, and Bertrand Russell as good friends. Francis Younghusband made a name for himself on Victoria's imperial frontier, then had a second act as writer and organizer on spiritual and religious issues. He did an about-face and fully supported India's independence after years of paternalistic writings and actions. This works best as social history, covering the late 19th to mid 20th centuries and roaming from Imperial India to the attempts to summit Everest in the 1920s, from the first glimpses by Westerners of Lhasa, Tibet, to the invention of the hymn "Jerusalem" as a patriotic soundtrack to World War I.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Love the subject. Author did a great job. Wasn't the all time best book ever, but I couldnt have enjoyed it more.

  6. 5 out of 5

    gargamelscat

    An excellently written biography of a fascinating and decidedly odd man: a New Age philosopher avant la lettre. Subject matter makes this very much a book of 2 halves - his truncated Empire career period and his post-Tibet increasingly bizarre spiritual self-discovery period. In the latter he crosses paths with a wide range of notable figures (Bertrand Russell, George Mallory, Charles Lindbergh even!). Only criticism is the lack of cross references to his brothers, and particularly to Major Genera An excellently written biography of a fascinating and decidedly odd man: a New Age philosopher avant la lettre. Subject matter makes this very much a book of 2 halves - his truncated Empire career period and his post-Tibet increasingly bizarre spiritual self-discovery period. In the latter he crosses paths with a wide range of notable figures (Bertrand Russell, George Mallory, Charles Lindbergh even!). Only criticism is the lack of cross references to his brothers, and particularly to Major General George Younghusband, with whom FY co-wrote a book (Relief of Chitral) - early on they served in much the same places (India) at much the same time (late 19th century). This absence is pronounced, I counted only 2 mentions, very much in passing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Walker

    A well researched and presented life of Sir F.Y. An evolving character, explorer and administrator. I think I would enjoy having talked to Sir F. but probably would not like to have been on an expedition with him. His opinions on Indian independence went though dramatic change during his life; being thoroughly paternalistic in his early years and being a member of the Indian National Congress later.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nick Bradshaw

    Perhaps a little unfair on the author with 3 stars, as the main reason my interest drifted was Younghusband himself. I just found his travels and the account of the Tibet invasion more interesting than his later life. All in all a good read and i liked how French allowed the narrative to move between the biography and his own research.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Scaife

    Excellent biography of a fascinating character who veered from professional Englishman abroad who believed that the Empire should never stop expanding, to proto-hippy and religious mystic and back again in a largely futile search for fulfilment.

  10. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    Born near the Himalayas, the child of empire, Younghusband led a fascinating life. It is little known how British politics played a role in betraying the sovereignty of Tibet, but Younghusband's invasion of Tibet in 1903 should be known for its brutality. In fact the slaughter of Tibetans using Maxim guns foreshadowed the industrial scale slaughter on the battlefields of World War I. Younghusband's foray into Tibet seems to have touched him, however, perhaps awakening a spiritual side. A story w Born near the Himalayas, the child of empire, Younghusband led a fascinating life. It is little known how British politics played a role in betraying the sovereignty of Tibet, but Younghusband's invasion of Tibet in 1903 should be known for its brutality. In fact the slaughter of Tibetans using Maxim guns foreshadowed the industrial scale slaughter on the battlefields of World War I. Younghusband's foray into Tibet seems to have touched him, however, perhaps awakening a spiritual side. A story which needs to be read to be believed.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wangshi Xibu

    a man a history

  12. 4 out of 5

    Adam Morris

    Really more like 3 1/2 stars. A fine biography of this adventurer turned philosopher. Initially I was hoping for more adventure stories though about halfway through the book the exploration of the physical world ends and we learn more about his feeling on the spiritual or at least the ephemeral. I also found the author's personal accounts of his following on the footsteps of Younghusband distracting at first but then began to enjoy them as the author intended; to make the subject more accessible Really more like 3 1/2 stars. A fine biography of this adventurer turned philosopher. Initially I was hoping for more adventure stories though about halfway through the book the exploration of the physical world ends and we learn more about his feeling on the spiritual or at least the ephemeral. I also found the author's personal accounts of his following on the footsteps of Younghusband distracting at first but then began to enjoy them as the author intended; to make the subject more accessible yet also more remote.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John

    Never going to finish this. Younghusband was a fascinating man in interesting times. Patrick French, however, is not. And given that he devotes a goodly half of the book to his own adventurous followings of Younghusband, the balance for my interest is, in technical parlance, all out of whack.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bob Peru

    great book. dude who wrote it kind of followed younghusband ("bloody rum name, that") all over asia and europe. he (the author, patrick french) is coming out with a new joint on v.s. naipaul. which i will read as i am now a fan of patrick french and a big fan of naipaul.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nobby

    That they don't make 'em like that any more.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick Pengelley

    Brilliantly written book about an incredible man.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Murdock

    I thoroughly enjoyed this well written biography of the Central Asian explorer and Great Game legend Sir Francis Younghusband. Definitely worth a read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chennel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthiasvdb

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mick Canning

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Flannery

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam Brindle

  24. 4 out of 5

    Frank Venum

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ian

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela Morera

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

  29. 5 out of 5

    Prajwal

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Munro

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