Persia in the Great Game: Sir Percy Sykes
Explorer, Consul, Soldier, Spy
by Antony Wynn
Pub Date 15 Feb 2019
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Percy Sykes began his career with Army Intelligence in India. Their main concern was the threat to India of the Russian advances across Central Asia. In 1893 they sent Sykes into eastern Persia on the first of many expeditions. Always with his terrier and often with his sister or his wife, he rode over thousands of miles of unknown desert, marsh and mountain to map them and establish his network of informants, helped by a Persian prince whom he had met in the desert.
Later, as consul in Meshed, Sykes used his wits to foil Russian attempts to take over northern Persia, the key to India. But when the First World War broke out it was Wassmuss – 'the German Lawrence' – who proved the greatest threat to Britain, as Sykes was sent alone to raise an army to defeat him.
In the great Victorian tradition, the soldier-diplomat Sykes hunted gazelle with princes, studied Persian poetry, and sat at the feet of dervish masters. This study of Sykes’ secret despatches over twenty-five turbulent years gives an unusual insight into the inner workings of Persia, which are little changed in the Iran of today.
‘A vivid reminder of the extraordinary lives and times of those who once played the Great Game. Percy Sykes was one of the ablest, if most controversial, of these. A valuable addition to Great Game literature.’
Peter Hopkirk ‘
A superbly researched and engaginly written biography. Sykes was a character whose exploits even John Buchan would have feared to invent.’
Antony Beevor ‘
Antony Wynn has produced a well-researched and highly readable life of a character who, in his own day, astonished his contemporaries by his courage and his cheek.’
John Ure – Times Literary Supplement
‘Wynn’s writing is clear and vigorous; he wields no ideological agenda – unless an underlying sympathy for Persians counts as such. … an enjoyable and compelling account of a fascinating life.’
Noel Malcolm – Sunday Telegraph
‘Where Wynn excels is in his sense of place. He is very good at conjuring up the look of Kerman, Meshed and the Persian landscape. One also gets a strong sense of what it was like for servants of the Raj on the move, with their rubber baths, tent valises, tins of stewed fruit and jars of Bovril, also of their more exotic retinue of farrashes, syces and pish-khedmats.’
Robert Irwin – Literary Review '
A well-researched, hard-nosed, and engaging biography.'
Financial Times '
Antony Wynn's book is full of marvellous, half-believable tales of bluff and daring.'