Top picks of the week: Dalrymple and discoveries

We’ve been enjoying William Dalrymple’s latest book and the news of three extraordinary finds

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Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (Bloomsbury) by historian William Dalrymple has just been released in paperback. When the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time in 1839, nearly 20,000 soldiers marched through the mountain passes.

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After two years, the Afghan people were in full rebellion leading to the First Anglo-Afghan War. It would end in humiliation for the British as the world’s most powerful empire was forced into retreat by tribesmen.

Dalrymple’s poetic style makes this book a pleasure to read. The messages and conclusions in this comprehensive study of the First Anglo-Afghan War seem just as relevant to today’s conflict in the region as they are to 1839. 

Archaeological finds

This week saw some amazing discoveries, including the 2,000-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo in the Mediterranean Sea and the successful mapping of the oldest ever genome sequence of an inhabitant of America.

There was also the discovery of the fossilised remains of a prehistoric reptile giving birth. The Chaohusaurus, a large marine reptile – resembling a dolphin without the fin – lived about 248 million years ago. This fossil, uncovered in Anhui, China, challenges previously held belief that the Chaohusaurus gave birth in the water. Most aquatic births are with the baby tail-first but this baby fossil was in a headfirst position so it may have been on land. The fossil reveals a second baby in the mother’s body waiting to be born another, already born, beside her.

This coming week

We are looking forward to Challenge of Battle: The Real Story of the British Army in 1914 (Osprey Publishing).

Historian Adrian Gilbert assesses the role of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the opening battles of World War I. Through diary entries and letters, Gilbert delves into the leadership, tactics, successes and failings of the BEF in 1914 and their involvement in the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Aisne and their famous defence of Ypres.

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Challenge of Battle is released on 18 February.