The Tartan Turban: In Search of Alexander Gardner {Hardback}

The Tartan Turban: In Search of Alexander Gardner {Hardback}


John Keay


Minutely researched, wittily written and beautifully produced, it is one of John Keay’s most memorable achievements


Hardback, 352 pages, 234 x 156 mm
86 colour and b&w illustrations, 2 maps & 2 family trees
Other Editions: Paperback and eBook
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Praise for the Book

One of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2017

'enthralling... The Tartan Turban is as illuminating as it is irresistible'
SIR FERDINAND MOUNT, The Times Literary Supplement

'engrossing... as enjoyable as it is memorable'
ROBERT EUSTACE, The Sunday Telegraph

fascinating... elegant... brilliantly lucid... gripping'
BIJAN OMRANI, Literary Review

'a masterly account... utterly entrancing'
ALLAN MASSIE, The Scotsman

'immaculately researched and engagingly written'

'Master storyteller John Keay deftly sifts truth from myth-making to uncover fascinating new evidence, revealing an amazing tale worthy of Kipling or Flashman of a life lived further out on the edge than most could even imagine’

'In this beautifully illustrated narrative Keay traces the journey of an extraordinary Scots-American adventurer across a broader landscape. As always, his eye for human foible and sense of historical irony is both instructive and pleasurable.’

‘Few characters have swashbuckled their way across the Indian landscape more dramatically than that old rogue Colonel Gardner, last of the subcontinent’s foreign mercenaries.’

About the Book

Like the travels of Marco Polo, those of Alexander Gardner clip the white line between credible adventure and creative invention. Either this Scots-American is the nineteenth century’s most intrepid traveller or its most egregious fantasist, or a bit of both. Contemporaries generally believed him; posterity became more sceptical. And as with Polo, the investigation of Gardner’s story enlarged man’s understanding of the world and upped the pace of scientific and political exploration.

Before more reputable explorers notched up their own discoveries in innermost Asia, this lone traveller had roamed the deserts of Turkestan, ridden round the world’s most fearsome knot of mountains and fought, as the first American in Afghanistan, ‘for the good cause of right against wrong’. From the Caspian to Tibet and from Kandahar to Kashgar, Gardner had seen it all. At the time, the 1820s, no other outsider had managed anything remotely comparable. When word of his feats filtered out, geographers were agog.

Historians were more intrigued by what followed. After thirteen years as a white-man-gone-native in Central Asia, Gardner re-emerged as a colonel of artillery in the employ of India’s last great native empire. He witnessed the death throes of that Sikh Empire at close quarters and, sparing no gruesome detail, recorded his own part in the bloodshed (the very same featuring as the exploits of ‘Alick’ Gardner in the ‘Flashman’ series).

Fame finally caught up with him during his long retirement in Kashmir. Dressed in tartan yet still living as a native, he mystified visiting dignitaries and found a ready audience for the tales of his adventurous past. But one mystery he certainly took to the grave: the whereabouts of his accumulated fortune has still to be discovered.

Using much original material, including newly discovered papers by Gardner himself, this investigative biography by John Keay, bestselling author of India: A History, takes the reader on a quest from the American West to the Asian East to unravel the greatest enigma in the history of travel.

About the Author

JOHN KEAY has been a professional writer, scholar, broadcaster and traveller for more than 40 years. He has written and presented over 100 documentaries for BBC Radios 3 and 4 and is the author of some two dozen books mainly on Asia and exploration.

His narrative histories India: A History, China: A History and on the East India Company are widely regarded as standard works. His India: A History (now in its second edition) has sold over 200,000 copies and the 'EIC' book has been in print for over 25 years. A Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, his prose has been described as ‘exquisite’ (Observer) and his historical analysis as ‘forensic’ (The Guardian).

He has also edited The Royal Geographical Society’s History of World Exploration and encyclopaedias of both Scotland and London. For his literary contribution to Asian studies he was awarded the Royal Society for Asian Affairs’ Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal in 2009.

His home is in Argyll, where he cooks indifferently and tries to grow things.

For author events, talks and interviews see our What's On page.

Design: Juga Singh
Publication Date: 16 February 2017
ISBN: 9781911271000