Return Of A King: The Battle For Afghanistan, by William Dalrymple, hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £25 (ebook £12.44)

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WILLIAM Dalrymple has always been able to write, but his latest work is a triumph of reading and research.

He seems to have read every record – in English or otherwise – about the first British invasion of Afghanistan, and traced every step of the soldiers who invaded in triumph in 1839, only to be slaughtered during a disastrous retreat two years later.

However, this is no boring academic tome, Dalrymple brings to life the imperial intrigues of the spies who advanced ahead of the armies and the rival families who struggled for power at court.

His fluent style makes the 600-plus pages a pleasure to read and there is enough here to pull in readers who would never normally pick up a hefty history book.

He does not make too much of our current predicament in Afghanistan, but paints a picture of a country that is easier to invade than it is to leave.

Robert Dex