A mesmerising book, Hopkirk writes with a flair and passion that is infectious. The stories told by Hopkirk in 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' read like they belong in an Indiana Jones movie: Russian, French, Chinese, British and even Swedish(!) adventurers - heroes and villans both - competing to find the treasures of legendary cities buried for centuries beneath the trecherous sands of the Taklamakan desert. Exotic locations (still largely unknown to the Western world), rumours of supernatural forces protecting the buried cities - even the Indiana Jones-esque link to early Christian sects (the Nestorians) - it's all there! But it's more than just a "boy's own" adventure story: Hopkirk provides fascinating insights into the history of the ancient Silk Road as well as its latter intersection with the Great Game. I've been trying to figure out how to get to the Taklamakan ever since reading the book, which is now several years ago. This is history at its most readable.
Excellent coverage of the first outside researchers to visit Chinese Turkestan (Xinkiang) in hundreds of years. These were men who braved extreme hardships to explore one of the world's most desolate places, the Taklamakan Desert. Hopkirk avoids a blanket condemnation of those who removed to other countries the old Buddhist wall paintings/manuscripts/etc., noting that at least some of it would have been ruined had it stayed -- and had been ruined. Hopkirk also follows up on some of the interesting side issues: were the Japanese "archeologists" really spies, for instance. And he brings the reader up to date on what happened to the old treasures and where they are now, noting that much of what was once buried in the Taklamakan is now buried in storage at the British Museum. This is not a large book but I suspect a lot of research went into it. Concise, informative, and entertaining.
An interesting account, but Hopkirk's endorsement of the plundering of national treasures as "preservation" is a little disingenuous, given that the contents of the Thousand Buddha Cave were destroyed in the bombing of Berlin. That argument may have held some water in the 20's, but not after WWII.