In the first ever biography of Alexander Gardner, a remarkable 19th-century American mercenary fighting his way across Asia's mountain passes, bestselling author of India: A History, John Keay, unravels the greatest enigma in the history of travel.
Imagine spending thirteen years fighting and travelling in disguise in the deserts of Inner Asia, then another thirteen years as an officer in the army of the Sikhs. How would you convince a disbelieving Western audience? Suppose, too, that while 'long separated from the world' you had acquired a reputation for conduct utterly unacceptable in civilised society. How would you justify it? Many would reckon you a scoundrel and liar, despite your protests. Lively reminiscences - such as saving the city of Lahore in 1841 by singlehandedly killing 300 invaders - and numerous scars would not impress them, nor would the eccentricities of old age. The most you could hope for would be an impartial, if remote, vindication.
Gardner's story, like Marco Polo's, changed people's understanding of the world. The urge to contest or authenticate his account contributed to the scientific and political penetration of a vast chunk of Asia. Readers will see the whole region, from the Caspian to Tibet, in a new light and gain a fresh perspective on its last years under native rule.