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In Brief

NONFICTION : LIKE HIDDEN FIRE: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire by Peter Hopkirk (Kodansha: $25; 384 pp.)

August 21, 1994|DICK RORABACK

Cousins or no cousins, the kaiser hated the British. They diminished him. So he hatched this Grand Scheme. He would foster a jihad--a holy war. The Germans would then lead millions of Muslims across the Ottoman Empire through Persia to Afghanistan, whence they would seize India, cutting Britain off at the roots, and knocking off Russia at the same time. Two could play at this empire game.

It was an end run around World War I, and it had its moments, and its men. Wilhelm Wassmuss, for example, "the German Lawrence" in flowing blond mane and Persian robes, Mauser pistol in his sash, who careered about the desert persuading the natives that the Germans really were Muslims. (The kaiser, he said, had converted, made his pilgrimage to Mecca, and was now called "Hajji Wilhelm Mohammed"; the entire nation had followed his example. As Punch put it: "Deutschland Uber Allah.") Author Peter Hopkirk, on a roll after "The Great Game," has written another epic of derring-do, played out from Egypt to Kirghizia and beyond. Exotic settings; uncommon bravery; endurance and deceit; alliances, intrigue, betrayal: these are the components of Hopkirk's history--most often told through the adventures of impossibly intrepid individuals--and they are stirring tales indeed. P.S. The kaiser lost.

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