The story of the book is an adventure of the first order. A desert warrior, the founder of an Islamic republic, a fearsome and thinking conqueror, lays siege to Khartoum, a city on the Nile about a thousand miles south of its mouth near Alexandria. Much of the Nile being too shallow for boats between the mouth and Khartoum, the city was hidden behind hundreds of miles of desert in one of the least accessible places on Earth. The Mahdi (“Guided One”) captured the town and his Dervish forces publicly murdered one of its defenders—General Charles “Chinese” Gordon, a famous British imperial figure—before beheading him as a trophy. General Gordon had many friends in the British Army and the adulation of much of the British public. Some of his friends were part of a relief force seeking to break the siege. They did not get there in time. Nor did a second expedition looking for...


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