In This Review

Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans
Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans
By Con Coughlin
Thomas Dunne Books, 2014, 320 pp

In 1896, Winston Churchill was a young cavalry officer desperately in search of notoriety and glory. Just out of the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, Churchill, 21 years old and already set on a political career, used his connections to get himself assigned to one of the British Empire’s many battle scenes, where he could collect medals and burnish his reputation. A year later, he succeeded, taking part in a three-week series of military forays against Afghan tribesmen in what is today Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nearly losing his life twice. Coughlin does a fine job of capturing the young Churchill’s qualities and flaws, his outlook on life, and his ostentatious candor about his aspirations. He also drives home just how much the British feared the encroachment into South Asia by the Russians, who the British believed were eager to poach the jewel of the British Empire. That fear motivated innumerable British military campaigns to shore up the border between Afghanistan and India during the second half of the nineteenth century. Coughlin’s portrait of the Pashtun warriors the British fought with dubious success and the parallels he draws with the United States and NATO’s struggle against their descendants are downright unnerving.