'A Victorian drama of three intertwined lives set against a backcloth of the greatest empire the world has ever seen. By degrees heroic, poignant, whimsical and tragic, Brian Thompson's wonderful book is precisely what that much-misused cliché "rattling good yarn" might have been coined to describe.' - Richard Holmes
'Victorian Britain, that seemingly most conformist of ages, was in fact teeming with eccentrics. The fabulous Baker Brothers were eccentric in a conformist way for the time: Sir Samuel searched for the source of the Nile; Baker Pasha became leader of the Ottoman army. But it was that epitome of empire, and epitome of the Christian English gentleman, who was the most peculiar of them all: "Chinese" Gordon is finally depicted as the anarchist he really was as he marched to his death against the Mahdi. It is Thompson's triumph that he gives these characters, straitjacketed first by their time, and then by history, the freedom to dance across the page once more.' - Judith Flanders
'Imperial Vanities' is an adventure story in the high tradition, ranging from the Upper Nile to Ceylon, Egypt and the slave markets of the Balkans. Livingstone, Speke and Burton also make an appearance, with the shadowy and elusive Laurence Oliphant spying from the sidelines. Written with Thompson's masterly touch, this is history at its best.