The best books on Afghanistan and life in the land of the Taliban

Grant Lock Author Of Shoot Me First: A Cattleman in Taliban Country. Twenty-Four Years in the Hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
By Grant Lock

Who am I?

To stop us from reopening a school for girls, a mob of angry and well-armed Pashtun men threatened to shoot my workers. I surprised myself. “If you are going to shoot my workmen, you will have to shoot me first!” My wife, Janna, and I bred cattle in outback Australia. On the weekends we played tennis. Yet, in 1984 we began a twenty-four-year adventure battling corruption, injustice, and disadvantage in the deserts, mountains, and cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I dug wells, built schools, and helped restore the eyesight of thousands of Afghans; until I myself became blind.

I wrote...

Shoot Me First: A Cattleman in Taliban Country. Twenty-Four Years in the Hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

By Grant Lock,

Book cover of Shoot Me First: A Cattleman in Taliban Country. Twenty-Four Years in the Hotspots of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

What is my book about?

Shoot Me First is a gripping personal account of life in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author offers intriguing insights into the culture of the tribal territories that straddle the two countries. This is home to the Taliban, an untamed land that continues to absorb so much of the world’s attention and military endeavour. Lock is shrewd and laconic but above all compassionate.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini,

Book cover of The Kite Runner

Why this book?

Yes, it’s a novel, but it is a novel steeped in local lore, history, and the reality of life under the kite-banning Taliban. No book evokes daily life in the land of the Taliban better than The Kite Runner. Thank you, Khaled Hosseini!


The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan

By Christina Lamb,

Book cover of The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan

Why this book?

The three Pashtun virtues are hospitality, honor, and revenge. Pashtun hospitality epitomizes human warmth and generosity but Pashtun honor and revenge make a chilling and toxic cocktail. Christina Lamb gives a human face to the destruction wrought by the then unknown ultraconservative political and religious faction led by the one-eyed cleric, Mohammad Omar. Lamb was there before and after the tragedy. A great read. Will history repeat itself?


The Bookseller of Kabul

By Åsne Seierstad,

Book cover of The Bookseller of Kabul

Why this book?

The widows of Kabul called my wife “Frishta” (Angel). Janna loved working with them and she loves this book. Åsne Seierstad writes about the experiences of Afghan women and their prospects, marriages, hopes, and fears. Seierstad lived with a family dominated by a patriarch who loved books; for which the Taliban, also had a—literally—burning passion.


Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

By Steve Coll,

Book cover of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

Why this book?

Afghans tell me that the USA and Pakistan were responsible for spawning the Taliban. This is partly true. If you want the big picture as well as the covert details, this book is for you. The CIA, KGB, ISI, stinger missiles, Soviet Army, wealthy Arabs, Osama Bin Laden, drones, democracy, Islamic fundamentalism, unwanted Christmas Day visitors, and the one-eyed mullah; it’s all there.


Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42

By William Dalrymple,

Book cover of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42

Why this book?

Did the British learn anything from Napoleon’s fatal retreat from Moscow in 1812? Exactly three decades later the greatest debacle in British military history occurred in Afghanistan, the graveyard of conquerors. William Dalrymple serves up a satisfying slice of history, complete with spies, counter-espionage, intrigue, hubris, and folly, and provides context for the emergence of the Taliban. The wise will heed the timeless saying, “The only time Pashtuns stop fighting, is when they go to war.”


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and bookstores?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and bookstores.

Afghanistan Explore 46 books about Afghanistan
The Taliban Explore 17 books about the Taliban
Bookstores Explore 14 books about bookstores

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like My Life with the Taliban, Craig & Fred, and Kabul in Winter if you like this list.