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

The Books I Picked & Why

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini

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!


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The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan

By Christina Lamb

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?


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The Bookseller of Kabul

By Åsne Seierstad

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.


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Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the Cia, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invas Ion to September 10, 2001

By Steve Coll

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the Cia, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invas Ion 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.


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

By William Dalrymple

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.”


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