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

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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Kite Runner

Grant Lock Why did I love 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!

By Khaled Hosseini,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Kite Runner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

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

Grant Lock Why did I love 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?

By Christina Lamb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sewing Circles of Herat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Lamb’s long experience as a journalist is a solid stage upon which to build the story of her voyage through Afghanistan, told with a deep, loving honesty.” — Montreal Gazette (Canada)

A brilliant British war correspondent who has spent ten years in Afghanistan gives a first hand report on the war and its genesis.

Award-winning journalist Christina Lamb chronicles the human stories behind the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lamb spent the last phase of the Soviet War in Pakistan, relying on her friendship with exiled Afghans to smuggle her in and out of Jalalabad. Many of these friends…

Book cover of The Bookseller of Kabul

Grant Lock Why did I love 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.

By Åsne Seierstad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bookseller of Kabul as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This mesmerizing portrait of a proud man who, through three decades and successive repressive regimes, heroically braved persecution to bring books to the people of Kabul has elicited extraordinary praise throughout the world and become a phenomenal international bestseller. The Bookseller of Kabul is startling in its intimacy and its details - a revelation of the plight of Afghan women and a window into the surprising realities of daily life in today's Afghanistan.

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

Grant Lock Why did I love 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.

By Steve Coll,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ghost Wars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

The explosive, New York Times bestselling first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan

Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll has spent years reporting from the Middle East, accessed previously classified government files and interviewed senior US officials and foreign spymasters. Here he gives the full inside story of the CIA's covert funding of an Islamic jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, explores how this sowed the seeds of bn Laden's rise, traces how he built his global network and brings to life the dramatic battles within the US government over national security. Above all, he…

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

Grant Lock Why did I love 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.”

By William Dalrymple,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Return of a King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Dazzling' Sunday Times
'Magnificent' Guardian
'Sparkling' Daily Telegraph

In the spring of 1839, Britain invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the high mountain passes and re-established on the throne Shah Shuja ul-Mulk.

On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after two years of occupation, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into violent rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain's greatest military humiliation of the nineteenth century: an entire army of…

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Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

Book cover of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

Manni Coe Author Of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a gay man born into an evangelical Christian family, my coming out story was wrought with pain, trauma, and separation from family and loved ones. In the same year I lost my best friend in an accident. My world tumbled and I had to crawl back to a place of reckoning. Walking became my path to healing. So when my brother Reuben, who has Down's syndrome sent me a message from the isolation of a care home in the pandemic, I knew he was in trouble. Those five words - ´brother. do. you. love. me.´changed our lives. I thought I might know a way to save him.

Manni's book list on memoirs that capture the struggle of everyday life

What is my book about?

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. is a true story of brotherly love overcoming all. Reuben, who has Down's syndrome, was trapped in a care home during the pandemic, spiralling deeper into a non-verbal depression. From isolation and in desperation, he sent his older brother Manni a text, "brother. do. you. love. me."

This cry for help, this SOS in the sand unleashed a brotherly love that had Manni travelling back to the UK mid-pandemic to rescue his brother from the care home, and together they sheltered from the world in a cottage in deepest, darkest Dorset. There began a journey of recovery and rediscovery. Little by little, the brothers had to piece back together Reuben's world, help him to find his voice and find ways for him to trust the world again. This is a book about care, about Down's syndrome, about love. It is a story of resilience and patience in a world that Reuben thought had abandoned him.

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

What is this book about?

The story of two brothers, one with Down syndrome, and their extraordinary journey of resilience and repair.

"Profoundly moving and hugely uplifting."—Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reuben, aged 38, was living in a home for adults with learning disabilities. He hadn’t established an independent life in the care system and was still struggling to accept that he had Down syndrome. Depressed and in a fog of antidepressants, he hadn’t spoken for over a year. The only way he expressed himself was by writing poems or drawing felt-tip scenes from his favorite musicals…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and bookstores?

10,000+ 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 77 books about Afghanistan
The Taliban Explore 21 books about the Taliban
Bookstores Explore 30 books about bookstores