The most recommended books about Kabul

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to Kabul, and here are their favorite Kabul books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of Kabul book?


Book cover of Nothing Good Happens in Wazirabad on Wednesday

Tamim Ansary Author Of The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

From Tamim's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Storyteller Afghan American History buff Secular mystic

Tamim's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Tamim love this book?

Aram’s book plunged me into a surreal landscape that felt weirdly normal—a quality familiar to me from dreams.

It’s set in a neighborhood of Kabul, Afghanistan, during the civil war of the mid-90s, but this isn’t like any war I’ve seen depicted: there are no armies with clashing interests.

No one knows who’s fighting or why. This war isn’t about anything, it’s just there, meaningless and ubiquitous, like rush hour traffic or pollution, something to get through as you go about your everyday life, be it collecting scorpions, having sex with the neighbor’s wife, creating beauty with calligraphy, whatever… Often I found myself shedding tears without knowing why. I wasn’t in Kabul during that war, but after this novel, I felt like I had been.

By Jamaluddin Aram,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Good Happens in Wazirabad on Wednesday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this novel about peace in a time of war, debut author Jamaluddin Aram masterfully breathes life into the colourful characters of the town of Wazirabad, in early 1990s Kabul, Afghanistan.

It is the early 1990s, in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Russian occupation has ended, and civil war has broken out, but life roars on in full force in the working-class town of Wazirabad.

A rash of burglaries has stolen people’s sleep. Fifteen-year-old Aziz awakens from a dark dream that prompts him to plant shards of glass along the wall surrounding his house to protect his family against theft. Aziz’s sister,…

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

By Deborah Rodriguez,

Book cover of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Annabel Townsend Author Of It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Ten Years of Misadventures in Coffee

From the list on wannabe coffee shop owners.

Who am I?

I've been going by the handle ‘Dr. Coffee’ online for over a decade now. I really do have a PhD. in coffee! In 2007 I embarked on a doctorate and wrote my thesis on ideas of quality in the coffee industry. The inevitable question is then, ‘what do you do with a PhD in coffee?’ and my answer was to open coffee shops, first in the UK and then in Canada. In recent years, I've switched from owning a coffee shop with books in it to a bookshop with coffee in it, but it still manages to satisfy both passions. I firmly believe there is no better combination than hot coffee and good books.  

Annabel's book list on wannabe coffee shop owners

Why did Annabel love this book?

As I have discovered throughout my career, there are very few women who write about coffee and the coffee industry in general, and so I want to champion this one. Coffee itself is not the main focus of this delightful book, but the cafe—and its owners, staff, and customers—really take centre stage. Rodriguez’s descriptions of the little haven created by a simple coffee shop in Afghanistan’s war-torn capital are beautiful and captivating as well as a reminder of why spaces like this are so culturally important. This is a cosy book to curl up with and absorb the heroines’ adventures, secrets, and unusual friendships made along the way.  

By Deborah Rodriguez,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'If you love The Kite Runner you'll love The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul' LOOK MAGAZINE

In a little coffee shop in one of the most dangerous places on earth, five very different women come together . . .

SUNNY, the proud proprietor, who needs an ingenious plan - and fast - to keep her cafe and customers safe.

YAZMINA, a young pregnant woman stolen from her remote village and now abandoned on Kabul's violent streets.

CANDACE, a wealthy American who has finally left her husband for her Afghan lover, the enigmatic Wakil.

ISABEL, a determined…

The Places in Between

By Rory Stewart,

Book cover of The Places in Between

Stephen Haddelsey Author Of Shackleton's Dream: Fuchs, Hillary and the Crossing of Antarctica

From the list on forgotten expeditions and extraordinary journeys.

Who am I?

Although I’m fascinated by the history of exploration, I’m most attracted to the stories that have been lost, neglected, or forgotten. Why, for instance, is Sir Vivian Fuchs – arguably the most successful British Antarctic explorer of the twentieth century – not as well-known as Scott or Shackleton? Why do we know so little of Operation Tabarin – the only wartime Antarctic expedition to be launched by a combatant nation? These are the kind of questions that I want to answer, and these are the expeditions that I have wanted to examine. I’ve been fortunate to meet and interview some truly extraordinary men – and telling their stories has been a joy and a privilege.  

Stephen's book list on forgotten expeditions and extraordinary journeys

Why did Stephen love this book?

In January 2002, less than four months after 9/11 and three since the US invasion of Afghanistan, Rory Stewart set out to walk from Herat to Kabul. In the preface, he states, "I’m not good at explaining why," and he never really answers that question – but the book that resulted from that decision has become a classic in the author’s lifetime. I’m lucky enough to own a rare first edition – rare because it was produced inexpensively and in small numbers by Picador, who clearly expected it to attract little attention. They were wrong: it became an international best-seller and multi-award winner – deservedly so. As well as being packed with detail about the war-torn land through which he travelled and the people he met en route, it is also a deeply spiritual account – moving, troubling, and uplifting in equal measure. 

By Rory Stewart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 2001 Rory Stewart set off from Herat to walk to Kabul via the mountains of Ghor in central Afghanistan. This was to be the last leg of a 21 month walk across Asia. The country was in turmoil following the recent US invasion and the mountain passes still covered in snow. Suspicious of his motives, and worried for his safety, the authorities provided Rory with two armed guards who accompanied him, but whom he soon out-walked. Later he was given a dog, whom he named 'Babur' in honour of the great Moghul Emperor in whose footsteps the two of…

Book cover of The Storyteller's Daughter: One Woman's Return to Her Lost Homeland

Steven Nightingale Author Of The Hot Climate of Promises and Grace: 64 Stories

From the list on by or about world-changing women.

Who am I?

The first person I ever trusted in the world was a high-school English teacher, a woman named Margaret Muth. She plucked me out of a trash-can, literally and figuratively. When I was seventeen years old, she told me: “Books will teach you. They will help you. Choose books the way you choose the risks you take in life: do it patiently, thoughtfully. Then give yourself to them with a whole heart. This is how you learn.” This is one sentence, from one teacher, given to a teenager of decidedly crude and primitive material—one sentence that changed his whole life for the better. Bless her. 

Steven's book list on by or about world-changing women

Why did Steven love this book?

An extraordinary book by an extraordinary woman. Saira Shah recounts her journeys in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the context of her upbringing in a family with deep roots in the region. She is on the ground during the rise of the Taliban and the fight against the Russian occupation, and the story is hair-raising, enlightening, revelatory, informed, and insightfully detailed. Ms. Shah went on to make the celebrated documentary Beneath the Veil, risking her life daily to shoot video during the first phase of Taliban control. Unforgettable, and indispensable for understanding Afghanistan.

By Saira Shah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Storyteller's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Imagine that a jewel-like garden overlooking Kabul is your ancestral home. Imagine a kitchen made fragrant with saffron strands and cardamom pods simmering in an authentic pilau. Now remember that you were born in London, your family in exile, and that you have never seen Afghanistan in peacetime.

These are but the starting points of Saira Shah’s memoir, by turns inevitably exotic and unavoidably heartbreaking, in which she explores her family’s history in and out of Afghanistan. As an accomplished journalist and documentarian–her film Beneath the Veil unflinchingly depicted for CNN viewers the humiliations forced on women under Taliban rule–Shah…

Escape from Aleppo

By N.H. Senzai,

Book cover of Escape from Aleppo

Alyssa Hollingsworth Author Of The Eleventh Trade

From the list on refugees.

Who am I?

My sister worked for nine years teaching women in Afghanistan, and the Taliban tried to kill her for it—several times. Back in 2011, I was able to visit her in-country and I fell in love with the kind, brave people and their scarred, stubborn nation. But when my sister was eventually forced to return home, she was not the sister who had left. Refugees told me similar stories; stories about memories that wouldn’t stay quiet even though they were safe. I couldn’t help wondering: How do you rebuild a life after losing everything? My debut book, The Eleventh Trade, became the place I wrestled with that question. 

Alyssa's book list on refugees

Why did Alyssa love this book?

When bombs fall on Nadia’s home, she’s separated from her family in the middle of a war. Over the course of a few short, dangerous days, she has to find a way through her destroyed city to her parents. With startling detail, N.H. Senzai captures the frenzy and peril of Nadia’s situation. 

N.H. Senzai also writes wonderful books about Afghan refugees, like Shooting Kabul, but I personally found Escape from Aleppo her best work so far. I read it all in a gulp, and came out with a deeper understanding of what even a tiny slice of the refugee experience can look like.

By N.H. Senzai,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Escape from Aleppo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Filled with kindness and hope...Heartbreaking...Necessary." -Booklist (starred review)

Nadia's family is forced to flee their home in Aleppo, Syria, when the Arab Spring sparks a civil war in this timely, "harrowing" (Publishers Weekly) coming-of-age novel from award-winning author N.H. Senzai.

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents' elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing "Happy Birthday," when her uncle calls from the living room, "Baba, brothers, you need to see this." Reluctantly,…

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini,

Book cover of The Kite Runner

Christie Nelson Author Of Beautiful Illusion

From the list on life and love in San Francisco as the world quakes.

Who am I?

I tend to see the events that affect people and countries in the shape of a narrative. Is it any wonder then that I would try my hand at literary fiction, which confers wholeness to stories of turmoil and division? I think not. Finally settling into historical fiction as if I’d found my true home came as a welcome surprise. Without sounding grandiose, it didn’t hurt to be born and raised in a magnificent American city built on seven hills on the edge of the Pacific with deep traditions in literature, music, the arts, and damn good drinking establishments. I wish you happy reading and the thrill of discovery.

Christie's book list on life and love in San Francisco as the world quakes

Why did Christie love this book?

It seems as if I’m consistently selecting novels set during war. But my former recommendation, and this one, is just too good to pass by plus it’s on the top shelf of my library, keeping other favorites company. This one is a love story between boyhood friends and I’m a hopeless romantic. Match my romantic soul with tragedy and I’m a goner. Now we’re in Afghanistan where a privileged young boy and his friend, the son of his father’s servant, live through their country’s revolution and are invaded by Russian forces that tear the country apart. The writing is so powerful and eloquent, the subject so timely (it was published in 2003), that I was spellbound by Khaled Hosseini’s literary genius.

By Khaled Hosseini,

Why should I read it?

5 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.

The Bookseller of Kabul

By Åsne Seierstad,

Book cover of The Bookseller of Kabul

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

From the list 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.

Grant's book list on Afghanistan and life in the land of the Taliban

Why did Grant 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.

Kabul in Winter

By Ann Jones,

Book cover of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan

Denis Dragovic Author Of No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

From the list on the tragedy of war.

Who am I?

I have lived, breathed, and studied peace and conflict since 1998, but what I’m most passionate about is the plight of the people. I spent over a decade in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, and East Timor providing humanitarian assistance followed by another decade writing and working on the consequences of wars. The more we understand the impact of wars the better humanity will be placed to stop them. That is why I chose five beautifully written books that will be difficult to put down while offering an array of voices and perspectives that together provide insights into how we can better respond to outbreaks of war.

Denis' book list on the tragedy of war

Why did Denis love this book?

Ann Jones’ memoir Kabul in Winter takes the reader inside the lives of Afghan women following the overthrow of the Taliban in the early 2000s. The book includes the necessary tour of Afghanistan’s history taking the reader through major events alongside the more valuable contribution of her time in Kabul. The book’s beauty lies in Jones’ ability to explain the plight of Afghan women in the complex context of entrenched cultural norms and religious beliefs without relying on simplistic Western cliches. We get to understand that there is no easy solution, no quick fix, because the entire society is structured around an uber patriarchy. I loved how her writing didn’t hold back and how her passion shines through along with her anger and despair.

By Ann Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Soon after the bombs stopped falling on Kabul, award-winning journalist and women's rights activist Ann Jones set out for the shattered city. This is her trenchant report from the city where she spent the next four winters working in humanitarian aid. Investigating the city's prison for women, retraining Kabul's long - silenced English teachers, Jones enters the lives of everyday women and men and reveals through small events some big disjunctions: between the new Afghan "democracy" and the still-entrenched warlords, between American promises and performance, between what's boasted of and what is. At once angry, profound, and starkly beautiful, "Kabul…

Who Owns Antiquity?

By James Cuno,

Book cover of Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage

Michael Findlay Author Of The Value of Art: Money. Power. Beauty.

From Michael's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why did Michael love this book?

Until read this book, I took it as a given that countries had a right to request the return of antiquities that ended up in (mostly) Western museums, narratives that are now making headlines in our anti-colonial present.

Cuno explains how complex this issue is ethically, legally and philosophically. Many of the peoples whose heritage these objects represent have disappeared or no longer occupy the countries in question.

Also for the sake of the objects themselves should they be studied and maintained and made available to a wide public in a museum rather than be returned to a corrupt government?

By James Cuno,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Who Owns Antiquity? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether antiquities should be returned to the countries where they were found is one of the most urgent and controversial issues in the art world today, and it has pitted museums, private collectors, and dealers against source countries, archaeologists, and academics. Maintaining that the acquisition of undocumented antiquities by museums encourages the looting of archaeological sites, countries such as Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and China have claimed ancient artifacts as state property, called for their return from museums around the world, and passed laws against their future export. But in Who Owns Antiquity?, one of the world's leading museum directors…

The Breadwinner

By Deborah Ellis,

Book cover of The Breadwinner

Ellen Schwartz Author Of Heart of a Champion

From the list on children’s books about social justice.

Who am I?

I grew up during the civil rights movement in the US, and my ancestors—the lucky ones—escaped pogroms in eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century and made it to North America. (The unlucky ones were slaughtered in the Holocaust.) So I suppose it is natural that I would be drawn to write stories about the struggle to overcome persecution, racism, and injustice. I love creating characters who, at the beginning of the story, don’t know that they have what it takes to fight for justice, but then slowly build the confidence and courage to make a difference. And writing about these triumphs is fun, too!

Ellen's book list on children’s books about social justice

Why did Ellen love this book?

From our comfortable perch in North America, it’s almost impossible to imagine how children—girls, especially—survive in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The Breadwinner made it real to me, with all the oppression that the main character, eleven-year-old Parvana, experiences and all the courage she demonstrates. This book showed me the common humanity we share with people whose lives are so different from our own. And it forced me to ask myself: Could I have been as brave and resourceful as Parvana?

By Deborah Ellis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Afghanistan: Parvana's father is arrested and taken away by Taliban soldiers. Under Taliban law, women and girls are not allowed to leave the house on their own.

Parvana, her mother, and sisters are prisoners in their own home. With no man to go out to buy food, they face starvation.

So Parvana must pretend to be a boy to save her family. It is a dangerous plan, but their only chance. In fear, she goes out - and witnesses the horror of landmines, the brutality of the Taliban, and the desperation of a country trying to survive. But even in…

The Library Bus

By Bahram Rahman, Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Library Bus

Angela Burke Kunkel Author Of Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

From the list on children’s books celebrating libraries.

Who am I?

Angela Burke Kunkel is an author, school librarian, and former English Language Arts teacher. She has experience working with all types of young readers, from the reluctant to the voracious, and has taught in both alternative and public schools, including a New Mexico middle school with a nationally-recognized dual education program. She is passionate about ensuring equitable book access for all children, and has published articles and participated as a panelist on these issues.

Angela's book list on children’s books celebrating libraries

Why did Angela love this book?

The Library Bus offers a glimpse into the importance of mobile libraries, showing how one bus run by a mother and daughter delivers books, school supplies, and lessons to other young girls in Afghanistan. Told of the course of one day, with the bus leaving Kabul in the very early morning and ending at bedtime, the story explains the restrictions women and girls faced under Taliban rule in a clear and age-appropriate way.

By Bahram Rahman, Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Author Bahram Rahman grew up in Afghanistan during years of civil war and the restrictive Taliban regime of 1996-2001. He wrote The Library Bus to tell new generations about the struggles of women who, like his own sister, were forbidden to learn.

It is still dark in Kabul, Afghanistan when the library bus rumbles out of the city. There are no bus seats-instead there are chairs and tables and shelves of books. And there are no passengers-instead there is Pari, who is nervously starting her first day as Mama's library helper. Pari stands tall to hand out notebooks and pencils…