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Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics Paperback – September 17, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Spanning a period from thousands of years B.C.E. through September 11, 2001, Ewans ambitiously covers an incredible scope of this country's history. While the writing is dry at times, the information goes a long way toward putting the nation's current situation in perspective. Events leading up to and during the Soviet invasion in the late '70s are especially intriguing, as is the explanation of the mujahadin's emergence. More than half the book dwells on 20th-century happenings, with quite a bit of fascinating detail on conditions in Afghanistan during the '90s. Light is shed on how and why the Taliban movement gained power. Discussion on drug trafficking includes statistics on opium production. A five-page epilogue analyzes the impact of 9/11 and subsequent actions taken to bring down the Taliban and to snuff out bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operations. Remarkably thorough text is supplemented by a diagram of the Durrani dynasty; a section of 38 black-and-white glossy plates showing not only historical places and figures, but also early coinage; and 8 geopolitical maps. A former diplomat who served in Afghanistan, Ewans has written a timely and useful book that proffers insight into a country that until recently had been overlooked by most of the world.
Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

September 11 drastically changed the fate of this scholarly history of Afghanistan. Before, it might have found an audience in a few college classrooms, but now, few libraries will want to be without it. Ewans begins by glossing over early Afghan history and the triumph by Islam over Buddhism and indigenous religions, and giving a brief overview of the occupations by Genghis Khan and Timur. Most of the book is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There aren't a lot of bright spots in modern Afghan history. The people share no linguistic, religious, or ethnic traditions and have come together only to fight common enemies. Two wars with the British and the mujahadeen resistance against the Soviets devastated both the people and the economy, but the anarchy following the wars was equally crippling. Often lacking a centralized government, the few rulers Afghanistan has known, from Daoud to Mullah Omar, have been charismatic personalities but hugely ineffective leaders. With a comprehensive understanding of Afghan history, Ewans portrays the rise of the Taliban in the context of a nation that had known no peace in 40 years and little peace in all its history. An epilogue, which contains the most compelling writing of the book, explores the aftermath of September 11 on Afghan history. Though the dry, scholarly political history will turn off casual readers, this is a fascinating story and the best book-length examination of Afghanistan's history we're likely to have for some time. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Paperback Edition edition (September 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060505087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060505080
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #716,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Chris Luallen on September 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Martin Ewans, who previously served as a British diplomat in Afghanistan, is clearly someone who is very knowledegable of Afghan history and its people. However, the title "A Short History" may be a bit misleading, as this is, in fact, a thorough examination of Afghan history with some rather dense writing. Certainly it is more for those seriously interested in the subject matter rather than the casual reader.

Another thing to consider is that this book covers Afghanistan from its earliest days to the modern era. Personally, I was most interested in Afghanistan's ancient history as well as the contemporary period, especially the Taliban and the current U.S. military presence. Instead its ancient history is only briefly discussed, with the bulk of the book being devoted to the 1800's and 1900's. The book does offer substantial and insightful coverage of the Soviet occupation, the mujahidin and the Taliban. But, since the book was written in 2002, it's not completely up to date on what is currently happening in Afghanistan. So someone primarily interested in post-Taliban Afghanistan might do better with one of the many books devoted solely to the contemporary era.

Still Ewans is a extremely intelligent man and has tremendous amounts of information and insight to convey regarding Afgan history. This one is worth reading for those with a serious interest in the country
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By William J. Feuer on March 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
I liked this book, had no problem reading it, and recommend it. Presumably when reviewers refer to it as "dry", they mean in comparison to such popular histories as Peter Hopkirk's fascinating "The Great Game". But, Hopkirk's point of view lends to the events an air of "the plucky British soldiers" fighting against "incredible odds" in their 19th century incursions into Afghanistan. What happened is that the disciplined British military with the aid of superior tactics and weaponry massacred numerous Afghanis in their quest to keep their Indian empire secure (from a Russian invasion that might never have occurred anyway), and, in due course, suffered some massacres of their own. I don't suggest Hopkirk whitewashed these events. Rather, he knows a story is more appealing with "heros" and "villains", and constructing these is how the very readable "The Great Game" makes a century of fairly detailed Central Asian history palatable.

Ewans's book lacks heros and villains. It's briefer and is consciously even-handed, written with a diplomat's grasp of how the personalities of leaders and the policies of powerful countries towards poor ones steer events. If you want a pithy review of Afghanistan's interactions with the world's great powers, its politics, and the succession of leaders from Dost Mohammed forward, this is your book. It certainly served me well.

Weaknesses of this book include, first, the sketchiness of the pre-19th century history and, second, a sharp focus on leaders and politics giving little idea of how ordinary Afghans lived, especially in rural areas (that is, until the closing chapters dealing with the Communist government, Soviet invasion, and regimes of the Mujahidin and Taliban).
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a great book for readers interested in a brief survey of Afghanistan's political history and foreign relations from ancient times to 9/11. Author Ewans, a retired British diplomat who served in Kabul, writes superbly, stays focused on issues that are important and interesting, and has a droll sense of the role played by stupidity in foreign affairs. The highlights are the chapters on Anglo-Afghan relations in the 19th century and the Soviet occupation and civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. Ewans does stumble in early chapters that reshash boring dynastic histories from the middle ages (hence my rating of four stars), but this is the only flaw in an otherwise excellent book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dan on December 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics, by Martin Ewans, is a fantastic book. This fascinating account of this plucky country was chock full of facts that have immediate relevance. Covering from ancient times to 2002, this book provides a traditional history--no stories of the working classes or women. But it covers the byzantine regime changes of Afghanistan very well. It als does a fine job of explaining how the Afghanistan state was in constant tension between the local tribal powers and the more modern central authority of the king. The foreign situation was also an exercise in balance, with the Afghans depending on money, guns and expertise from British India to fend off the Russian Empire. However, the relationship with the Brits wasn't entirely godlen, as the three Anglo-Afghan wars suggest.
While the history was intensely interesting, the last chapters of the book, which cover the politics and battles of the last two decades which have left Afghanistan such a mess, were the most relevant for me. If you want to know how mcuh the CIA spent supporting the Taliban, it's in there. If you want to know which external nations supported which of the warring factions, it's in there. If you want to know why Afghanistan grows the majority of the world's opium, it's in there.
I won't say this book was easy to get through. The writing is quite dense. The frequent re-appearance of characters was at times confusing, but I fear that is more a feature of Afghan history. For a concise political history of a nation that we're becoming more and more involved with, check out this book.
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