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Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History Hardcover – April, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Put the Tom Clancy clones back on the shelf; this covert-ops chronicle is practically impossible to put down. No thriller writer would dare invent Wilson, a six-feet-four-inch Texas congressman,liberal on social issues but rabidly anti-Communist, a boozer, engaged in serial affairs and wheeler-dealer of consummate skill. Only slightly less improbable is Gust Avrakotos, a blue-collar Greek immigrant who joined the CIA when it was an Ivy League preserve and fought his elitist colleagues almost as ruthlessly as he fought the Soviet Union in the Cold War's waning years. In conjunction with President Zia of Pakistan in the 1980s, Wilson and Arvakotos circumvented most of the barriers to arming the Afghan mujahideen-distance, money, law and internal CIA politics, to name a few. Their coups included getting Israeli-modified Chinese weapons smuggled into Afghanistan, with the Pakistanis turning a blind eye,and the cultivation of a genius-level weapons designer and strategist named Michael Vickers, a key architect of the guerrilla campaign that left the Soviet army stymied. The ultimate weapon in Afghanistan was the portable Stinger anti-aircraft missile, which eliminated the Soviet's Mi-24 helicopter gunships and began the train of events leading to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites. A triumph of ruthless ability over scruples, this story has dominated recent history in the form of blowback: many of the men armed by the CIA became the Taliban's murderous enforcers and Osama bin Laden's protectors. Yet superb writing from Crile, a 60 Minutes producer, will keep even the most vigorous critics of this Contra-like affair reading to the end.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A longtime Sixty Minutes producer investigates the expenditure of what eventually amounted to $1 billion a year to support Afghanistan's Mujahideen in their battle against the Soviets.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138545
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (349 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on April 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There is an excerpt on the cover of "Charlie Wilson's War" from Dan Rather stating "Tom Clancy's fiction pales in comparison..." Remarkably enough, that isn't hyperbole. Author George Crile delivers a compulsively readable and endlessly intriguing narrative of the CIA covert operation - the "largest and most successful covert operation ever" he incessantly reminds us - in support of the Afghan Mujahideen in the early- and mid-1980s.
On one level, this book is phenomenal. It is entertaining without end. The characters are so eccentric and their activities so pregnant with danger and political scandal that it almost stretches the bounds of believability. Tom Hanks, that most venerable of Hollywood icons, has purchased the screen rights to this book and plans to play the lead. For once, screenwriters won't have to "punch up" the script to appeal to the mainstream audience (although they still might try).
But that brings us to the other, more disappointing side of "Charlie Wilson's War." It is written in the spirit of a great spy novel, rather than the most exciting history imaginable. The topic is historical and the events described by Crile are all ostensibly historical in nature, but this book isn't "history." Stellar works of modern history - such as Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace" or Stanley Karnow's "Vietnam" - are informative, engaging but above all objective. Grand characters may populate the narrative and some may come off better than others, but ultimately the story tells itself and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions and character analysis. This isn't the case with "Charlie Wilson's War.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on June 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
When Charlie Wilson first learned that the Afganistan soldiers, couragous fighters, were dying in large numbers and losing the war due to lack of an anti-aircraft gun which would shoot down the Hind helicopter, Charlie Wilson made it his goal and mission to supply these courageous warriors with such a weapon. The book does a superb job of detailing how this U.S. Senator became friends with powerful Israeli allies, Egyptian arms dealers, Pakestani President Zia al Huq who secretly helped the Afghanistan warriors, and with Gust Avrakotos, a C.I.A. agent with a checkered past. Wilson met Avratokos soon after he became the acting chief of the South Asia Operations Group, right about the time Wilson made it his mission to increase arms to the Afghani mujahideen. It was this partnership which sealed the deal to increase funds for the Afghanistan war and provide the weapons the warriors needed against the Soviet high tech helicopters and equipment. Gust Avratokos hired Mike Vickers, a low level C.I.A. agent, who demonstrated extraordinairy knowledge of Soviet weapons and also an uncanny precise ability to strategize military tactics, weapons, and guerilla maneuvers against them. Due to Vickers skills, Charlie Wilson's plans were becoming aligned with reality. George Crile does an amazing job of detailing how politics, human relations, world events and just plain luck can collide and melt creating the right outcome. This book helps the reader understand how very complex current world events really are, and that sometimes, the most astonishing interplay of unexpected elements can bring about success, despite the odds against them. The film "Charlie Wilson's War" is good and is recommended but it is highly selective in its contents and therefore superficial compared to the book.Read more ›
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166 of 196 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Howard on May 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Charlie Wilson's War" is the unbelievable yet true story of the covert CIA operation to support the Afghan rebels who so courageously resisted Soviet occupation in the 1980's. It is also the story of two extraordinary men, Congressman Charles Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrokotos, whose guile, determination, and utter disregard for the rules made this quixotic undertaking a reality.
This book is about impossible personalities prevailing against impossible odds to defeat an impossible foe. It is also impossible to put down. The prose is quick and engaging. George Crile and his crack team drop you immediately into the action, creating a close bond with the book's main protagonists. However, Wilson and Avrokotos are not allowed to completely overshadow the action. Crile brings his expert eye to this historic tale, forged after almost two decades of service as an executive producer at "Sixty Minutes". The result is an easy to follow, orderly read- despite the utter chaos of the region's history, politics, and religious, ethnic, and territorial turmoil.
What makes this book all the more fascinating is the direct connections Crile ties to our present day difficulties with Afghanistan and the larger Islamic world, not to mention the final days of the Soviet empire. For the first time since 9/11, one source ties together the complicated web of covert operations, David and Goliath type odds, and the final missed opportunities into a coherent story. A story that is an object lesson into our current relationships in the Middle East.
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