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In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation Book Club EDITION Edition

10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0230614031
ISBN-10: 0230614035
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Loyn's dense chronicle of foreign meddling in Afghanistan reveals the country's long history of confounding the optimism of invaders. The stories that Loyn (Frontline), a longtime BBC correspondent with considerable experience in Afghanistan, recounts bear this out with chilling inevitability—generations of British, Soviet and most recently American leaders are confounded by shifting regional allegiances and unanticipated violent religious movements. Loyn's book is packed with details and anecdotes about the personalities that shaped the country, such as the Scottish adventurer Mountstuart Elphinstone, who first explored the region in 1808 armed only with Alexander the Great's account as guide; Abdur Habibullah, the obese turn of the century Afghan emir who rode around on a tricycle; and Charlie Wilson, whose funding of the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion is given an appropriately darker shading than in the recent book and film. Loyn's book suffers at times from a surfeit of dates and names without clear organization, and his eagerness to equate past conflicts and leaders to current ones results in frenetic time jumping. Nevertheless, the weight of the material that Loyn has gathered makes his book extremely valuable given our current circumstances. (July)
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The weight of the material that Loyn has gathered makes his book extremely valuable given our current circumstances. (Publishers Weekly)

Journalist Loyn dissects numerous misbegotten British, Russian, and US efforts to bend this not quite nation-state to serve their respective interests….[A] fluid analysis….Loyn's treatment is crucial to understanding the failure of Soviet and US military intervention in Afghanistan since 1979….Essential. (Choice)

[There are] terrific -- and terrifying -- tales in this short, sharp book. . .In Afghanistan targets the educated general reader, but it could educate generals. (New York Post)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; Book Club EDITION edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230614035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230614031
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Erik Eisel on December 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Something which prevents the general reader from picking up a book, like Loyn's "In Afghanistan," is the threat of being bored or bludgeoned by an agenda. Instead, Loyn approaches his topic with the eye of an experienced and accomplished journalist, helping the reader experience what is profound and historic about the small country of Afghanistan, why it keeps appearing in the geo-political ambitions of the West (Alexander's Greece, the British Empire, the current USA), and why its people have proved so intractable to conquest. First, it should be noted that Loyn's book is just over 200 pages, so it can be easily read in a week. Second, Loyn's discussion of the British empire's engagement with Afghanistan in the nineteenth century is fast-moving, with an eye to accounts of the exoticism and beauty of the region recounted by its first explorers. And, third, any readers who have looked for the historical context of the Great Game played out between the British and the Russians will find this book extremely useful.
Finally, while the book sets up as a "cautionary tale" about "any" Western involvement in Afghanistan, I did not find that the book has an agenda. To make this point, I believe, Loyn strips the Taliban of ideologic, "Islamist" motives, and tries to demonstrate that their behavior more closely resembles the behavior of Afghan warriors, as they were encountered by Alexander and the British. This code of behavior, known as "pushtanwali," however barbaric and bloody it appears to us, nevertheless establishes a code of behavior that regulates family relations, gradations of honor, and personal moral behavior and that has lasted for 3,000 years. One would hope that Loyn's book would be required for any civilian and military official going to Afghanistan, so that they could see the country and its people from a different point of view. At the same time, even a casual reader will be extremely enriched by Loyn's personal history of Afghanistan.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Connie G Scammell TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in the War in Afghanistan, this should be required reading. David Loyn breaks this book down into four parts, each concentrating on an era of Afghanistan and its neighbors Persia and the ever-looming threat of the Russian Empire, which had fought for control over that area in the last 200 years.

The book starts out in 1808 and the British attempt to gain Afghanistan as a buffer against the growing Persian Empire to its west. Britain controlled India at the time, and threats of a Persian-Russian attack were the crown's biggest fear. But even 200 years ago Afghanistan was an area of tribal alliances and war fronts, each tribe joining and breaking alliances to its own liking. British ambassadors traveling through the region noted even then the often barbarious means by which each tribe fought and made peace with each other.

The four parts of this book make comprehending the ever-warrioring region easier: "First Encouters and the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1808-1842," then "Russian Moves and the Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1842-1880," "Revolution and the Soviet Invasion, 1973-1994" and the final part, "The Taliban and the US-led Invasion 1994-2008."

The reader sees how the region, especially the mountainous region between modern Afghanistan and Pakistan, has always been a mysterious, barbaric region populated by tribes not too keen on strangers (non-tribal members). This region, known even 200 years ago as Waziristan, is today one of the most violent in the area.

David Loyn adds a detailed list of characters at the beginning of this book, to give a reader some introduction to the many people who have made this region what it is today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jacobite on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
From 19th Century Anglo-Russian rivalry to today's War on Terror, the world has tended to view Afghanistan -- if at all -- as a pawn in a larger game. Even next-door neighbors like Pakistan have done so. And it has typically come to grief, for foreigners and Afghans alike. Those who consider the current intervention in Afghanistan necessary -- even more than those who don't -- should be eager to read the history of such interventions from an Afghan point of view, and that's exactly what David Loyn does.
"In Afghanistan" is exceptional in many ways. Although a Westerner, Loyn primarily yields to Afghan voices and sources. Although even a good journalist tends to focus on individual and incident, Loyn synthesizes the memorable pieces, revealing the patterns behind seemingly senseless violence. On a hot-button topic where it's easy to start with an ideological conclusion and then cherry-pick examples, Loyn starts with a wealth of narrative and data, and only cautiously draws conclusions.
The only criticism I would offer is that there are important questions left unanswered. Why is corruption worse in the Karzai government than under the Taliban? How are Afghan relations with the states of Central Asia, and how will they affect its future? If the solution is to leave Afghanistan alone, then what do we do when Afghanistan (or at least a guest like Osama Bin Laden) doesn't leave us alone?
Perhaps David Loyn can tackle those questions in his next book. In the meantime, he has done us a great service.
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