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The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan Paperback – January 5, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061143197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061143199
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,132,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

Feifer�s history of the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan, in the nineteen-eighties, comes just in time for a proposed expansion of the seven-year-old American effort there. It ought to be instructive, because the Soviet experience (�an increasingly senseless conflict�) closely mirrors our own�a lightly contested invasion later thwarted by a homegrown resistance and the �Afghan tradition of shifting allegiances.� Feifer assiduously chronicles Soviet errors; some, like the indiscriminate use of explosives when searching villages and the shelling of wedding parties mistaken for bands of the enemy, have close analogues in the current war. Yet, strangely, having pointed out all the parallels, Feifer persists in thinking of the American venture as a �historic opportunity� undermined by the second front, in Iraq, rather than as intrinsically hopeless.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Feifer’s account of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion and 10-year occupation of Afghanistan from 1979–89 builds on considerable original research and on Russian-language histories not available in English. Emphasizing the experiences of Soviet personnel sent to Afghanistan, Feifer portrays their war within the context of political and military decisions that led to their fighting in Afghanistan. The actual decision by Soviet leaders to invade was, as far as Feifer can discover, a muddle. It came after the Communist government in Kabul, unable to quash violent resistance to its program, split apart in bloody factional fighting. But by staging a coup to install their stooge Babrak Karmal in power, the Soviets took the war into their own hands and escalated it accordingly. Their major offensives, acording to Feifer, never delivered a strategic victory, though they tended to prevail in individual battles depicted in the stories of several Soviet officers and soldiers. Tracing the arc of the Soviets’ military disillusionment in Afghanistan, Feifer, who is an NPR reporter in Moscow, provides essential historical background to the present war in Afghanistan. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It also exposes the canard that U.S. aid was instrumental in the Soviet collapse.
Mike B
I think that this is a very interesting and informative book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
Kurt A. Johnson
Unfortunately, the book provides little new information for a reader with more than a basic understanding of Afghanistan.
Adam Strickland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Hedderich on January 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
For the last 4 or so years I've been looking for a book about the Soviet Afghan war and I was absolutely shocked to find here in America that there is virtually nothing. I've checked major retailers, surfed Amazon, even asked Russian history professors what they could recommend. Each time I'd get partial answers, essays or books relating to how journalists covered the Mujahideen, or military tactics involved, or a quick 20 pg reference covering the whole conflict. There was never a book covering a holistic account of the entire conflict. Even wikipedia failed as a descent start for references.

When I finally came across this book a few days ago, I had low expectations. Instead the book turned out to be everything I'd been looking for and more. The conflict is shown from multiple perspectives, first from Russian intelligence, to PDPA, to foot soldiers involved in the battles, then onto the several factions that united the country against the Soviets. It dives into the tactics and intense guerilla conflicts and shows the emotional damage that caused both sides to lose their humanity. Ultimately, these tactics plunged the soldiers involved on both sides into some of the most atrocious acts committed by mankind. In the film "Charlie Wilson's War", there is a scene where Russian fighter pilots are casually talking about relationships while gunning down civilians. This book will show a much more complicated picture which created the same stress our soldiers faced in Vietnam. In addition, we see the seeds sown for the current state of affairs. If you are a reader that is familiar with Afghanistan, you'll find that Mr. Felfer introduces a lot of these players and gives us their background, including the fate of one charismatic leader Ahmed Moassad.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"The Soviets had come to help the locals. Why were they hiding?" Sergeant Alexander Kalandrashvili's annoyance at finding a village empty of applauding citizens when his battalion drives through in late December, 1979, is just one example of the misunderstandings that contributed to the Soviet Union's version of a quagmire: a decade or so spent bogged down, fighting an enemy that was hard to define and even harder to locate, using tactics, weapons and strategies hopelessly out of tune with the country itself. Amazingly, by the time I had read 50 pages, I found myself deeply sympathizing with the Russian officials baffled by the Afghan leaders and their double- and triple-dealing!

This history of the Soviet Union's invasion of and quest to subdue Afghanistan during the 1980s is unbelievably timely, arriving in bookstores just as the focus of the 'war on terror' shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan and debate about building up forces in that country rages. Anyone reading this will find it hard to escape the parallels between the Russians' plight of nearly three decades ago, and that of the Americans today or the irony that the roots of American engagement today lie in our efforts to support the guerilla opposition to the Soviets back then. Above all, there is the single overwhelming fact that no invading force has ever managed to permanently subdue Afghanistan.

This is a book about fascinating events, and events that are little known and little understood, except within certain circles in the former Soviet Union. But it is not a fascinating book. There are writers who can take chronicles of war and conflict and turn them into riveting narratives that are impossible to put down. Unfortunately, Feifer didn't manage to pull off that feat.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By T. Green on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I had high hopes for this book when I started out. Aside from others' comparisons to the US invasion of Iraq, which I think are a bit strained, the topic has a more direct relevance to the US because it appears at least initially that the 44th President intends to increase our presence in Afghanistan. Thus, because I think history often repeats itself, I was interested in reading a book that tells the story of the USSR's problems in Afghanistan to see what we might expect if the number of foot soldiers in the country is increased. I think that information is in the book, and I also think that the author has meticulously investigated the story he tells. But I simply cannot read his story because it jumps around too much.

After the initial tale of the upheavals that led to the Soviet invasion in 1979, the story begins to jump forwards then backwards too much for me to follow. For example, on page 106, the story begins in March 1980 for the 201st Motor Rifle Division. It then jumps to events in May in the next paragraph, then "the following month" in the next. However, on the very next page, the discussion jumps back (forward?) to February.

The story regularly proceeds in short bursts that ought to be and probably are connected, but in such a manner that I find it hard to follow. I think this format is particularly difficult for someone, like me, who has only an overview of the war in the context of the Cold War and not the actual tactical and operational events occurring during the Soviet occupation. Therefore, I have struggled through to about midway through the book, but I can't make it any further.

I think it would have been better if the story had been written strictly chronologically and followed 4-5-6 people through the events of the Afghan war. As it is, I found it too frustrating to follow and to keep up with.
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