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Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 26, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Rajiv Chandrasekaran has done it again. Like Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Little America is a beautifully written and deeply reported account of how a divided United States government and its dysfunctional bureaucracy have foiled American efforts abroad . . . A brilliant and courageous work of reportage.”
            -Linda Robinson, The New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating and fresh . . . Chandrasekaran is a superb reporter and graceful writer whose individual vignettes, focused on military and civilian misfires, are on-target and often mortifying.”
            -Max Boot, The Wall Street Journal
“Brilliant . . . Only a journalist with Chandrasekaran’s experience and skill could tell this extraordinarily complicated story with such clarity.”
            -June Thomas, Newsday
“Sharp and subtle . . . Enormously informative . . .  Little America does not disappoint.”
            -Bill O’Leary, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A thoughtful guide to President Obama’s ‘good war’ [and] a devastating indictment of a dysfunctional war machine . . . Chandrasekaran’s expose is a stark warning to rethink how America uses its power.”
            -Robert D. Crews, San Francisco Chronicle
“What makes Little America so compelling is the breadth and carefulness of Chandrasekaran’s reporting . . . A scalding and in-depth critique of U.S. policy and performance in Afghanistan.”
            -Tony Perry, Newark Star-Ledger
“Chandrasekaran’s apt portrayal of the Afghan perspective and on-the-ground tensions makes the book a must for policy shapers and voters alike.”
            -Hamed Aleaziz, Mother Jones
“Chandrasekaran draws vivid sketches of how Karzai and his family and their allies operate as a gang of looters, frustrating every attempt to create an honest government that could confront their Taliban enemy . . . The reader gets a keen sense of the chaos that reigns among the Americans and their allies.”
            -Neil Sheehan, Washington Post
“A must-read account . . . Little America is the best work yet in addressing our military-diplomatic campaign in Afghanistan and the dysfunction that stymies it.”
            -Peter J. Munson, Small Wars Journal
“Searing . . . Solid and timely reporting, crackling prose, and more than a little controversy will make this one of the summer’s hot reads.”
            -Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Clearheaded . . . Well-researched and compelling . . . Chandrasekaran captures the absurdity of a bumbling bureaucracy attempting to reengineer in its own image a society that is half a world away . . . A timely, convincing portrait of an occupation in crisis.”
“Drawing on interviews with key participants and three years of first-hand reportage, Chandrasekaran delivers a bracing diagnosis of the problem.”

About the Author

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. He has reported from more than three dozen countries and has served as the newspaper’s bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo, and Southeast Asia. He is the author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, a finalist for the National Book Award and one of The New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2007. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307957144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307957146
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Graczewski on July 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am a Navy reservist and served as one of the primary economic development officers at NATO's Regional Command - South headquarters in Kandahar from September 2009 to September 2010. Thus it was with more than passing interest that I read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's recent journalistic expose, "Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan," which chronicles the events and missteps of President Obama's civilian and military surge into southern Afghanistan beginning in mid-2009. Obviously, I'm not a neutral party; but I'd like to think that I'm fairly objective. Here are my thoughts on the book, along with my personals observations from serving "inside the surge," often alongside many of the people - American, Afghan and Allied - featured in this book.

The author achieved commercial and critical success with his first book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," a searing indictment of the Bush administration's Coalition Provisional Authority in the early days after the invasion of Iraq. "Little America" is very similar, yet quite different from that National Book Award winning effort. The similarities are the anecdote-rich, character-driven narrative and the portrayal of a bumbling, embarrassingly incompetent United States government, usually, but not always, focused on bureaucratic civilian agencies and a wide range of feckless senior politically appointed leaders.

The difference is the author's personal sympathies, both to the war and the primary players in the story, which clearly shine through despite his best efforts to maintain the appearance of journalistic neutrality and integrity. The main characters in "Emerald City" are portrayed as venal, irredeemable creatures, George W.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The standard view of Mr. Chandrasekaran is that he is a shrewd, plugged-in journalist, part of the Washington circle and policy elite, focused on policy and strategy.

Actually, he loves being out in the field, and his heart is with the troops. When he criticizes the higher-ups, it's because he knows they should have done a better job. He begins his reporting at the grunt level. I first met Rajiv at a muddy canal crossing in Marja on the first night of the Marine push in late February or early March of 2009. The filthy water was chest deep and fast flowing. He was on the far bank and his humvee, unable to ford the canal, was turning around to return to battalion headquarters. A group of us watched under one thin flashlight beam as Raj hopped into the freezing water and wallowed across to where the assault company was gathering. Raj is not a big guy, and the Marines were cheering him on because none of them wanted to hop in to help him before he went under. He impressed the grunts that night.(I heard he damn near froze to death later; he was covered with mud and had no dry clothes.)

It was against that background that I read Little America. Do I believe he is telling the truth as he saw it? Yes. The men he admires - Nicholson, Weston, Malkasian - are admired by the first sergeants and company commanders who served with them.

I don't where he got his information about the top levels. But given what I saw him risk at the grunt level, he's the real deal.
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must be wasted before we as a country learn the basic lessons about war and nation building.

Little America is a must read for those interested in the Afghanistan War or have been affected by it.

Mr. Chandrasekaran spends the first part of the book on history and the setup. The next part is about the War and the inner working of what went on behind closed doors and the personalities involved. He devotes pages in blistering criticism of the embassy staff, contractors and USAID. In fairness he uses too broad a brush, as noted by the one star reviews but I don't think anyone looking at the facts would disagree the US's efforts were grossly ineffectual. The final part exploring how different approaches to the war/reconstruction might have been better and/or more successful but I felt the book lost some momentum towards the end.

The strength of the book lies in the access Mr. Chandrasekaran had to high level internal meetings, then transitioning to the the lowly lance corporals tasked with carrying out the directives. The book focuses so much on what went wrong, I'd like to see more of what went right but that doesn't make for good headlines. There are moving moments of personal sacrifice and heroism. While some personalities were called out specifically, I'd be interested in reading more personal stories, from both sides (US and Afgani). I'm sure there are a ton of examples people trying to do the right thing and this book doesn't give them a lot of coverage.

In the end this is a solid book, very much worth reading. Some criticisms made by other reviews are valid but should not keep one from reading the book.
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I would say Rajiv got the tone pretty much right. Whether you agree with the details or the characterizations of people involved, the fact remains that there have been (and still are) widely varying views on how to approach the war in Afghanistan. That's true at the political level, with policy makers in Kabul, and on the ground where troops and civilians alike are trying to pull this all together.

He does an excellent job of showing how these conflicting approaches have worked against each other and caused unnecessary waste at every level. Clearly there has been wasted money, time and resources. More importantly, there have been many lives sacrificed along the way.

I'm here now living this war, in the region around Kandahar that he focuses much of his attention on in this book. My biggest criticism is that it wasn't published six months ago, when I was trying to make sense of Afghanistan after focusing all my attention on Iraq. This is the briefing I needed in order to understand why we are, where we are, today.

If you're going to read one book about the war, this is the book to get. If you're going to read several, and there is a long list of worthwhile titles, start with this one and then dig into the areas that interest you. I wish I could have.
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