Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

Ghost Wars took a long time for me to read. Somewhere around 5 years actually. Some time at Ft Benning, it seems like a lifetime ago, I purchased this book then started reading it. Got about a third of the way through then lost interest. Put the book aside on the shelf.

Not too long ago I picked the book back up. This time I had a much better understanding of Afghanistan from reading various books and such as well as real life experience. Also I am a touch older and just maybe more patient. Anyway I finished the book yesterday.

This book starts in the end of the Soviet Afghan War. It goes into great lengths discussing the intertwined, hypocritical and generally dysfunctional relationships between the CIA, their Afghan "Warlord" partners, Pakistan, Pakistani Intelligence, the Arab gulf states particularly Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden. It goes through how this combination of more or less cooperative forces ultimately defeated the Afghan Communists (though one could argue what defeated them was Russian aid ending but I digress) then created a coalition government then fell into civil war and total chaos. Ultimately this lead to the rise of the Taliban then Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda element arrived. It also touches on the rise of modern fundamentalist terrorism as it related to the rest of the story. To the usual format.

The Good: Very informative. It also covers a period in Afghanistan's recent history that is easy to gloss over. The period after the Soviet Afghan war is admittedly easy to miss but it lead to the rise of the Taliban then 9/11 which lead to our misadventures in Afghanistan. I got a ton out of this book. A real understanding of how many things came to be. Through understanding it really cleared up a lot about the period after 9/11.

The Bad: While it would be difficult to talk about all of these topics separately and I suppose the generally chronological method of the book makes sense but it left the reader jumping from Washington DC on one page to Saudi Arabia on the next then back to an Afghan hovel. It got a bit hard to follow at times. Also this is not a book for a beginner on the topic. To read this book you need a pretty decent understanding of Afghan history in general and the Soviet Afghan War to make much sense out of this book.

The Ugly: This book is long and dry, really long and really dry. The book (not notes) was just under 500 pages. It is a fairly large book with small font so it probably reads like closer to 600.

While it is informative the book is pretty darn dry. Even being interested in the topic I had a hard time digging through the book. There were parts where it picked up but it probably averaged slightly more interesting than a college Algebra text.

Overall Assessment: If you can manage to slog through it this book does offer value. It would probably be the 4th or 5th book I would recommend a person read about Afghanistan if they were sufficiently interested. However you definitely have to work to get it. Most people would probably be better off putting their time and money into a book that is easier to read.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Begs the question, if this is the 4th or 5th book down you would recommend on Afghanistan, what are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd books?

Feeling like I'm needing to get a little more well read on recent history here, boss.

h

Commander_Zero said...

Slightly off topic:

Have you read Heinlein's "Starship Troopers"?

Ryan said...

H, I had a feeling that might come up. Will work something up in the next couple days.

Commander Zero, I have but it was awhile back.

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