As the Obama administration unveils its plans for a broader American presence in the region, two new July books weigh in on the history—and costs—of foreign interference in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation
. Palgrave Macmillan
, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-23-061403-1
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)