A thorough, elegant reassessment of America’s “irresistible illusion.”




A reconsideration of “how the world’s most powerful leaders plotted to build a new kind of nation in Afghanistan that was pure fantasy.”

Bloomberg News Middle East editor and correspondent Fairweather (War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9, 2011) finds American naïveté and confusion of purpose at the crux of what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan. The original defeat of the Taliban in 2001 was almost too swift to be true, and early on, President George W. Bush insisted that the United States was “not into nation-building; we are focused on justice.” Then, the U.S. shifted the focus to Iraq, allowing the Afghan warlords to duke it out, especially the opportunistic, CIA-backed Hamid Karzai. As the Taliban began to creep back in and the provinces fell into anarchy and opium-growing (once quelled under the austere Taliban), the American administration underwent a philosophical shift. With Iraq then in tatters, a humanitarian aim of rebuilding the country took over. Yet corruption skimmed the aid money, and U.S. engineering firms had little knowledge of the local environment, and there was virtually no oversight. The creation of a series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams was an attempt to tie local tribal connections to a central authority, and some of Karzai’s appointed governors were removed—Helmand’s Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, who was overseeing a vast, lucrative opium-growing network. The clamor for more money and more troops became the recurrent cri de coeur, drowning out sounder arguments, including that of British ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, who called for more tribal engagement and negotiations with the Taliban. While the efforts to commit Afghan children to education were successful, the miserable litany of IEDs, troop surge, counterinsurgency, fraudulent elections, runaway generals, drone strikes and immense waste underscores what Fairweather calls the “futility of force.”

A thorough, elegant reassessment of America’s “irresistible illusion.”

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0465044955

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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A proficient overview, though skewed by its British orientation.



Detailed, nuts-and-bolts exploration of the 1948-9 Berlin airlift, first major crisis of the new Cold War.

British military historians Sutherland and Canwell begin at the close of World War II, when the Red Army occupied the decimated, starved city. Germany was divided into four zones after its surrender in May 1945, and the Soviets jealously guarded access to Berlin, which lay within their zone but was divided among all four Allies. Food and fuel were urgently needed for the city’s nearly three million residents, but the Russians did not allow supplies to move through their zone into West Berlin. As Soviet-sponsored communist parties seized power in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Czechoslovakia, the Truman Doctrine guaranteed U.S. support for democracies that resisted. When the Marshall Plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe was set forth in July 1947, the Iron Curtain had already fallen, and divided, vulnerable Berlin came under increasingly restrictive Soviet measures. The crisis was precipitated by the introduction on June 21, 1948, of the Deutsche Mark in Berlin’s three Western sectors. In response, the Soviets declared they would no longer supply food to the German civilian population in those sectors. The authors credit British Air Commodore Rex Waite (rather than American General Lucius D. Clay) with drafting the plan for an airlift (dubbed Operation Vittles) to sustain the population and the garrisons. Using three airfields from June 1948 to June 1949, the Western powers airlifted nearly two million tons of food and supplies, effectively undermining the Soviets and keeping West Berliners from starving. The authors make a good use of primary documents to portray the broad political machinations of the time, yet neglect to offer voices from the civilian eyewitnesses. A final chapter, “Legacy of the Airlift,” covers such subsequent events as the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its dismantling in 1989.

A proficient overview, though skewed by its British orientation.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58980-550-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pelican

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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An admirable, warts-and-all history of a milestone in environmental preservation.



The story of a national park might seem a niche subject, but OnEarth magazine editor Black (Casting a Spell: The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection, 2006, etc.) surrounds it with a colorful, stormy, often-distressing history of our northern mountain states.

The author begins with Lewis and Clark, whose 1804–06 expedition passed nearby but brought back only rumors of odd geological events. The northern Rockies remained a backwater for another half-century. Almost no one but fur traders took an interest for the first 30 years; wagon trains pouring west after 1840 passed well to the south. By the 1850s gold mining and ranching produced settlers, quickly followed by the Army, both anxious to eliminate the Indians. Black provides painful details of 20 years of conflict that accomplished this goal. Lacking gold or good grazing, the Yellowstone area attracted few settlers, but visitors brought back tales of wondrous geysers, boiling springs and breathtaking scenery. In 1869 the small, privately funded Cook-Folsom-Peterson Expedition produced such a tantalizing report that Montana residents organized a large expedition. That expedition spent a month exploring, resulting in a torrent of publicity that led to the federally funded Hayden Geological Survey of 1871. Its enthusiastic report included historical photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and the resulting publicity persuaded Congress to create the world’s first national park in 1872. Congress did not, however, provide money, so vandalism, poaching and commercial exploitation flourished until 1886 when the Army moved in. It did not leave until the new National Park Service took over in 1918.

An admirable, warts-and-all history of a milestone in environmental preservation.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-38319-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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