Anyone seeking to understand a complex, even bewildering part of the world will benefit from Lee’s careful account.



A comprehensive history of a storied nation held together by an alliance of tribal and political groups that threatens to dissolve at any moment.

Afghanistan “emerged from the collapse of three great empires,” writes British historian Lee (The “Ancient Supremacy": Bukhara, Afghanistan, and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901, 1996, etc.), that once held sway across broad stretches of Central Asia. It has famously been the graveyard of empires since, an indomitable place that has stymied armies from Britain, Russia, and now the U.S. The modern nation is an ever shifting blend of ethnic groups and traditions and efforts at power-sharing in a political entity that Lee describes as “unstable and riddled with factionalism.” By the author’s reckoning (and many other observers’), the U.S. invasion has not helped matters; instead, it has put Afghans in the familiar if uncertain position of reading the wind to see who’s in charge. For instance, Lee calls the rout of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida a pyrrhic victory since it was replaced by the “hydra-headed movement” called the Islamic State group. Previous efforts have not been much better. As the author chronicles, Indian rulers attempted to bring Afghanistan under their rule, and following them, the British, whose earliest reports from the field noted “the sectarian and ethnic tensions at court” and who later blundered into a war that saw its army suffer its worst defeat since the American Revolutionary War. For all that, Lee adds, Afghanistan has had moments of calm, including a relatively stable period of self-rule under a monarchy that lasted, “in one expression or another,” until the communist regime that came into power in 1978. Many of Afghanistan’s true modernizers, this long but well-written chronicle documents, were royals who looked westward to places like Turkey but could not replicate such elements as a well-educated managerial and officer class and a developed intelligentsia. What remains is a country that today seems unfortunately and unjustly adrift.

Anyone seeking to understand a complex, even bewildering part of the world will benefit from Lee’s careful account.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78914-010-1

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Reaktion Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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