Former special presidential envoy to Afghanistan takes the long view of the political failures in that country and suggests a more hands-off U.S. approach, especially in checking neighboring bully, Pakistan.

After a distinguished career in foreign service, Tomsen served as President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, during a time of building an Afghan consensus following the Soviet withdrawal. Here, the author fashions an ambitious, wide-ranging, informed historical overview as well as a detailed record of his work, and the American failures since. Afghanistan has geographically operated as a “buffer” state between powerful, marauding empires, such as those by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, Mughals and Persians, creating what Tomsen calls a “shatter zone,” isolating the nomadic tribes from global currents. Later, the British empire used the country for criss-crossing rather than colonizing, and Afghanistan remained factiously independent and resistant to repeated imperialist onslaughts. The author examines the Afghan tribal and religious makeup, especially the friction between Pashtunwali (“the way of the Pashtun,” the dominant tribal group) and Sharia law, factors that have been misunderstood by foreign governments to their own peril. Tomsen jumps to the disastrous invasion by the Soviet Union in 1978, coinciding with the rise of a radical Wahhabi ideology in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan became the refuge of the Mujahidin, the “freedom fighters” largely supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia—and therein lay the problem, the author astutely asserts. The U.S. aid package to Pakistan’s General Zia starting with the “Reagan Doctrine” of 1980 essentially funded an “unholy alliance” of Islamist extremists such as Osama bin Laden and the Taliban—all who have come back to haunt America in the wake of 9/11. Tomsen warns of the current dangers in continuing to “outsource” American Afghan policy to Pakistan, and instead sets forth a detailed, cogent plan involving tougher conditions to bolster a more autonomous Afghanistan. Wise words from trial-and-error experience in the trenches.


Pub Date: July 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58648-763-8

Page Count: 896

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet