A timely, convincing portrait of an occupation in crisis, with much to teach anyone involved in diplomacy or international...



As Afghanistan prepares for the withdrawal of American troops, Washington Post senior correspondent and associate editor Chandrasekaran (Imperial Life in the Emerald City, 2006) delivers a clearheaded assessment of events since the war began, showing that precious little progress has been made.

America has been engaging in utopian schemes to remake Afghanistan for far longer than most people realize—e.g., in the 1940s and ’50s, American engineers planted model villages in the Helmand River Valley in the vain hope that modernity would spread infectiously across Central Asia. Now, Marines battle insurgents for control of these remote outposts, as the local population continues to live much as they did centuries ago. Chandrasekaran captures the absurdity of a bumbling bureaucracy attempting to reengineer in its own image a society that is half a world away. Though the prose is workmanlike, the author’s account of infighting and ineptitude in Afghanistan is well-researched and compelling. Development consultants further their own careers by accepting brief postings in the country where they spend their time counting the hours until their departure and socializing at embassy parties while rarely leaving their fortified bases or interacting with ordinary Afghans. Different factions within the State Department, the military, NATO and the development community pursue conflicting and mutually exclusive priorities, largely by funneling massive amounts of cash through the patronage networks of various corrupt local leaders. The complete lack of effective oversight ensures that most of the money has little lasting impact and some ends up in the hands of the Taliban. Based on extensive interviews with participants in the reconstruction effort and his own observations from some of the most volatile districts, Chandrasekaran systematically condemns the missed opportunities and the wasted resources of the campaign. “For years, we dwelled on the limitations of the Afghans,” he writes. “We should have focused on ours.”

A timely, convincing portrait of an occupation in crisis, with much to teach anyone involved in diplomacy or international aid.

Pub Date: July 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95714-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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