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On the Road to Kandahar : Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World Hardcover – 19 Sep 2006


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Part Travel Book, Part Intellectual Travels, 100% Well-Written 24 July 2007
By Brickbat70 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent and informative book that's also a joy to read. Burke reports for Britain's "Observer" and he spent a decade covering stories in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, and Turkey. He often found himself in the middle of complex acts of violence, and this book is part travel memoir and part intellectual memoir as he struggles to understand what it all means.

I look for a few specific things in a good piece of travel writing. First, it needs to be well written, and Burke crafts strong, clear, concise, fast-flowing writing. He writes like a journalist, which means he trades flowery metaphors for sharp, direct statements. His descriptions of characters and places capture both the details and the mood, which ends up being vital to the points he wants to make. I also want a writer with insight. The author certainly needs to show insight into the cultures he encounters, but if self-exploration is also a goal, he or she also needs to show personal insight. Without insight I'd rather read a Lonely Planet guidebook. I liked Burke's approach. He is honest about his knowledge of other cultures, and he admits what he thinks while also staying aware of his lack of understanding. He describes violent acts and acknowledges that the deeper conflicts often prove to be too old and twisted for him to fully grasp. As for personal insight, Burke goes looking for that only in order to understand the conflicts he experiences. He might explore his own reactions under enemy fire, but it's only to better understand the nature of violence. This isn't a work of "spiritual travel" or a man's search for meaning, but it recognizes that any questions about the nature of violence require an understanding of your own nature. Finally, I have to like the author. Reading a travel book is like sharing a journey, and Burke seems like a cool guy--impressed with his travels without becoming arrogant, tough without going macho on the reader, and knowledgeable without needing to be an expert. He never once annoyed me, which is a bit of a rarity in travel writing (and in real travel).

As for the ideas in "On the Road to Kandahar," I think it's fair to say that Burke ends up with more questions than answers. More accurately, he ends up with the same deep questions and only some preliminary answers, but he also learns how complex and troubling the original questions were. He wants to understand what motivates violence in the parts of the Islamic world he has visited, and what the end result of it all will be. The travel writing helps collect information for the first question. He talks to would-be suicide bombers, Kurdish resistance fighters, and Taliban sympathizers--many of them unlikable and unsavory characters--and tries to get at their motivations. He tries to piece it all together into a coherent understanding. He brings up the stress of change, and how the clash with modernity causes conflict in previously peaceful cultures. He discusses al-Qaeda's philosophies and how satellite television and the internet have allowed these philosophies to modify the grievances of local cultures. He explores how cultures react after they accept violence as an answer, and after they see the results of that violence on other cultures and on their own culture. He realizes that 99% of the world simply wants to get by and live life--to raise children and enjoy friendships and have enough to eat and drink each day.

And, finally, he sort-of comes to an optimistic conclusion--that cultures end up turning against violence. He sees much of the conflict in the Islamic world as a short-term answer (even if "short-term" means one hundred years), a trial attempt to solve problems with suicide bombers and violent revolution, and sees it all fading away once the cultures turn against it. I say "sort-of" because Burke is far from convinced, especially after experiencing the closeness of the London bombings. In the end, it's the best answer he has right now. And, in the end, it's this combination of intellectual honesty and optimism--and its telling in an exciting and engaging way--that helps make this such an outstanding book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Any collection serious about Middle East issues needs ON THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR. 9 Aug 2007
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
ON THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR: TRAVELS THROUGH CONFLICT IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD could have been featured in our Travel Shelf section - but it's so much more, and shouldn't be limited to a leisure travel-reading audience alone. Jason Burke spent a decade among Muslim people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Thailand and other areas: his guide explores their culture and concerns, blending first-person experiences and encounters with interviews with a wide range of people, from Taliban officials and a former torturer for Husseun's intelligence service to a suicide bomber and an American sniper in Iraq. It's these varied encounters from different cultures in the area which offer eye-opening insights and cultural revelations not to be missed. Any collection serious about Middle East issues needs ON THE ROAD TO KANDAHAR.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Perceptive and nuanced analysis 24 Dec 2008
By Jacob Børresen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Jason Burkes "On the Road to Kandahar" is a an intensely personal story of a professional reporters ten years of travelling and reporting from conflict in the Islamic world. Its perceptive and nuanced analysis and genuinely emphatic approach to the "war on terror" is refreshingly free from all of that gung ho propaganda and deliberately one sided commentary that taints so many of the books on this subject. It is also an extremely well written and easily accessible text, well suited as a first introduction to this extremely complex subject, to be followed up by more comprehensive studies. But also to the knowledged and well read reader it provides important nuances and thoughtfull new insights. A valuable book that is highly recommended. Simply a good read!
Good Insight in to the Islamic World 13 Feb 2008
By I Ahmad - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was impressed with a pace that Jason Burke established in reporting his decade or more of travel through Southwest Asia (Pakistan/Afghanistan) and Middle East. His optimism and hope stays alive throughout his various first hand encounters with horrific events. His book provides a very different viewpoint compared to the ones that I was able to follow through the USA based newspapers and magazines reports for the two post 9/11 wars (USA/Aghan War or USA/Iraq War II). He does not pretend to be a scholar and is certainly not biased in his analysis. I would recommend this book for folks who want to get a better insight of the Islamic World and all the precieved and real dangers surrounding it.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Burke's Travelogue 28 Sep 2007
By Munawar Ali - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I read Jason Burke's Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, and found it the most factual book on the events surrounding 9/11. So, I had high expectations and was hopeful for further updates from his previous 2004 publication. As other reviewers have noted, this book is a travelogue and personal memoir of Mr.Burke's travels around the world, rather then an analysis of the Middle East.

Admittedly, I'm impressed with what has kept Mr.Burke busy the last 2 decades. But, there was nothing ground breaking or amazing here. The entire book comes off a bit flat, and shallow. If you're looking for a fun(relatively speaking), walk through the Middle East since 1990, then this book may entertain you. I was looking for more info on the "War on Terror", and didn't find much in here.

A much better travelogue through Afghanistan (albeit, without the political analysis), is Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan.
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