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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening
So many of us, here in the West, know absolutely nothing about the countries in which our soldiers are fighting - neither the realities of the people and their lives, nor the history of the country and its culture. Al we know is what we see or read in the media - most of which is complete rubbish.

Tamim Ansary is an Afghan, living in the USA - and he is a man...
Published 9 months ago by Margaret Gallagher

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers from the ache of modernity
Ask any documentary filmmaker over 40 and they'll tell you the genre is in bad shape. Apart from the proliferation of reality TV, there is a general dumbing down, an emphasis on crowdpleasers with the structural flaws that follow.

This book is well edited and does not suffer from thos structural flaws. However, given that Afghanistan's history of...
Published 15 months ago by El Loro


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pretty good overview of a troubled Country, 4 Nov 2013
By 
Sussman "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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This is a pretty good book, which engages the reader with a narrative that chronicles Afghan History from antiquity through to the recent overthrow of the Taliban regime, just after the horrific events of September 11th and the destruction of the Twin Towers. The Taliban had not acquiesced to the extradition of the leader Al-Qaeda to the United States. The subsequent invasion was made by the United States and its' coalition allies. In his book the author discusses in a linear progression the history of the Kingdom and how it came to be in some detail, the book outlines the frequent invasions of the country by the Persians, Russians, and the British for the past several hundred years due its geographical importance. The author is an Afghan émigré and he writes in a very engaging and slightly impertinent chatty style about his former nation's trials and tribulations. This is a pretty informative narrative for those who basically considered Afghanistan as a hot bed for radicalization, Poppy fields and constant instability.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, 22 Sep 2013
By 
Margaret Gallagher (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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So many of us, here in the West, know absolutely nothing about the countries in which our soldiers are fighting - neither the realities of the people and their lives, nor the history of the country and its culture. Al we know is what we see or read in the media - most of which is complete rubbish.

Tamim Ansary is an Afghan, living in the USA - and he is a man with a deep knowledge of both cultures. In this book he gives us a real insight into the history of his homeland, from an Afghan perspective - giving us an in-depth picture of the realities of life, politics and people - and interfering interlopers - in his home country over a couple of centuries. And it is illuminating. This should be required reading for anyone studying political science, history or philosophy - and any journalist reporting on events in this beautiful country. Not to mention anyone who is interested in the real story, rather than the Western, made-up version. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers from the ache of modernity, 18 April 2013
This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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Ask any documentary filmmaker over 40 and they'll tell you the genre is in bad shape. Apart from the proliferation of reality TV, there is a general dumbing down, an emphasis on crowdpleasers with the structural flaws that follow.

This book is well edited and does not suffer from thos structural flaws. However, given that Afghanistan's history of interruptions stretches back to Alexander the Great, it is disappointing that half the book is about the last 38 years. The other two thousand years, including the fascinating Great Game of the nineteenth century, is showhorned into the other half.

Sure, it will go down well with youngsters used to the immediacy of everything but it's a little too lopsided for this middle aged grump.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Afghanistan - a Glimmer of Hope, 8 April 2013
By 
K. Petersen "Ken" (Hemsby,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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This is a book which could only be written by someone with a foot in both camps. Tamim Ansary is an Afghan who has spent many years living in America. He produces an excellent book which neither denigrates one, or the other culture and provides an insight to Westerners as to the mindset of the Afghan people.

Mr. Ansary is a realist but, quietly confident that, left to her own devices, Afghanistan will develop into a modern country. This, of course, leads to interesting questions: is it acceptable to stand aside and watch women being exploited because it is for a country to progress at its own speed? Strangely, this seems to be considered permissible but, when South Africa held a racist position, liberal voices did not suggest that we should allow them to come to terms with their racial mix at their own speed. There is a fine line between interfering within another country's affairs, and accepting intolerable behaviour.

This book explains what any rational person must know: that the ordinary Afghan is not a ranting, gun toting thug, desperate to kill the infidels. The most important point of which it reminds us, is one that journalistic shorthand so often leads us to forget - namely, that the Taliban is not a highly organised single military unit, but a term used to cover everyone who stands against the country's government and which ever major power is poking their nose in at the moment. The reasons for dissent may be as varied as the uneducated country folk fearing that the 'sophisticated' townies are destroying the religious beliefs that are held so dear, or an argument between two opium producers.

Tamim Ansary is too wise to wrap this book up with a final chapter setting out a couple of simple stages that will lead to an enlightened Afghanistan living happily ever after, but he does offer a glimmer of hope that things may, slowly, be moving towards a better tomorrow: let us all prey that he is correct.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable, 6 April 2013
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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This account of Afghanistan's history is highly readable. It will fill gaps in the reader's knowledge of the past and bring that knowledge almost up to date. All but established specialists in Afghan history are likely to gain at least some enlightenment.

The author, Tamim Ansary, is Afghan born but moved to the United States in 1964, at the age of 16. He is as good an interpreter of Afghanistan for the Westerner as those biographical details might lead us to hope.

Even before starting the book, most readers are likely to be aware that Afghanistan has since 1838 suffered three invasions by the British, one by the Soviet Union and one by the United States and its allies. Ansary covers all of those, and does not neglect Afghanistan's history and importance relative to trade routes and the builders and defenders of empires even before 1838. He is also good on the political and other changes within Afghanistan resulting from the invasions and, all too often, directly precipitating the next invasion and/or influencing the Afghan response. In his closing pages, Ansary notes, 'Every foreign force that comes crashing in thinks it's intervening in "a country", but it's actually taking sides in an ongoing contest between Afghans about what this country is.'

Now that the United States/NATO/ISAF is set on withdrawal (the timetable and the issue of how many advisors and military contractors will be left behind is not addressed by Ansary), many will look to this book for some indication of what will happen next. Ansary does not pretend to have a crystal ball, but he holds out some hope: If "the Taliban" succeed in taking over, you can be sure they will shortly develop an outward-looking orientation and attraction to some version of modernity. (He puts "the Taliban" in quotes in accordance with his contention that they remain an amorphous and undefined body, not the organised alternative government that many in the West imagine.) Ansary finds grounds for yet more hope in Afghanistan's enormous mineral wealth: copper, iron ore, gold and precious gems, cobalt, phosphorous, barium, strontium, uranium, natural gas, oil and rare earths. Contracts are already in place for large-scale extraction of copper to China and iron ore to India. One can only hope for the very best and that the indigenous people of Afghanistan will get a better deal than is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other mineral rich African countries. Politically, Ansary has in mind a 'central Asian Switzerland'.

The book is written as if it were an extended oral account. Extended oral accounts are very much in the Afghan tradition, but I have some reservations. Confidence in Ansary's historical and political incisiveness is at times undermined by too light a tone, even jocularity (though a couple at least of the intended jokes are original and enjoyable). And his 'in passing' summary of the Napoleonic Wars left me hoping his analysis of matters of which I personally know less is better informed. Happily, the internal evidence suggests it is. The book has the usual pseudo-academic add-ons of notes and references, a bibliography and a fairly (not wholly) comprehensive index. There are also seven single-tone maps and - catering for the more popular end of history publishing - a glossary and 'Cast of Characters'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Context is everything, 27 Dec 2013
By 
B. Innes "Mtoto" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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Ansary, unlike most writers on the subject who have a very western centric view, starts with Afghanistan history and then looks at its relations with the outside world.

Thankfully not written in 'academicese' this is an excellent and highly readable history. Looking at the country from the 18th century and then through to 2012 it gives you a real sense of the futility of the invasions and the impact on Afgahnistan and the countries doing the invading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Culture as informed by history, 24 Dec 2013
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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"The rules may not be obvious to foreigners, but they exist and Afghans understand them." This is Tamim Ansary's concluding comment on traffic in Kabul, but he extends it as a metaphor to describe the entire culture. Afghanistan is a country with a multiple set of rules, the result of all of the incursions which have shaped it. They are baffling to foreigners, but well understood by Afghans.

What this book attempts to do is to reveal the long history, from founding father Ahmad Shah, to Obama's surges characterised by so much uncomprehending foreign intervention. Ansary's conclusion -- perhaps not surprising for an Afghan who moved to the USA when he was 16 and has retained a strong interest in the interface of East and West -- is that what Afghanistan needs is for the foreigners to allow it to find its own form and response to modernity.

This is a lucid, almost casual, account which does its best to explain the various aspects of Islamic and Afghan culture to Westerners. Ansary is not particularly bothered about whether the early stories are true or not -- it is their influence on present Afghanistan that is important for him, and he is happy to recount legendary stories as 'this is what I heard when I was growing up'. There are decentish end notes, but this is a book designed to be read, rather than studied, and its purpose is to inform rather than to sift.

For anyone interested in Afghanistan, and keen to get a non-Western perspective, this is an accessible and helpful book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars History As It Should Not Be Written, 15 Nov 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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According to Tamim Ansary, 'The great power interventions in Afghanistan.....make a compelling story'. For someone superficially well qualified to tell that compelling story Ansary fails in terms of history, observation, politics and journalism. He assumes Afghanistan is finding its way to a national identity which is interrupted from time to time by foreign invasions. Yet this nationhood would be based on an historical tradition which has seen the country conquered by the Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Mongols, all of whom have coalesced into the Afghan people who remain divided on ethnic grounds while united by Islam. The latter has not prevented ethnic cleansing by the Taliban amongst others. Ansary gives a good description of the disorganised nature of Afghan society and the loose and constantly changing political alliances which rely on traditional cultural values of generosity and leadership but fails to dig deep enough to explain the tradition of double-dealing and cowardice, preferring to excuse it as being part of 'Afghan culture'.

The modern political history of Afghanistan began in 1709 when Wais Hotak, a member of the Pashtun tribe/clan/confederation, successfully revolted against the Persians and declared southern Afghanistan independent. In 1722 his son conquered Persia but was thrown out after six years following massacres of the Persian elite. In 1738 Shah Hussein Hotaki was defeated at Kandahar which led to Ahmad Shah Durrani being authorised to conqueror India. In 1747 Durrani was appointed head of the Afghans. His empire included what is now Pakistan and parts of Iran. The population overspill between modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan still exists, which accounts for Afghan opposition to recognising Pakistan. In the nineteenth century Dost Mohammed Khan became emir of Afghanistan and was involved in battles with the Sikh empire of Ranjit Singh over the disputed territory of Peshawar. Dost sought British and the Russian assistance to re-claim Peshawar, alienating both. The British invaded, removed Dost from the throne and replaced him with Shah Shuja. However, they were never able to exercise control of Shuja or the Afghans. With typical cowardice the latter murdered Sir William Macnaughton during peace negotiations and Alexander Burnes with rumour and mob violence. When the British retreated most were killed by Ghilzai tribal warriors. They soon returned, laid waste to Kabul, reached an agreement with Dost and left Afghanistan in 1843.

The potential conflict between Russia and Britain led to the Second Afghan War in 1878. This was caused by the perception that King Sher Ali was favouring Russia. An Afghan General used discontent against the king to incite Afghan troops to attack the British mission in Kabul, resulting in the death of the British envoy Louis Cavagnari and the massacre of the entire diplomatic mission. With typical anti-British bias Ansary blames Cavagnari for his own death. By the time the war ended the 'fundamental project of Afghan rulers had changed' from one of building empires to that of consolidating the territory of Afghanistan. That was secured by the Durand Line of 1893 which cut across tribal territories, something which Abdu Rahman copied in order to impose order on the Afghans. Whatever the cost of British intervention in Afghanistan, the country's native history is one of murder, betrayal, mistrust, violence and cowardice within an individualistic self-serving culture overlaid by corruption and control. Abdu Rahman established a regime that outdid the combined efforts of the East German Stasi and the Russian KGB.

Post war attempts to introduce secular modernisation into Afghanistan failed to dislodge the Shari'a, notwithstanding the fact that latter was not a matter of authority but of clerical interpretation. Nadir Khan and Sardar Daoud succeeded at a pace acceptable to the mullahs. In effect there were two Afghanistans, one urban and modern and another rural and conservative. As a result of receiving aid Daoud sent Afghans to Russia for military training from whence they returned indoctrinated into Marxist-Leninism which they shared with dissident intellectuals, creating the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), overthrowing Daoud and murdering his followers in a coup in 1978. However, the Communist regime's class analysis was irrelevant to Afghan society which responded with the rise of radical Islam set by the example of the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. The conflict between the Left and Islam provoked an old-style Soviet invasion which lasted for ten years and was partly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The civil war which followed induced the United States to provide support for the Pakistan based mujahideen, who they saw as anti-Communists, against the Soviet puppet regime. There is no evidence that the Afghan tradition of war for 'Gold, women and land' had altered.

Ansary demonstrates poor research skills, attributing the 'Third World" to Mao Tse Tung when it was coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952. He writes, ' A British "diplomatic" mission made its way to Kabul, headed by an envoy named Neville Chamberlain. Yes, he was an ancestor of that later Neville Chamberlain who, as prime minister of Great Britain in the 1930s, signed the infamous Munich Pact with Hitler'. This is untrue. Neville Bowles Chamberlain came from a military family and died childless. The later Neville Chamberlain was the son of MP Joseph Chamberlain and came from a business background. Even had the two Chamberlains been related what relevance did the Munich Pact have to Afghanistan?

Ansary does not substantiate his claim that Afghan history has been interrupted by foreign invasion. Much of his evidence is anecdotal and lacks a critical edge. He argues problems of democracy, women's rights and ending corruption are for Afghans, not Americans, to solve while Afghan foreign policy should be one of neutrality serving no-one's interest. He may well be right but with China and India heavily involved in investment there's no guarantee that Afghanistan can ever be neutral, although it no longer needs to be neutral between Britain and Russia. Three stars for a book that could have been a worthwhile read but isn't.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read history in colloquial style, 5 Nov 2013
By 
J. Aitken (Glasgow Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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Tamim Ansary has written an interesting and informative account of Afghan history with an insiders knowledge, which is to be welcomed. His style is colloquial and easy to read, though sometimes this easy manner irritates as when he asks the reader to leave some salient fact to his imagination. Imagination is a useful tool in the art of the novel, but where facts are concerned is less so. Nevertheless, Ansary is very good at producing the most useful facts and melding them into a straightforward history, which, while it may lack depth, is ideal for the reader who wants an overall picture without too much detail.

Readers who wish more substance with regard to the history of "The Great Game", will be well advised to turn directly to Peter Hopkirk's fully researched and in depth account. However, those who want a shorter more succinct history covering a longer historical period can find much to enjoy in this interesting volume.
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, 27 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Games Without Rules (Hardcover)
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This book provided a very interesting, but rather hard going at times, read. It is a very detailed and intense history of Afghanistan, both modern and much older history. A great read for anyone with an interest in this amazing country, but sometimes a little tough going.
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Games Without Rules
Games Without Rules by Tamim Ansary (Hardcover - 10 Jan 2013)
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