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Books on Afghanistan and the Taliban

Read about the complex issues surrounding Afghanistan and the Taliban.

August 21, 2021

For breaking news on Afghanistan, visit the AP News Afghanistan topic page or use your Berlin-Peck Library Card to access New York Times Online for free.

Included in this list:

  • Biography and memoir
  • Non-Fiction
  • Fiction

 

Biography and Memoir

An American bride in Kabul

An American Bride in Kabul
A Memoir

Phyllis Chesler

A crusader for women’s and human rights shares her experiences in 1961 as the wife of an Afghan college student, who, once back in Afghanistan, reverted to traditional and tribal customs, trapping her in a posh polygamous family.

American cipher

American Cipher
Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan

Matt Farwell, Michael Ames

Draws on years of exclusive reporting and dozens of military, government and family sources in a narrative account of the life, captivity and trial of the Taliban-abducted soldier whose story has become a symbol of America’s foundering war in Afghanistan.

Captive

Captive
My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban

Jere Van Dyk

An American reporter offers a chilling account of being kidnapped and imprisoned by the Taliban for 45 days, during which time he spent most of his hours in a bare room, cut off from the world and unable to trust his guides, who he feared had betrayed him, all while the spector of violent death loomed over him.

Dancing in the mosque

Dancing in the Mosque
An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son

Ḥumayrā Qādirī

This memoir from the Afghan women’s rights activist who fought the country’s misogynistic social order takes the form of a letter to the son she was forced to leave behind after her husband divorced her.

It's what I do

It’s What I Do
A Photographer’s Life of Love and War

Lynsey Addario

A photojournalist documents her relentless pursuit of complex truths in the years after September 11th, describing her witness to the American invasion of Afghanistan and the lives of people before and after Taliban reign.

The operator

The Operator
Firing the Shots That Killed Osama Bin Laden and My Years as a Seal Team Warrior

Robert O’Neill

Describes the Navy SEAL’s four-hundred mission career, which included his attempts to rescue Marcus Luttrell and Captain Richard Phillips, and his early life in Butte, Montana.

Shoot like a girl

Shoot Like a Girl
One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front

Mary Jennings Hegar

An Air National Guard officer describes her experiences after being shot down on a Medevac mission in Afghanistan and her efforts to convince the U.S. government to allow women to serve openly on the front lines.

Zoya's story

Zoya’s Story
An Afghan Woman’s Struggle for Freedom

Zoya

Follows the experiences of a twenty-three-year-old member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan who witnessed the rise of the Taliban and risked her life to challenge the edicts against women in her country.

 

Non-Fiction

The underground girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul
In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

Jenny Nordberg

An award-winning foreign correspondent who contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series reveals the secret Afghan custom of disguising girls as boys to improve their prospects, discussing its political and social significance as well as the experiences of its practitioners.

However tall the mountain

However Tall the Mountain
A Dream, Eight Girls, and a Journey Home

Awista Ayub

Describes how the Afghan-born author flourished throughout her upbringing in America thanks to organized athletics, her founding of the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange for Afghan girls after the fall of the Taliban, and the personal stories of eight young soccer players.

Dear Zari

Dear Zari
The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan

Zarghuna Kargar

Collects thirteen real-life stories of Afghani women who speak out about their hidden lives, from the child bride given as payment to end a family feud to a widow shunned by society, revealing their suffering and strength.

Paradise beneath her feet

Paradise Beneath Her Feet
How Women Are Transforming the Middle East

Isobel Coleman

Presents the stories of women from five different countries who through grassroots activism are bringing change into the Middle East while working within the strictures of Islam, efforts that involve progressive interpretations of their faith to bridge conflicts between reformists and oppressors.

Kabul Beauty School

Kabul Beauty School
An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil

Deborah Rodriguez

With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.

And then all hell broke loose

And Then All Hell Broke Loose
Two Decades in the Middle East

Richard Engel

The NBC chief foreign correspondent draws on more than two decades of experience in the Middle East to share firsthand insights into the region’s revolutions, the Arab Spring, the wars, regional terrorism and the experiences of people caught in the crossfire.

Every man in this village is a liar

Every Man in This Village is a Liar
An Education in War

Megan K. Stack

A Pulitzer finalist and Los Angeles Times Moscow bureau chief describes her witness to events at the front lines of the war on terror in multiple countries, sharing her insights into the high cost of violence as weighed against the war’s democracy-based objectives.

Heroes among us

Heroes Among Us
Firsthand Accounts of Combat From America’s Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan

Chuck Larson

Firsthand accounts from of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan from decorated soldiers of all branches of the military capture front-line stories of combat, courage under fire, and heroism on the battlefield.

The lovers

The Lovers
Afghanistan’s Romeo & Juliet: the True Story of How They Defied Their Families and Escaped an Honor Killing

Rod Nordland

An account illuminating the ongoing debate about women’s rights in the Muslim world documents the true story of how two people from different Afghani tribes pursued marriage against Islamic law and remain in hiding from relatives who would kill them to restore family honor.

The bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul

Åsne Seierstad

The Norwegian journalist provides a portrait of a committed Muslim man and his family living in post-Taliban Kabul, Afghanistan.

The places in between

The Places in Between

Rory Stewart

Traces the author’s 2002 journey by foot across Afghanistan, during which he survived the harsh elements through the kindness of tribal elders, teen soldiers, Taliban commanders, and foreign-aid workers whose stories he collected along his way.

The dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Presents the story of a fearless young woman who became a dress-making entrepreneur in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, thus saving her family and bringing hope to the lives of dozens of women in her war-torn nation.

Living with honor

Living With Honor

Salvatore A. Giunta

A Medal of Honor recipient shares the story of his military career, recounting his deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Korengal Valley and his life-risking efforts to provide medical aid to wounded fellow soldiers during an October 2007 Taliban ambush.

Into the fire

Into the Fire
A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War

Dakota Meyer, Francis West

A Marine sniper shares the story of his heroism facing a Taliban ambush during which he saved Afghan soldiers and Marine advisors, a victory that resulted from him disobeying orders and assuming command without reinforcements or artillery support.

Taliban

Taliban
Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia

Ahmed Rashid

Examines the Taliban and its form of Islamic fundamentalism, explains how the organization rose to power, and discusses its impact on Afghanistan and why the country has become a center for international terrorism.

The Lion of Sabray

The Lion of Sabray
The Afghani Warrior Who Defied the Taliban and Saved the Life of Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell

Patrick Robinson

Tells the story of Mohammed Gulab, the Pashtun warrior who, operating under the 2,000-year-old tribal honor code that guided his life, defied the Taliban and saved the life of American Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was badly injured during a firefight that killed the rest of his team

Horse soldiers

Horse Soldiers
The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan

Doug Stanton

Documents the post-September 11 mission during which a small band of Special Forces soldiers captured the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif as part of an effort to defeat the Taliban, in a dramatic account that includes testimonies by Afghanistan citizens whose lives were changed by the war.

The wrong war

The Wrong War
Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan

Francis West

Takes a look the war that has dominated America’s military attention nearly ten years after the September 11 attacks and offers a plan for withdrawing troops.

Shooting ghosts

Shooting Ghosts
A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back From War

Thomas J. Brennan, Finbarr O’Reilly

A dual memoir by a U.S. Marine and a conflict photographer profile their unlikely friendship and how it helped them recover from combat wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The fighters

The Fighters
Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq

C.J. Chivers

Traces the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through its most at-risk participants, offering insights into such events as the hunt for bin Laden and counterguerilla warfare in the mountains of the Korengal Valley.

Directorate S

Directorate S
The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Steve Coll

A follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars traces America’s intelligence, military and diplomatic efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the years since 9/11.

The wrong enemy

The Wrong Enemy
America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014

Carlotta Gall

A veteran journalist for the New York Times describes the toll taken on the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan since September 11 through ordinary citizens’ accounts of fighting and first-hand descriptions from Taliban warlords, intelligence thugs, American generals and Afghani politicians

Red Platoon

Red Platoon
A True Story of American Valor

Clinton Romesha

A comprehensive account of the 13-hour firefight at the Battle of Keating by a Medal of Honor recipient describes the harrowing events of the October 3, 2009 attack and how the sacrifices and victories of heroic men raised questions about whether the strategically vulnerable outpost should ever have been built.

Eagle down

Eagle Down
The Last Special Forces Fighting the Forever War

Jessica Donati

The former Afghanistan bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal recounts the experiences of U.S. Special Forces fighting on the front lines against the Taliban and Islamic State during the longest war in American history.

The American war in Afghanistan

The American War in Afghanistan
A History

Carter Malkasian

The first authoritative history of American’s longest war by one of the world’s leading scholar-practitioners.

The Afghanistan papers

The Afghanistan Papers
A Secret History of the War

Craig Whitlock

The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about the longest war in American history by Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock, a three-time Pulitzer Prizefinalist.

Leave No Man Behind

Leave No Man Behind
The Untold Story of the Rangers Unrelenting Search for Marcus Luttrell, the Navy Seal Lone Survivor in Afghanistan

Tony Brooks, Bob Welch

A story of courage, perseverance, and patriotism behind the 75th Ranger Regiment’s rescue mission following one of the deadliest Special Ops incidents in Afghanistan—a grueling search for twelve Navy SEAL casualties and eight downed Night Stalkers, but just one lone survivor.

 

Further Reading

A different kind of daughter

A Different Kind of Daughter
The Girl Who Hid From the Taliban in Plain Sight

Maria Toorpakai

A woman from an oppressive Pakistani tribal region, where women playing sports is forbidden, discusses how she passed as a boy in order to play the sports she loved, thus becoming a lightning rod of freedom in her country’s fierce battle over women’s rights, as well as the subject of a forthcoming 2016 documentary.

I am Malala

I Am Malala
The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Malala Yousafzai

Describes the life of the young Pakistani student who advocated for women’s rights and education in the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley, survived an assassination attempt, and became the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Let her fly

Let Her Fly
A Father’s Journey

Ziauddin Yousafzai

The father of Malala Yousafzai traces his journey from an unconfident, stammering little boy living in a mud hut in Pakistan to a man who has broken with tradition and proven there are many faces of feminism.

 

Fiction

99 nights in Logar

99 Nights in Logar

Jamil Jan Kochai

A trepidatious return visit to a family compound in Afghanistan finds a disastrous encounter with a terrifying but beloved guard dog leading to a twelve-year-old boy’s mythology-laced search through the landscape of contemporary Logar.

And the mountains echoed

And the Mountains Echoed

Khaled Hosseini

Presents a story inspired by human love, how people take care of one another, and how choices resonate through subsequent generations.

A door in the earth

A Door in the Earth

Amy Waldman

An Afghan-American college student in California travels to a remote village in Afghanistan to work for a professor’s charitable foundation and after surviving a horrific bombing must side with either the villagers or the American soldiers.

Fear of beauty

Fear of Beauty

Susan Froetschel

An Afghan woman defies her husband and societal pressures to investigate the death of her son.

Fire and forget

Fire and Forget
Short Stories From the Long War

Roy Scranton, Matt Gallagher

This collection of short stories from 13 young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and who saw first-hand the horrors of combat as well as the perspective of those waiting for them at home.

Green on blue

Green on Blue

Elliot Ackerman

An Afghani orphan loses everything when his village is attacked by militants and must join a U.S.-funded militia to try to save his injured brother, who fell victim to a marketplace bomb.

A house without windows

A House Without Windows

Nadia Hashimi

Accused by her in-laws and imprisoned for the brutal death of her husband, Zeba forges bonds with a group of women who have also been locked up for social violations and places her fate in the hands of an Afghan-born civil rights lawyer.

The kite runner

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

Traces the unlikely friendship of a wealthy Afghan youth and a servant’s son, in a tale that spans the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the atrocities of the present day.

On fragile waves

On Fragile Waves

E. Lily Yu

The haunting story of a family of dreamers and tale-tellers looking for home in an unwelcoming world. Traces one girl’s migration from war to peace, loss to loss, home to home. Firuzeh and her brother Nour are children of fire, born in an Afghanistan fractured by war. When their parents, their Atay and Abay, decide to leave, they spin fairy tales of their destination, the mythical land and opportunities of Australia.

The opium prince

The Opium Prince

Jasmine Aimaq

Accidentally killing a young Kochi girl while driving through Kabul, an Afghan-American foreign-aid worker is confronted by an opium dealer’s threats, the loss of his marriage and wrenching guilt over the local regime’s indifference.

The pearl that broke its shell

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

Nadia Hashimi

Adopting the custom of bacha posh in 2007 Kabul, which allows her to dress and be treated as a boy, attend school and chaperone her sisters until she is of marriageable age, Rahima, the daughter of a drug-addicted father, discovers that she is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom

Redeployment

Redeployment

Phil Klay

A collection of short stories by a former Marine captain and Iraq veteran focuses on the complexities of life for soldiers on the front lines and after, exploring themes ranging from brutality and faith to guilt and survival.

Silent hearts

Silent Hearts

Gwen Florio

An American aid worker and her local interpreter forge an unexpected friendship in spite of disparate life experiences and the increasing violence that surrounds them in 2001 Kabul.

Sparks like stars

Sparks Like Stars

Nadia Hashimi

Adopted from Afghanistan 40 years earlier by an American diplomat in the aftermath of a coup and assassination, Aryana has a chance encounter with the soldier who saved her life and killed her family.

The swallows of Kabul

The Swallows of Kabul

Yasmina Khadra

Their lives as a diplomat and lawyer frozen by the ascendancy of the Taliban, Moshen and Zunaira find their situation becoming a nightmare when Zunaira is arrested and condemned to death.

A thousand splendid suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

Two women born a generation apart witness the destruction of their home and family in war-torn Kabul, losses incurred over the course of thirty years that test the limits of their strength and courage.

The wandering falcon

The Wandering Falcon

Jamil Ahmad

A debut novel set in the Federally Administered Tribal Lands at the intersection of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan follows the story of banished refugees’ son Tor Baz, who travels throughout the region while considering his prestigious lineage and witnessing the effects of extreme culture and geography on the lives of those he encounters.

When the Moon Is Low

When the Moon is Low

Nadia Hashimi

When her happy middle-class life in Afghanistan is shattered by the rise of the Taliban and her husband’s murder by fundamentalists, former schoolteacher Fereiba embarks on a high-risk effort to escape to England with her three children.