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Afghanistan: A New History

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Afghanistan: A New History . 2nd Edition. By Martin Ewans. (Routledge: Curzon, London and New York: 2002. Pg. 250. Maps, Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-415-29826-1.

Reviewed by Leo Johnston - April 16, 2003

Afghanistan is a diverse and complex region that has long served as a crossroads across which many armies have traveled. The first 'great' army to invade Afghanistan was led by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Seemingly, the fighting has never stopped. In addition to being fought over by outside powers for its geopolitical importance, Afghanistan has also been beset by innumerable internal conflicts that have stemmed from both political and cultural differences between the various peoples that inhabit Afghanistan.

Throughout time, many have tried to conquer Afghanistan. Most have failed, and those few that temporarily 'won' the prize they sought, paid dearly for their victory. In addition, there has been little success in creating a stable, unified, and long lasting alliance among the various factions that wield political and military power within the country.

In Afghanistan, A New History Sir Martin Ewans has crafted a fine overview of the history of Afghanistan. Not only does he present a concise and objective look at the major historical events that have occurred in Afghanistan, but he also provides a brief survey of the various peoples that make up Afghanistan and the geography of the country. Written chronologically, the text begins with an description of what is known about the earliest history of Afghanistan, and then works forward through the fall of the Taliban. The text concludes with a brief analysis of 'what comes next' for Afghanistan as it tries to install, and maintain, a democratic government that will speak for all Afghans. Ewans also outlines the difficulties that Afghanistan must overcome as it rebuilds a country devastated by decades of warfare and civil unrest.

While this is a comprehensive text that covers the full extent of Afghanistan's history, the main bulk of the text is devoted to contemporary issues, namely the 1979 Soviet Invasion, the civil war that followed, and the rise to power of the Taliban. A detailed analysis of the Taliban regime and the role that drug money and terrorism played in propping it up, and eventually toppling it, is also offered.

The narrative is flowing and spirited, and the text is very accessible to readers from all fields. Copious facts are gracefully interwoven into this narrative, giving the text full historiographic authority without being pedantic. The text is further accented by the inclusion of maps and illustrations, as well as a detailed set of endnotes and a thematically organized bibliography.

With the recent U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan, and the attempted overthrow of the Taliban as a ruling entity, Afghanistan has become a 'hot topic' for many Western Readers. Afghanistan, A New History was primarily written as a college level text and it is suitable for use in both undergraduate and graduate level courses as a general survey book. It will also be of interest to non-academic readers looking for a broad, and readable, overview on the history of Afghanistan.

Related Reviews:

Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban, by Stephen Tanner.
Covering approximately 2,500 years of Afghani history, this book concentrates on the military history of the country and the nearly uninterrupted conflict that has engulfed the country.

Conflicts in the Middle East since 1945. Second Edition, by Beverley Milton-Edwards and Peter Hinchcliffe.
A brief, up-to-date overview on the causes and consequences of the conflicts in the Middle East since 1945.

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