Wednesday, 5 August 2009

“Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: the Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan”, Antonio Giustozzi

Honesty up front, even though I first met Antonio Giustozzi at a MacArthur Foundation conference in the mid 1990s, and generally appreciate what he has to say - I haven't read "Khoran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop", even if it does seem a reasonably interesting read.

The current issue of "Asian Affairs" has a review of it which is testament to how to damn with faint praise. The last sentence in particular is particularly breathtaking.

This book provides interesting data on insurgent recruitment, problems within the Afghan army and police, and more: America spends $15m for every insurgent it kills. Yet the book lacks context of any kind. No maps are provided, nor history, and there is little background on key individuals or tribal complexities. If the reader does not know his Achikzais from his Alizais, or the background on Hazrat Ali or Jalaludin Haqqani, most of the book will be inaccessible. It is a pite, for a substantial re-write would have produced a volume of tactical and historical value.

While this seems harsh, I should stress that this is just the concluding paragraph from S. J. Masty's longer review of this and another work on Afghanistan (on pp.297-298 of the July 2009 edition) it strikes me as a genuinely effective review. It flags up the strengths and weaknesses of a book in an effective way, highlighting who is likely to be the best audience for it, and critically doing so in an engaging and memorable way.

In a world where people all too often are reluctant to speak their minds, this is really refreshing.

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