A sweeping, deeply researched account that will gratify specialists and nonspecialists alike.

THE AMERICAN WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

A HISTORY

Comprehensive history of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history.

In his third book, Oxford-trained historian and former State Department official Malkasian gives the most thorough account of the war in Afghanistan to date. Spanning more than 18 years and three American presidents—George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump—the conflict is now winding down, but in a way that many find disappointing. In the first three chapters, he lays the scene of Afghan culture and society. Malkasian argues that America’s war in Afghanistan is part of the broader upheaval sparked by the Soviet-Afghan War, begun in 1978 and fought between Soviet-backed Communists who took power in a coup and the resistance fighters to whom the U.S. supplied over $1 billion in funds and arms as part of Cold War containment. In the middle chapters, Malkasian gives a blow-by-blow of American phases of the war, beginning with the period from the initial invasion after 9/11 through the 2003 Iraq War. Then came the 2006 Taliban offensive that triggered the troop surge of 2007. The author gives the most detailed coverage to Obama’s surge, which included 140,000 troops (compared to Bush’s 30,000) and was marked by various resets and reallocations. Malkasian focuses on the southern province of Helmand, where he spent nearly two years as a civilian adviser. In the final chapters, the author looks at Trump’s drawdown and the 2019-2020 peace talks. Malkasian is clear on why those talks succeeded: “It is not the battlefield stalemate or diplomatic prowess. It is Donald Trump….More than other any other US politician, he was willing to buck criticism and demand that the United States leave.” Perhaps the war wouldn’t have been so costly if this had happened sooner, but Malkasian concedes that there was never an easy way out. Mismanagement, tribalism, and refusals to leave have all fed “the combat experience of a generation of US servicemen and women.” For the Afghan people, the experience has been nothing short of catastrophic.

A sweeping, deeply researched account that will gratify specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Pub Date: July 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-755077-9

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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