J.L. Lee. 1996. The ‘Ancient Supremacy’: Bukhara, Afghanistan and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901. Published by E.J. Brill. Leiden, Netherlands. 695 pages.
I’ll make this a rather short review:
- Unbelievably in-depth archival research that extends far beyond British documents
- Commendable use of oral history
- More original than almost everything out there
- Arguments are massively supported by extended analysis and citations
- …..ad infinitum
If you’ve tried reading extensively about Afghanistan you have no doubt suffered through some rather shaky historical accounts. They are mostly bastardized, regurgitated versions of British-centric histories that were faulty to begin with. There are of course original works of high value out there that are seldom read. And The Ancient Supremacy is one of them. Lee’s book focuses on the struggle for control over Balkh in what is now northern Afghanistan. The time frame and the contenders are written on the cover.
Superficial this is not. It’s the heaviest book on my shelf. Do you really need 700 pages to cover one small area within a 170 year period? You do if you want to write a book that will stand the test of time: 300 years from now historians will be reading this book as an authoritative source. Not that length automatically equals quality. But Lee’s book has both. (Note that I also recommend short books such as Buzkashi)
You can pick up a copy at Amazon for $356. Ouch. OK, maybe check out your local university library (and get a copy through interlibrary loan if it is not available).