Posted by: Christian | December 28, 2009

Buy This Book

Thomas Barfield, 2010. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton University Press.

“Barfield’s book will become the single best source on Afghan history and politics virtually overnight.” – James C. Scott.

Probably. But the rest of us will just have to wait and see until July 2010 when the book is released. Perhaps it may have a dust jacket with a spiffy design by then. Not that this really matters at all. Books that are (expected to be) this good don’t need cover designs.

What’s it all about? The publisher’s description:

Afghanistan traces the historic struggles and the changing nature of political authority in this volatile region of the world, from the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century to the Taliban resurgence today.

Thomas Barfield introduces readers to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He shows how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in a small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Afghanistan’s rulers mobilized rural militias to expel first the British and later the Soviets. Armed insurgency proved remarkably successful against the foreign occupiers, but it also undermined the Afghan government’s authority and rendered the country ever more difficult to govern as time passed. Barfield vividly describes how Afghanistan’s armed factions plunged the country into a civil war, giving rise to clerical rule by the Taliban and Afghanistan’s isolation from the world. He examines why the American invasion in the wake of September 11 toppled the Taliban so quickly, and how this easy victory lulled the United States into falsely believing that a viable state could be built just as easily.

I understand that at a quick glance this may sound not too far off from the description of several other books. However, take the author into consideration. All the real experts will be reading this book (i.e, all the cool kids have it, why don’t you?). Based on Barfield’s previous works I will be buying this book and taking notes from it.

If you are unfamiliar with the publications of the anthropologist by the name of Thomas Barfield, you can start here at my very first blog entry almost 3 years back when I used a Barfield article to make a point about riots and urban rebellion in Afghanistan. Or check out this more recent entry on Barfield’s comparison of authority patters between the east and the south.

Available for pre-order on Amazon and


  1. Sad to say that I missed that entry by you, it looks like the dirty details of politics that make things much more interesting.
    As for the book I certainly hope its good though I’m wary of any book that tries to give a thorough view of an entire nation’s history. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Greetings from Italy

  3. Sounds great. More books by the likes of Barfield and Rubin need to be on the shelves. Not to pricy either, for those of us without a handy diamond mine. Thank God Brill or RoutledgeC isn’t publishing it.

  4. Good point. I forgot to mention how cheap the book is compared to others out there in the academic publishing world.

  5. That doesn’t even make sense. How Afghanistan’s rulers mobilized rural militias to expel the Soviets? The rulers were the ones that welcomed them.

  6. He’s speaking about leaders in the broad sense to include rural and non-national leaders.

  7. And the leaders who mobilized others against bandits and insurgents?

  8. I’m sure Barfield will explain it in the book.

  9. Just wanted to say thanks for the bibliography.


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