Read my original nature poems right here!

Read my original nature poems right here!

4 Books About Afghanistan I Recommend

When I decided to visit Afghanistan in 2024, I made sure to stop in Barnes & Noble and browse books about Afghanistan (I began learning Dari, too). They’ve got an international history section with plenty of books on Central Asia. While not everyone includes Afghanistan in the region of Central Asia, books about this part of the world often overlap regions and countries–the Silk Road, after all, threaded through many countries, including all those in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and more.

Persian history and literature, Afghan history and literature, Central Asian history and literature…they’re all tied together through war, commerce, religion, language, politics, and culture.

Why do you want to know the best books about Afghanistan?

Are you thinking of visiting? (read my safety tips here)

Are you interested in Silk Road history?

Perhaps you’re learning more about this volatile region that entrenched western foreign policy for decades.

These books I read to prepare for my (cancelled) trip paint as complete a picture of Afghanistan as possible. I enjoyed these books and highly recommend them to my fellow bookworms.

1. The Places In Between

This is the first book about Afghanistan I recommend reading, and it’s probably my favorite on this list. It’s a quick memoir by Rory Stewart, who walked across Afghanistan in 2002 (yes, 2002). Shortly before the Taliban fell to the coalition invasion, Rory Stewart was walking across Asia, studying history, talking to people, and exploring vast regions on foot.

Rory wasn’t able to enter Afghanistan during his walk. But when the Taliban were ousted from power, he seized his chance.

The Places In Between is the story of Rory Stewart’s walk across Afghanistan from Persian-influenced Herat to the capital, Kabul.

He crosses the mountains of central Afghanistan in the winter, following in path of Babur, the first Mughal Emperor. He spends nights with pompous tribal elders and humble villagers, crosses dangerous Taliban-sympathizers, and contends with nature’s harshest elements. Rory doesn’t romanticize the journey, nor does he downplay its significance. He speaks the language of the people and asks them real questions, most of which they dodge. At times he is welcomed happily into mountain villages, other times he must bang on doors and–sometimes with an edge in his voice–request lodging.

The Places In Between is a fascinating book that truly reveals the spirit of inner Afghanistan during the early days of its occupation by coalition forces. Just like Rory, you will love and despise the real people he meets, and you will be enchanted by his historical recounting of Babur’s journey, and how it mirrored his own journey.

Start with this book to begin learning about Afghanistan.

Biggest Takeaway

No spoilers here. My biggest takeaway from The Places In Between is how little the western mind understands about Afghanistan, Islam, and tribal politics. This book pulled back a heavy sheet and let me peek inside the motivations and ambitions of the crossroads country that Afghanistan is.

2. Afghanistan: A History From 1260 to the Present

This is a book for history nerds. Or anyone who wants a really in-depth background on what people and events shaped Afghanistan today. It’s dense and makes for a good, slow, relaxing bedtime read 🥱. That’s not to say the book is boring! But if you’re not the type to go down historical Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes, you might skip this 800+ page history book.

If The Places In Between is playing checkers in the park (which it certainly is not), Afghanistan: A History From 1260 to the Present by Jonathan L. Lee is a life-size strategy game of some of the most brutal events in history in a war-torn, crossroads country where empires, tribes, and trade routes collided. It’s like Risk and Game of Thrones blended with Persian empires and Asian tribalism.

The ethnologies, the anecdotes, and the dissection of Afghanistan’s fascinating roots kept me well engaged and excited to keep reading.

The book does start a bit slow as the author discusses the general geography and culture of Afghanistan, but the closer to modern history you read, the more exciting it gets. I was particularly enthralled with the politics and personalities of 1700’s Persia, Afghanistan, and India. The collisions were epic, the politics cutthroat, and the battles were more brutal than I expected.

For history nerds (or anyone who wants a deep dive), this is the book. Check it out after The Places In Between.

Biggest Takeaway

Colonialism, repression, and extreme violence are deep in the roots of every culture, right? Afghanistan’s bloody history is far older than I thought, and it’s never been a quiet mountainous crossroads for commerce. It’s been an essential player on the world stage for millennia, and wasn’t spared any of the “disgraces” western minds enjoy pointing to in their nations’ family trees.

Maybe this is all obvious. Maybe I need to read more history books.

3. The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a classic. Can I call it a classic if it came out in 2004? Sure, why not.

This is the most popular book on my list, and fiction-lovers should start here. While I read The Kite Runner in middle school, I revisited it as an adult. I’d forgotten some of the details of the book, and I’m glad I reread it.

The Kite Runner is a masterful depiction of the tragedy that befell modern Afghanistan by the influence of other nations. Not only did other nations trouble Afghanistan, but the country’s historic and religious roots did, too. Check out the previous book for more on this.

The Kite Runner will make you laugh and cry. It will make you grateful for your life (and its solid foundation).

The book will stick with you for years, until you read it again.

Biggest Takeaway

Afghanistan’s most recent woes (decades of war) are much more awful when you read about growing up there before the communist takeover. It must have been a wonderful childhood, and I envy the boy and girl who knew Afghanistan then.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns

If you finish The Kite Runner and it hit home (and you learned something about Afghanistan), check out Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. It’s an equally powerful story of growing up in Afghanistan as a girl and woman. This story depicts two women–many miles apart–whose stories converge in Kabul as wives of the same man.

It’s a totally different story than The Kite Runner, but is told with the same spirit that has captivated generations of readers. Another tear-jerker, for sure, with a great ending and excellent cast of characters.

When I have children of my own, they will read Khaled Hosseini’s books. They are timeless, relevant, and serve as literary reminders of the powerful, transformative effects of suffering.

Biggest Takeaway

Afghanistan is a brutal place where women do not enjoy the any of the liberties we know. The oppression is religious in nature, but it’s also totally irreligious and wicked. A Thousand Splendid Suns paints the picture well. What can be done about it, now that the Taliban are in power?

I recommend reading Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between. No, his book doesn’t answer this question. Perhaps it’s not our question to answer. After reading his book, what do you think Rory thought?

George Callahan is the creator of Pine Tree Poet. He is an author of fantasy stories and an adventure poet. He prefers mountains and pine trees to most other things, and usually takes his dog Cowboy along for the ride.

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