• Afghanistan

  • A Cultural and Political History
  • By: Thomas Barfield
  • Narrated by: Robin Bloodworth
  • Length: 17 hrs and 22 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (218 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 16th century to the Taliban resurgence today. Thomas Barfield introduces listeners 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 19th and 20th 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.

Afghanistan is essential listening for anyone who wants to understand how a land conquered and ruled by foreign dynasties for more than a thousand years became the "graveyard of empires" for the British and Soviets, and what the United States must do to avoid a similar fate.

©2010 Princeton University Press (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"In this riveting study, Barfield does a splendid job of informing us why Afghanistan is the way it has always been." ( Daily Star)
"This book is an authoritative and well-written summary of what we might call the majority view. There is a streak in this book, however, of more radical thinking. . . . It leads him near the end of the book to some startling predictions for Afghanistan's possible futures." ( Gerard Russell Foreign Policy)
"Thomas Barfield's new book offers a remedy for Americans' pervasive ignorance of Afghanistan. . . . Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History is an invaluable book. Mr. Barfield does not give the United States a way out of Afghanistan, but he does provide the context necessary for good policymaking." (Doug Bandow, Washington Times)

What listeners say about Afghanistan

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Interesting content, poor production

The historical background and social context this book brings to its examination of Afghanistan is very interesting. The Audible production, however, is terrible.

2 people found this helpful

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Great overview of Afghanistan's history

What made the experience of listening to Afghanistan the most enjoyable?

Interesting perspective on tribal/cultural dynamics. Goes more in depth into actual Afghan historical politics vs. the more traditional US foreign policy-perspective books which are more widely published.

4 people found this helpful

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Book good, production atrocious.

The book is great. It's an interesting overview of an area where those aren't particularly easy to find. The narrator is fine as well. Someone should check on whoever produced this audiobook, though. It is awfully produced. It constantly has segments spliced in to the reading which sound really out of place. I think it's by the same narrator but surely recorded on a different day or in different circumstance because they sound so different that every time it happens it's incredibly grating. It's not infrequent either. It happens all the time. I assume it was done because the missed something in the original reading, but how is it possible that they needed to do that so often? Did the book change in the middle of the making of the audiobook?

It's a real shame for an otherwise enjoyable and interesting book.

1 person found this helpful

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Good details but....

I see too much of northern Afghanistan’s influence in his writing. That makes it less of an overall history of Afghanistan and more history of northern Afghanistan and their role in the region.

1 person found this helpful

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Awful narration

Great content, but possibly the worst narration I've listened to. Inconsistent pronunciation, using absurd accents for quotes, etc.

1 person found this helpful

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why is the narration such a mess?

The story is extremely detailed to the point of being somewhat boring, but narration is just horrible! Why does he keep changing voices (and possibly mics) randomly between lines? Once or twice is acceptable, but fifteen times a chapter really?

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Valuable History - issues with the narration

I confess I'm about 2/3 through this book... I am enjoying it, and wish it would continue to the present turbulent times in Afghanistan...maybe there will be an updated edition one day? My MAIN complaint is that there are a LOT of spliced in portions in narrative... like the book was edited and they had to then edit the recording? it happens a lot, and it's a bit distracting. It would be nice to get an explanation of what happened here - but I doubt that will be forthcoming.. overall, I recommend this title for folks (like me) who have little to no knowledge of the rich and interesting history of this troubled country.

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Will Historic Repeat Itself In Afghanistan?

I find it difficult to evaluate the basic premise of this book that Afghanistan is simply too fractured and diverse in its demographic makeup to ever unite its religiously disparate regions into a governable whole. Most recently the failure of the US to facilitate the establishment of competent national/regional leadership further demonstrates the lack of understanding of Afghan history and political differences on its part as well as those of other outside parties.

On the other hand the key location of the country in Central Asia where its undeveloped resources and an increasingly better educated population make it a likely target of either uncontrolled exploitation or planned development. The recent takeover by the Taliban, which was expelled by the US following 9-11-2001, can be either a blessing in disguise or the beginning of another period of turmoil and further bloodshed preceding yet another chapter In Afghanistan’s bloody and disruptive history.




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Informative and well acted

This is a great book for anyone curious about the context of Afghanistan and how its come to where it is today. Back under Taliban control unfortunately.

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Recommend but needs revised.

The book and narrative is overall enjoyable. The amount of historical precedents that is given really helps the novice to better understand Afghan politics today. My only complaint is the author’s prejudice towards President G. Bush that is demonstrated through a few lines of reading towards the end of the book. This did not help further the narrative and for me personally it was so outside the norm for the rest of the book it disrupted the flow. The author should also consider revising the book to reflect the post Kharzi period and Taliban take over of 2021.

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  • Suneil
  • 06-08-20

Underplayed US funding of Islamists

Really pleased I listened to it but I thought it didn’t fairly describe the affect of IIS, Saudi and US intervention and subsequent problems in a balanced way.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mena
  • 02-13-22

Not too bad

Barfields research and knowledge about Afghanistan is commendable.

He does a good job of portraying the historic events but you occasionally get glimpses into the biases he holds.

Some aspects are glossed over while others are explored in full detail. For example he mentions that the war in Afghanistan was a lower priority to Bush and the drastic increase of soilders in the country during the Obama era. But even though the Wiki Leaks documents on the war in Afghanistan were out long before this book came out there is no mention to the war crimes that were committed at all.

Similarly, Russia's war in Afghanistan is covered in great detail while America's backing and funding of terrorist groups to fight them is not coreverd. These are two examples of many such instances where you don't get the full picture.

It's certainly worth listening to but not at all comprehensive in explaining Afghanistan's political and cultural history.

Also, Robin Bloodworth's narration is just unbelievably cring worthy at times. The way he pronounces some Afghan words is god awful. It is important to have chosen someone that had even a loose grasp of some of the words or phrases. I believe Barfield himself having spent time in Afghanistan would have done a better job.

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  • Julian Manning
  • 11-22-20

A good read

The wealth of information in this book filled the vacuum of knowledge in my head about the history of Afghanistan. However the structure of the material could be slightly better organised for non-academic or non-expert in this region. For example there are many connections between the past history and the recent past history throughout the book that is confusing. I think the foundation to make sense of such connections should’ve been stronger.

The link to the accompanying PDF didn’t open for me.

The audio performance is okay but there are frequent noticeable change of voice/narrator throughout the book. I though “only available in audible” means something like quality.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-18-19

Wonderful, in-depth view of the nation’s struggle with living.

I recommend this book to those looking to gain a solid understanding of the nation of Afghanistan and it’s functionality, what made it what it is today and the mythos surrounding it.

It’s no secret that Afghanistan has been topical in recent decades and those interested in gaining an in-depth understanding into the nation’s current state will not be disappointed by this presentation.

Only gripes with this audio is that Robin’s Accent changes suddenly in certain parts, which is notable but doesn’t distract from the overall presentation.