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242 × 166 × 65 mm
784 pages
138 illustrations
12 Nov 2018

Afghanistan A History from 1260 to the Present Jonathan L. Lee

Located at the intersection of Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan has been strategically important for thousands of years. Its ancient trade routes and strategic position between India, Inner Asia, China, Persia and beyond has meant the region has been subject to frequent invasions. Modern Afghanistan is a culturally and ethnically diverse country, but one divided by conflict, political instability and by mass displacements of its people.

Jonathan L. Lee places the current conflict in Afghanistan in its historical context and challenges many of the West’s preconceived ideas about the country. Lee chronicles the region’s monarchic rules and the Durrani dynasty, focusing on the reigns of each ruler and their efforts to balance tribal, ethnic, regional and religious factions, moving on to the struggle for social and constitutional reform and the rise of Islamic and Communist factions. He offers new cultural and political insights from Persian histories, the memoirs of Afghan government officials, British government and India Office archives, recently released CIA reports and WikiLeaks documents. Lee also sheds new light on the country’s foreign relations, its internal power struggles and the impact of foreign military interventions such as the ‘War on Terror’.

‘Lee’s well-written book is rich in rewarding detail and will be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Afghanistan.’ — History Today

‘The task of crafting a coherent narrative out of such disparate material, much less making that narrative of genuine interest, is obviously daunting, and one of the many low-key marvels of this book is how often Lee manages to succeed. This has every indication of being the 21st century’s standard English-language history of Afghanistan: it’s richly detailed but not simplified, keeping up a fast pace without ever sacrificing fine-grained detail, fit to occupy the same shelf as Abbas Amanat’s magisterial 2017 history of Iran . . . Afghanistan is a parade of richly-realised personalities: sultans, colonial opportunists, visionaries, and the embattled present government figures are all presented here with a startlingly refreshing humanity.’ — The National

‘Lee’s scholarship and independence of mind give rise to one of the first great merits of the book: its willingness to challenge conventional narrative. . . . The second great merit of this book, beyond its fresh perspectives, is the depth of coverage it offers, whilst yet being written in clear prose and digestible sections. Lee is an excellent guide through a notoriously complex historical territory.’ — Asian Affairs

‘In his new book, Lee has blended an eye for detail with a sense of the broad sweep of Afghanistan's history . . . Lee does not make the mistake of assuming a linearity in Afghan history and the stories he recounts do not serve to suggest that the key to understanding the 21st century is simply to revisit the experiences of earlier times. But that said, the book is studded with memorable vignettes that suggest the ubiquity and persistence of human frailty . . . One attractive feature of Lee's book is that Afghans are at the heart of the story that he tells.’ — The Sydney Morning Herald

‘A comprehensive history of a storied nation held together by an alliance of tribal and political groups that threatens to dissolve at any moment . . . Anyone seeking to understand a complex, even bewildering part of the world will benefit from Lee’s careful account.’ — Kirkus Reviews

‘Jonathan Lee’s comprehensive study of Afghanistan’s political history tells the story of the emergence and sometimes surprising longevity of the Afghan state in the face of serious external and internal challenges over the last three centuries. Readers will find a compelling narrative and an important reference for different periods in Afghan history, not to mention a larger thread which looks at the definition (by others) and the introspective self-definition by Afghan rulers as the state developed over time.’ — New Books Network

‘Jonathan L. Lee’s massive Afghanistan is an exhausting march through centuries of conflict and bloodshed. In many ways, the country is as bloody and unstable today as it was during the 13th century, when shifting alliances, betrayal, greed, massacres, and more massacres swept the area from Tehran in the west to Delhi in the east. Page after page of the book offers evidence that no one, not even well-intentioned Americans, can change the basic narrative that defines Afghanistan . . . his account of Afghanistan’s history is almost dizzying in its power shifts and conflicts.’ — Washington Independent Review of Books

‘An epic achievement: at once a model of clarity, accuracy and balance and a testament to Jonathan Lee's learning and life-long erudition in Afghan primary sources. Authoritative and remarkably comprehensive, it deserves to become the standard English-language history of Afghanistan.’ — William Dalrymple

‘This work is the last word on the history of Afghanistan and I have no hesitation in recommending it.’ — Dr Chris Wyatt, University of Birmingham, author of Afghanistan in the Defence of Empire

‘This impressive book results from Jonathan Lee’s professional lifetime’s work in Afghanistan. Lee uses his command of Persian, an abundance of British and American archival sources, and a critical historiographical approach to provide readers with a refreshingly original treatment of Afghanistan’s modern political history. Lee’s book combines nuanced attention to the dynamic variety of regional, religious and tribal identities, loyalties, alliances and resources within Afghanistan, while also constructively engaging with the diverse and changing constellation of external actors, agencies and pressures in this new history of Afghanistan.’ — Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History at James Madison University

‘This is the most comprehensive available history of power and politics in Afghanistan, from the medieval period to the present. The narrative spans a millennium of history, from the Ghaznavids to Ashraf Ghani. It deliberately locates the roots of modern Afghanistan in the succession of Muslim entities that developed military power, government and civilization in northern India and on either side of the Hindukush. There are detailed treatments of issues from the “classical” right up to contemporary Afghan affairs which includes the consequences of aid to the anti-Soviet mujahideen, the roots of the Taliban movement, the inadequacy of the Bonn Agreement as a basis for peace, Islamic identity and the state, and militarization of humanitarian assistance and governance reform and corruption. This work is an encyclopaedia of the ways in which the past helps shape the ideas and possibilities of the present.’ — Michael Semple, Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, Queen’s University Belfast

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Jonathan L. Lee is a social and cultural historian and a leading authority on the history of Afghanistan. He has lived for many years in Afghanistan and is a Fellow of both the Royal Asiatic Society and the British Institute of Persian Studies, and formerly a Fellow of the British Institute of Afghan Studies. His previous books include The Journals of Edward Stirling in Persia and Afghanistan, 1828–29 (1991), The ‘Ancient Supremacy’, Bukhara, Afghanistan and the Battle for Balkh, 1732–1901 (1996) and Amazing Wonders of Afghanistan (2014).

List of Charts
List of Tables
List of Maps

1 Afghan Sultanates, 1260–1732
2 Nadir Shah and the Afghans, 1732–47
3 Ahmad Shah and the Durrani Empire, 1747–72
4 Fragmentation: Timur Shah and his Successors, 1772–1824
5 Afghanistan and the Indus Frontier, 1824–39
6 The Death of the ‘Great Experiment’, 1839–43
7 The Pursuit of ‘Scientific Frontiers’, 1843–79
8 ‘Reducing the Disorderly People’, 1879–1901
9 Reform and Repression, 1901–19
10 Dreams Melted into Air, 1919–29
11 Backs to the Future, 1929–33
12 A House Divided, 1933–73
13 Republicanism, Revolution and Resistance, 1973–94
14 ‘Between the Dragon and his Wrath’, 1994–2017

Genealogical Charts
A Note on Sources
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements