The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Read a few pages and it’s not difficult to understand why Hosseini’s first novel was an international best-seller. Set across several generations and encompassing some of Afghanistan’s most tumultuous times, it is a lacerating story of friendship and betrayal.
Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42, by William Dalrymple
Too many histories of Afghanistan are written from exclusively Western sources. This riveting history, stuffed with new material from Russian, Urdu and Persian sources, breaks the mold with a galloping narrative of the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1839-42.
The Sewing Circles of Herat, by Christina Lamb
A searing 2002 memoir from The Sunday Times’s longtime foreign correspondent and veteran Afghanistan reporter. It’s doubly heartrending to read about the depravity and brutality of Taliban rule in the late 1990s, now that they are back, but the book contains a ray of hope and defiance as it tells the stories of those Afghans brave enough to resist the thugs and religious fanatics.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
Published in 1958, Newby’s classic may be slightly dated, but it provides a constant barrage of humor. Reading this very funny masterpiece about his unlikely travels up the Panjshir Valley (today home to the last resistance to the Taliban) takes the reader back to an age of almost prelapsarian innocence in Afghanistan.
Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid
We sure as hell need to understand the Taliban, now more than ever. This Pakistani writer is one of the world’s foremost experts on the group and his serially updated and belts-and-braces study is simply required reading.
The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, by Fawzia Koofi
Many Afghans understandably have fled, none more ignominiously than President Ashraf Ghani. Among those who have stayed, one of the bravest must be Koofi, the country’s first female deputy speaker of parliament. This eye-opening memoir provides unflinching insight into the challenges faced by Afghan women.
The Bābur-Nāma, by Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur
To end on a high — literally — here’s a peerless historical take on Afghanistan and its rich, poetry-filled culture, not to mention high-spirited hashish and wine parties gone wrong. Nothing comes close to Babur’s memoirs, a scintillating 16th-century page-turner by the founder of the Mughal empire and the great-great-great-grandson of Timur (aka Tamerlane), another celebrated conqueror of Afghanistan.
Justin Marozzi is a British journalist, historian, and travel writer. He is the author of several books, including Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities That Define a Civilization