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The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  243 ratings  ·  42 reviews
The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a grueling debacle that has striking lessons for the twenty-first century. In The Great Gamble, Gregory Feifer examines the conflict from the perspective of the soldiers on the ground. In gripping detail, he vividly depicts the invasion of a volatile country that no power has ever successfully conquered. A riveting account as seen through ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Mikey B.
A very vivid account of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Obviously they knew very little of this poor and primitive country prior to sending their troops in. Afghanistan was and is still today a collection of tribal warlords vying for control of their territory.

What is surprising is how ill-fed and badly clothed the Soviet troops were. They would raid and steal food and clothing from the Afghans. They were also insufficiently paid. They would even sell their own munitions to the Afghans. It
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James
A solid history of the subject, focusing on the experiences of individual Soviet soldiers and some mujahedin leaders, while painting in the background of the larger cultural and political/economic events in both Afghanistan and the USSR. Gregory Feifer also provides an excellent overview of the past invasions of Afghanistan and their outcomes back to the Persian Empire, along with the involvement of the US and other countries in support of the mujahedin either to create the worst possible proble ...more
Marcus
While it is undeniably well-written and informative book, its somewhat peculiar structure and author's focus on predictable side-issues leave me somewhat disapointed with this book. I am unable to shake of the feeling that it was written by a Western author unintentionally falling into the trap of giving the book's intended, western audience exactly what it wanted to hear, thereby missing the opportunity to provide a more objective analysis of the conflict.
Tim
Sobering, depressing book describing the machiavelian calculations of the Politburo resulting in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It follows that country's disintegration amid the brutality and savagery of the resistance, and reprisals over the next decade until the Soviet withdrawal, leaving behind chaos and ruin. Reading this book should make it clear that the seeds of ruthless Islamic fundamentalism, always present, took root during this decade watered by the Cold War mentality and ...more
Andy
Like a lot of people, I’ve always thought of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan as the “Soviet’s Vietnam”, but as The Great Gamble describes, this is a far too simplistic view of the conflict. Afghanistan then bordered three Soviet republics (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) and served critically as a buffer from Pakistan and the Middle East, and so you can understand why involvement in Afghanistan—propping-up the Soviet-friendly Afghani government—was absolutely irresistib ...more
Derek Weese
This is a slightly hard book to review as on the one hand I did enjoy reading it, and yet on the other it wasn't all that fulfilling.
It was enjoyable as it opened a door to knowledge about a part of the world I know little about other than a broad overview. The first person accounts from both Soviet soldiers/politicians and spy's as well as Afghan soldiers/politicians/Mujaheddin as well as the story of the cloak and dagger aspect operated by both the US and Pakistan against the Soviets was very
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James Murphy
I tried to dislike this book. I thought it poorly written, and I found in it some of the most unusual use of punctuation I've ever come across. Mis-punctuation, I called it. The maps are so detailed with terrain features and lacking in graphic representation of military operations that they're not helpful at all, a serious fault in a book of military history. I tried hard to be contemputuous and dismissive of the author's emphasis on describing the Soviet experience in Afghanistan through the ex ...more
Michael Griswold
In The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan, Gregory Feifer talks about The Soviet Union's misadventure in Afghanistan from approx. 1979-1989.

He's interviewed military figures from both the Soviet and Afghan sides to give the reader a picture of the military environment that both sides faced as the war ebbed from a quick Soviet occupation, to an increasingly brutal stalemate, and finally the withdraw of the Soviet Union, leaving Afghanistan in the state of civil war that the United States
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Bill Fazio
This book starts out reminiscent of a mafia story; alliances, corruption, backstabbing, then dives into the military and political history. I found the story to be interesting and compelling if a bit disjointed. Mr. Feifer jumps a round a lot. Other reviewers have lamented the odd use of punctuation and I concur and would add there are several spelling errors, odd for a book written by a reporter and published by a major house.

The punctuation and minor errors aren't so terrible that I would com
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David Bales
The Soviet Union's invasion and "occupation" (can any country truly occupy Afghanistan?) is detailed here, and is eerily similar to Vietnam. The Russians are ill-equipped and commit routine atrocities everywhere they go and Soviet troops are shocked to find Afghan markets better supplied with consumer goods than back home. As year after bloody year goes by and casualties mount, with Red Army troops getting hooked on the local narcotics and being unable to leave their bases for fear of ambush, ev ...more
Bruce
Though this book tells more of the story in a global perspective, it is still worth the read. What I'd like to see (and I'm not sure that we ever will) is a book written from the perspective of the individual survivors of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan - common Afghans, members of the Mujaheddin, elements of the Pakistani ISI (and the CIA), as well as the Red Army soldiers who participated in the campaign.

Yes, this book does include some of their stories, but they succeed only in showing w
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John Gordon
This is a single volume primer on the Soviet war in Afghanistan which looks at both the big political picture as well as anecdotes and stories from participants involved.
The author presents his material mainly from the Soviet perspective although there is some from mujahideen and CIA scources. Having little knowledge on the subject I found the book quite interesting, the lack of coordination by the Soviet command, the poor logistical arrangements and the sheer hopelessness of the struggle are wo
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Daniel
Starts with a brief history of the country and then picks up the narrative right after the withdraw of British forces and ends with the American Invasion. This is a very well done book that covers both the individual soldier as well as the broad overview of politics and goals.
Doug
A very interesting book in the beginning - the author gives the reader some great insight into the mindset of the invading party and the local Afghan leaders. Halfway through I felt I became bogged down with the names and various events and tired me and discouraged me from my completing the book.
Jonathan
Its impossible to read this book and not see similarities in our own invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. This book in its own right and its own subject matter is an incredibly informative and easy to read book on the Soviet involvement, invasion, and occupation of Afghanistan. The book flows excellently from each subject and transitions easily from political, world, and individual accounts. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and sadly it would appear that those who ...more
John
Great, short history of the Soviets in Afghanistan. Feifer identifies the major problems with the Soviet effort and why they pulled out in 1989. Much like the American experience in Vietnam, the Soviets spent a disparate amount of men and money on a country that they never were really able to control beyond the cities. The weakness of the DRA from the outset also hurt the entire effort. When Soviet funding ceased, the DRA's downfall was only a matter of time. Highly recommended, especially if yo ...more
Douglas
An interesting topic largely spoiled by awkward writing. At one point, I wondered if the book had been originally written in a different language and poorly translated. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Rick Atkinson's eloquence in 'An Army at Dawn' and 'The Day of Battle,' but I don't think so. This was just poorly written and poorly edited, if it was edited at all. It is a shame, too - since the US is gearing up for another try at subduing the Afghan countryside, a good history of the Soviet atte ...more
Jeffrey
Very interesting history of the war in Afghanistan and a highly readable narrative. It's compelling reading, but after the first year of the war it becomes more of an anecdotal history following individual combatants than a "big picture" history, and never fully explains why the Soviets made some of the decisions they did. Highly recommended for readers interested in Soviet history, as well as those seeking context for the US successes and failures in Afghanistan and Iraq.
S.
solid Harper-Collins ebook without superb distinguishing characteristics. consistent narrative voice with balance of description and event, blending together historical research, interviews with government officials on all side, and established facts of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. perhaps not a must-read, but professionally written and one cannot find anything to contradict Feifer's presentation of events (Feifer was an NPR correspondent in Moscow) 4/5
Terry Quirke
A decent introductory read to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, it doesn't get too bogged down in the specifics and concentrates on the broad strokes and the experiences of the Soviet soldiers. If you want something more in depth and exploring the issues at a more strategic levels, this isn't the book for you but it does serve well as an introduction to the far more wieghtier issues.
Gordon
Very interesting documentary of Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from strategic to tactical level. Helps distinguish the vastly different motives and approaches the Soviets took from US and NATO in Afghanistan. Enjoyed right up to the Epilogue, which in my view is a rambling and amateurish attempt at comparing Soviet experience to US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dave
The book has many revealing anecdotes from the former Soviet soldiers. After the first few chapters, it does not have much in the way of behind the scenes politics, strategy, etc. While it hints at some of the disconnects and problems politically and strategically, these are never explored. It is therefore harder to draw conclusions or lessons that we can chew on for today.
Jby
A good general history of the conflict. I liked the way the author mildly corrects some cold war assumptions of the relative importance of the Afghanistan campaigns for the downfall of the Soviet Union. I also liked that the book is not written as a political statement or armchair generalship on the current American led war, no matter how looming the parallels are.
Dirk Heinz
Not a bad book but more as a set of interviews with Soviet Afgan vets rather than as an analysis of the causes and effects of the war. He spends about a chapter on those and the rest is more a set of boots on the ground reminiscences. I was looking for more of an overview on the entire war, causes and effects
William Sariego
Nice short overview of the campaign, especially the political aspects. More detailed studies of the military campaigns exit. The actual stories of Soviet soldiers make it worth the price and time to read. More a perspective from the Soviet side but also deals with the machinations of the top Mujahideen leaders.
Atif Leo
Good incisive look at the complex issue of Russian invasion and the ultimate downfall. The author has written good accounts of various engagements and battles. Inferences can be drawn to relate the same with the present state of USA's involvement and the precarious situation being confronted.
Robert
A very good description of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. I learned many things about how not to fight a counter-insurgency. It was refreshing to hear the war through the eyes of the Soviet veterans who treated similarly to those returning from Vietnam.
Lee
It seemed slow to start, but the use of interviews of Soviet veterans was very useful in keeping my interest. I was reminded once again how brutal and demoralizing the Soviet armed services were reported to have been in the 1980s.

Usman W. Chohan
What a delightfully grasping account of perhaps the most important war since WWII. Thoroughly gripping, and conscious of the agendas of all the key parties in the conflict. New players in the Afghan arena would do well to read this tome.
James
Pretty well written, but I did not learn much. Good primer if you are totally unaware, and would be interesting (from that vantage point) to see potential parallels with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
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