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Descent into Chaos: The Worlds Most Unstable Region & the Threat to Global Security

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,813 Ratings  ·  174 Reviews
Librarian's Note: this is an alternate cover edition - ISBN 13: 9780141020860

After September 11th , Ahmed Rashid's crucial book Taliban introduced American readers to that now notorious regime. In this new work, he returns to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia to review the catastrophic aftermath of America's failed war on terror. Called "Pakistan's best and bravest r
Paperback, First Edition, 498 pages
Published 2009 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 2007)
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Will Byrnes
Descent Into Chaos is a must read for anyone interested in ongoing events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the central Asian “stans” that make up one of the most politically volatile areas on earth. Rashid is both a journalist and a participant, having been a member of various groups and committees attempting to address the ongoing conflicts. As such he brings his own personal list of good guys and bad guys, and should be taken with a grain of salt. But the level of detail presented here is impressi ...more
May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world
This was one big sprawl of a depressing read, far too complex for my abilities as a reviewer to put neatly into any sort synopsis or overview. Luckily that has already been done brilliantly by Will Byrnes, whose review I highly recommend.

Instead I shall note a few points that I picked up from the book, just things that particularly stuck me…. (view spoiler)
Apr 30, 2009 Scott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had two main reactions to Rashid's book. One was frustration and the other was appreciation. My frustration extended largely from his liberal viewpoint that the war on Afghanistan was a just war and could've gone swimmingly "if only" the various players had made the correct decisions and taken the appropriate actions. His main argument appeared to be that occupation (though he argued that it wasn't) and nation-building can be done successfully "if only" everyone is up front, genuine and on the ...more
Dec 10, 2010 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most recurring thoughts during the course of reading this thoroughly depressing, infuriating, impassioned—and alternately disheartening and inspiring—book: How in God's name has Rashid managed to continue breathing? followed by His insurance premiums must be through the freaking roof.

Other thoughts gleaned from the pages of Descent, in no particular order:

—The long-suffering Afghanis appear to be an unbelievably resilient people and determined to heal their shattered country; and Rashid's honest
Steve Kettmann
Aug 28, 2008 Steve Kettmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read the book that many of Obama's advisers are reading or have recently read - and on which they have clearly relied in helping articulate the details of Obama's call for an emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan as the "central front in the war on terror." As Raymond Bonner in the Times and at least one reviewer here has complained, the level of detail can at times be daunting, but it's worth sticking with it. The picture is grim, yes, but only when books like this reach a broad readership will ...more
Apr 25, 2011 Praj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pr
In a recent news briefing invalidating American criticism of the anti-extremists campaigns in Pakistan; asserts the Pakistani Army chief that the army (Pakistani) has broken the “backbone” of Islamist militants in the country. Gen. Kayani’s high claims on the resourceful operations against the militants were met with ambiguity by political critic, as the country is consistently shaken by terror attacks with a dominant insurgency stirring on the Afghan-Pak borders.

Central Asia is a recent example
Dec 14, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you only have time to read one book on post-9/11 Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Central Asia and the subcontinent, this would be the one to buy. Historians and academic courses will start with this book. Dense, well researched, insider journalism from a wise and keen observer of the region and its players, Somehow, this guy gets his enemies to talk to him. I had frequently to wonder why Rashid is still alive. Certainly there's no intelligence agency operating in the region, let ...more
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics, asia
A tremendously outstanding book along the lines of Thomas Ricks' Fiasco that sheds light on the problems Pres. Obama and the U.S. faces in not just Afghanistan, but in the entire region of Central Asia. Rashid's prose is highly articulate, thoroughly researched, and incredibly devastating. By examining the history, current politics, and disheartening consequences of the Western world's foot dragging for the entire region, Rashid makes a compelling case for considering all of Central Asia as the ...more
Mikey B.
This is a very compelling and instructive account of Afghanistan and Pakistan since September 11/2001. The sordid relationship of Pakistan to the Afghan Taliban is described in detail. Pakistan was responsible for the birth of the Taliban and after 9/11 provided sanctuary for them in the FATA region of Pakistan. Musharraf was playing a double game of pretending to combat terrorism (al Qaeda and the Taliban) and aiding the terrorists at the same time. This would eventually come back to haunt Mush ...more
Dec 19, 2012 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One reviewer said reading this book was like taking very bad medicine. I would agree with that.

I take a contrarian view regarding this subject. Let's start with the title and the main premise of the book..."the failure of nation building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia".

I don't believe in nation building. We went wrong when we got involved in Afghanistan when the Russians were there. We funded the taliban and war lords. Unforseen consequences are biting us in the rear now. That's obvio
Shehreyar Khan
May 27, 2012 Shehreyar Khan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this on my 24 hour long road trip from Islamabad to Kandahar. It's an interesting read--highly anti-American, I must say--but it reveals a great deal of Afghanistan and Pakistan's past going back to the time of Zia, Bhutto, Daoud and the Russian invasion.

It pulled me into the world of politics and current affairs, so I guess it worth a 4-star rating, even though I've read better books since. Descent into Chaos is a scathing criticism of the Bush-years, which we all must agree were a fucking
Claire S
Great review by Dalrymple here:


This is a magnificent work of enormous importance, laying bare the multitudes and layers of errors made by all involved in the last 9 years in Afghanistan in particular, and delivering prescriptions for positive change.

‘If we can better understand what has happened before, what has gone wrong, and what needs to go right, as this book attempts to do, then we can better face up to our collective future.’ p. 404 (final senten
Feb 16, 2010 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ohhh - I almost couldn't keep with this book through the intro - shows which side of the political isle I'm on! but now I'm glad I did. I'm still only about a third of the way through but the author has convinced me he's not just a Bush-hater, that he actually has some knowledge in this department. The author is a Pakistani, which I'm just now learning means he shouldn't really be all that favorably disposed to Afghanistan, but the biggest question rolling around my head at the moment (Rashid ke ...more
Jun 18, 2012 Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really good book, a must read for anyone interested in the history of the region. Rashid is very well informed about the region and sheds great light on the complicated matter of its political and economic contradictions. Moreover, he does so in a readily accessible, journalistic style which will enable many readers to learn a lot in a short time about this war-torn part of the world.

For those of you interested in the 2001 portion of the war in Afghanistan, there aren't loads of new i
Apr 23, 2010 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in current events
An extremely well-written and interesting account of the failure of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only US policy, but also that of the EU and NATO.
From various articles read over the years since 2001, among them some by Rashid in the NYRB, I was aware that there were great problems in the area concerned, but this book gives examples and backing for the disastrous political mistakes made, particularly by the Bush administration, and even more particularly by Rumsfeld. What is
Heather Denkmire
I've got to admit there were times with this book that I felt I was choking down some nasty tasting medicine. I just felt like I *needed* to get through it. Partially because of the repetition (I've been reading/listening to a lot about the middle world/central Asia) but also because this guy is a hard core reporter and there are a lot of names, a lot of dates, and a lot of activities/occurrences he details.

So, despite zoning out a little more often than I'd care to admit (except I admit that st
Mar 27, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rashid obviously is one of the most knowledgable people about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan and this book is packed full of it. It is a slow read but that's mainly because it's so full of information. It's set up like his first book, Taliban, with a general history of the situation followed by chapters looking at the problems from several relevant angles. Rashid is extremely critical of the entire Bush administration and not for political reasons, but because of their mishandling of ...more
Mar 01, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book focuses on developments within and between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Central Asian states, since 9/11; and how those developments have intertwined and connected with U.S. actions and policies in the region. The book is extremely thorough and well documented. It is so dense and thorough, in fact, that it tends to overwhelm the reader with more detailed information than can be readily be digested and processed. What it does succeed in doing is giving the reader an overall pict ...more
Pete Combe
Mar 15, 2015 Pete Combe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wish I could give it zero stars. This guy is biased, inconsistent, and has wildly unrealistic goals and expectations.

He may know the basic facts, but his analysis and reasoning are ridiculous, foolhardy, and dangerous in his naïveté. He proves himself little more than a disillusioned Pakistani with an axe to grind.
If you have been following Ahmed Rashid articles in newspapers you know what to expect, if you didn't just take a look at a few of his writings to get an idea. The book reads like a long (actually very long) news article. Even if he adds some statistics and interviews, you just can't stop thinking of this as a cold news report. This could be a an advantage or disadvantage depending on what you are accustomed to read.

Nevertheless, Ahmed Rashid is known for his deep understanding of the region and
Feb 14, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive, detailed chronicle about Pakistan's 'descent into chaos' by Pakistan's foremost author, who accurately depicts many of the events which have recently caused Pakistan to have significant national problems, with the rise of power of the Taliban, government corruption, and with it giant military, industrial complex consuming massive amount of the national economy.
Emanuel Ramos
Rashid is a superb journalist, but this book is, overall, not so enjoyable. It's scathing attack on Pakistan and the Bush Administration can leave you depressed. But you will definitely be more informed about Central Asia.

Mildly recommended.
Jul 29, 2008 Nikhil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in foreign affairs, Central and South Asia in particular.
Shelves: sociopolitical
A clear, methodical treatment of what went wrong with America and NATO's persecution of the war in Afghanistan and a calm portrait of the depraved forces that run Pakistan.

Policy makers would do well to learn from this man's insights.
Orzala A.N.
Apr 26, 2013 Orzala A.N. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One way I found this book interesting: if you heard rumours and gossips in the diplomatic community in Kabul, Washington or Islamabad and you wanted to find a way to also reference it, this book serves very well.
Aug 29, 2014 Bushra rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book may be hard to read in the initial chapters, as it sets out the comprehensive landscape of Afghan regional stakeholders and warlords, but it does indeed gives you an good insight into Af-Pak relations and the phenomenon of regional stability.

Pakistan’s share of responsibility of Pakistan for the birth of the Taliban and providing sanctuary for them for quite some time even after 9/11; Musharraf’s double games that eventually come back to haunt Musharraf and lead to near civil war in Pa
Justin Tapp
Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
The author is a Pakistani journalist who knows a lot of people on both sides of the border and can communicate with many players. He is invited to forums where he gives his opinion on things; he lives there so is not a "impartial" journalist we might idealize. Giving his opinions is seen by some negative reviewers as "arrogant." In some cases his personal memory of situations causes him to inject opinion as f
This is an excellent account of the many U.S. failures and missed opportunities in Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. That is written by a Pakistani reporter, who lives in Pakistan and who has studied and reported on the events in Central Asia over the last 25 years or more makes it even more invaluable.

There are no surprises here; only recounts of the travesties that the neoconservatives of the Bush Administration committed in taking our count
Barnaby Thieme
Rashid's "Descent into Chaos" is probably the most important and useful book on current events I've ever read. A highly-acclaimed journalist based in Pakistan, Rashid has been following the Taliban long before they became a household word in the United States, tracking them from their rude origins in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan through their various fortunes in Central Asia to the present day.

In this book Rashid focuses on the geopolitics of Pakistan and Afghanistan over the last 15 years, a
David Lundqvist
Oct 20, 2009 David Lundqvist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Kaput
Descent into chaos is an intelligent look at the policies of the Bush administration and the EU towards Afghanistan and central Asia.

It begins with a brief history of the British occupation of Pakistan/India and Afghanistan and how the events of this epoch have a lasting influence on the current situation. This is followed by a short history of the soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the U.S backed Mujahedeen resistance. After the Soviet retreat came a war lord power struggle leaving the door
Aug 31, 2012 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Descent into Chaos" by Ahmed Rashid is a book about the first 6 or so years of United States and Western involvement in Afghanistan after 9/11. The book provides a history of modern Afghanistan from its origin as a united Pashtuni state through approximately the end of the Bush Administration.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who appears to have specialized in this region during the period covered by his book. From his writings, the reader, (or as in my case, the listener of the audio CD)
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  • In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan
  • The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban
  • Pakistan: A Hard Country
  • Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics
  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
  • Afghanistan
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  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
  • Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan
  • Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy
  • Engaging the Muslim World
  • Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military
  • Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History
  • The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11
  • The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion
  • Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World
  • Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons
Son of Ahmed (an engineer) and Piari (a homemaker) Rashid; married Angeles Espino Perez- Hurtado, 1982; children: Raphael, Sara Bano. Education: Attended Government College, Lahore, Pakistan, 1966- 68, and Cambridge University, 1968-70; earned B.A. and M.A. Religion: Muslim. Addresses: Homeoffice: Lahore Cant., Pakistan. E-mail:

Career: Journalist and broadcaster. Correspondent
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