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No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
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No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes

4.42 of 5 stars 4.42  ·  rating details  ·  173 ratings  ·  39 reviews

As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, the shocking tale of how the American military had triumph in sight in Afghanistan—and then brought the Taliban back from the dead

In the popular imagination, Afghanistan is often regarded as the site of intractable conflict, the American war against the Taliban a perpetually hopeless quagmire. But as Anand Gopal demonstrates in this stu

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 29th 2014 by Metropolitan Books
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Finally we have a journalistic nonfiction big and detailed enough to show the humanity behind the war in Afghanistan. I knew it could be done, had been done in fact, beginning with Rory Stewart’s chronicle of his walk though Afghanistan in 2002 just as the Taliban government fell. That book, The Places in Between, stands as the clearest, most in-depth view of the people and places with whom America has been involved for a decade. This book by Anand Gopal goes in that class. I am eternally gratef ...more
This is one the best works of narrative non-fiction that I've come across in recent memory. Anand Gopal spent several years living in Afghanistan and has come back with this incredible book narrating the Afghan War through the lives of three people actually living through it.

He follows the lives of Akbar Gul (a Taliban commander), Jan Muhammad Khan (a U.S-allied militia leader) and Heela Achekzai (a civilian woman), charting the course of their lives before, during and after the American invasio
Timothy Bazzett
For the last dozen years or more U.S. consumers of the news have been force fed the American version, or “our side” of what has been happening in Afghanistan since the first American troops landed there at the end of 2001. Now, with Anand Gopal’s book, NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING, we are given a look at this long so-called ‘war against terror’ through Afghan eyes. Gopal, a respected American journalist who has also done stories from Egypt, Syria and other mid-East hot spots, made several trips ...more
This was my first book on Afghan war, and it turned out to be a grisly read - it felt like a thriller novel throughout. It must have taken courage to travel the war-torn country side, for quite a few chapters concluded with this theme : "A few months after I spoke with him, he was blown to bits by a suicide bomber/unnamed gunman/bomb blast." But what I liked best about the book was that the story-telling seemed unbiased. There are obviously many faces of the war that have not been revealed in th ...more
Mike  Davis
This is a sobering account by author Anand Gopal, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, The New Republic, Harper's and others, of the dysfunction and chaos in Afghanistan following Russian and American involvement in Afghan politics and their lack of understanding of the culture. It documents atrocities by American troops and gives a look at the corruption that springs from foreign involvement. Most revealing, it gives perspectives from three Afghan civ ...more
Black and white thinking just doesn't work in a gray labyrinth. That's why America -- and the Soviet Union earlier -- struggled in seeking to fashion Afghanistan's government and politics. Perhaps there should be a rule requiring Afghanistan be colored gray on any map as a warning about how gray and tangled it is. At least that's my conclusion from reading Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes . Although attempting to tell the story of ...more
Ben Anderson
The best book of the war so far. Explains everything and shows the foreign forces to be the often misguided bit players that they were. Anand Gopal is right about everything. Brilliant.
Chris Chester
A wonderfully-written story about the American war in Afghanistan told from the point of view of the people who lived it.

As is most often the case, the narrative about the war that seems to prevail is the government's: that the Taliban harbored terrorists, they were routed, and then were allowed to recover when the country turned its attention and resources to the boondoggle in Iraq.

The story Gopal tells is more complicated, but rings true because of that. The Taliban is not a discrete category
Jennifer Lauren Collins
This is the other side of the story.

With determined objectivity, Gopal does just what he claims: he tells the story of the War on Terror and the last fourteen years--particularly 2001 through 20010--of war and distrust in Afghanistan, "through Afghan eyes". The focus is not on the military or on the people in power, but on the men And women who are, very simply, attempting to survive in a climate of terror, poverty, and confusion. And Gopal begins on September 11, 2001, but in a fitting way for
Incompetence, idiocy, venality, corruption, and war crimes - this is the history of the US occupation of Afghanistan set out by Anand Gopal in No Good Men Among the Living. The Taliban, who were brutal and hateful in their own way, were supported by many Afghans in the 1990s because they brought law and order to a lawless land. By the end of 2001, the Taliban was finished as a political and military force, and the vast majority of Taliban members, many of whom shared no ideological ground with t ...more
Really interesting story of the common person's experiences in post-American war in Afghanistan. What happened? Why did it happen? What could America and NATO have done differently? Is this a war that was destined for failure?

This book follows three different Afghans, starting in the months following the American invasion: a housewife, a Taliban commander and a regional strong-man. The journalist (Anand Gopal) chronicles their stories (heart-breaking in their own ways). One thing I will say is t
No Good Men Among The Living is a journalistic masterpiece. Kudos to author, Anand Gopal, to enter the eye of the storm to provide the insights about Afghanistan, wars fought, war still raging, and life in this war-torn country. The title is derived from an old Pashtun proverb (There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead)told to Gopal as he conversed with Mullah Cable, a nickname assigned to this Taliban leader who used a cable as a whip at the height of Taliban rule. ...more
This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why we don't belong in countries so different from our own and why, despite our best intentions, we are doomed to fail. This failure to understand the culture was best demonstrated by the problem of the Taliban. When they offered to surrender their weapons and take up normal lives, something apparently normal in Afghanistan where pragmatism overrules dogma and beliefs, the U.S. refused insisting they be brought to justice. A western view to ...more
Sean Farrell
Wow. I certainly knew that the situation in Afghanistan was dire, but it's eye-opening to see just how dire. And it's also eye-opening to see just how much the United States has contributed to that. It's not that the US went in with the intention of making life there miserable, and it's not that many Afghanis themselves aren't also at fault, but it is stunning just how much those that the US put in charge of things seemed to lack any basic knowledge of how the country worked and how the people w ...more
Lauren Chrisman
This book was an excellent look at the war in Afghanistan that American readers have never really been privy to.

I received this book as a GoodReads first reads for free.

Benjamin Gilmour
Stunning. A unique, compelling, moving, beautifully written book of the war from the Afghan point-of-view. It is unlike anything I have read before, absolutely gripping. Finished it in three sittings, difficult to put down, reads like a thriller, makes you gasp. It's a reading experience not easily forgotten. The intimate true stories of these select Afghans are simply astounding and reveal so much about how badly the US handled the war, how they could easily have prevented the Taliban's return ...more
Wes F
An excellent analysis--from countless face-to-face interviews without a translator--from multiple Afghans' perspectives on the last 12 years of American involvement in Afghanistan. The picture is a disappointing and discouraging one, resulting in a rather dismal analysis that shows how the American strategy led to the resurgent insurgency of the Taliban--driving those who were at first pro-American & anti-Taliban into their opposition of both the Karzai government & henchmen & the Am ...more
This book is amazing, amazing and depressing. I read it because my friend Tom, a correspondent in Afghanistan for years and years recommended it. The first part of the book lays out the lives of 3 Afghanis that serve as the groundwork for the whole book, which ultimately runs from the 1980s through the present day. I have never read a book that better captures the feeling a a life, a place, a history and a milieu. What he book ultimately shows is that Afganistan is made up of people and these pe ...more
At the end of Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living, Heela (an Afghan widow) is wondering what will happen next, and if she will survive it. Next is Afghanistan after the U.S. troop withdrawal, which should be complete (except for "technical advisors") by the end of 2014.

... full review is at

Anand Gopal is a great writer. His characters come alive in the book. He does not hit readers over the head with a political critique. The book is anecdotal. It
Matthew Trevithick
Amazing. A must-read.
Matthew Richman
This is a brilliant book, on three levels. First, Anand has crafted an incredible narrative based on the lives of his subjects. He writes crisply and engagingly. There were several parts which read like top-notch dramatic fiction - I had to remind myself that this was grounded in the facts of his years of interviews with his subjects.

Second, Anand's significant accomplishment bound up in this book, which might be possible to overlook given how natural his relationships with his protagonists see
The Afghan war from the Afghan perspective. Spoiler: Nobody wins.

My only objection is that the author first of all tells us that Afghans lie when they need to, they are used to being at war and say what they need to say to succeed. They indicate each other as Taliban all the time to eliminate enemies, for example. Then he proceeds to take everything they say at face value. No one who goes to Bagram deserves to be there, and much more so for Gitmo. Which is it?
Tyler Bigney
About a hundred pages from the last, and I'm surprised this book hasn't received more attention, and isn't sitting atop numerous best seller lists.

One of the best narrative nonfiction books I've read in years.

The story of Afghanistan may be too fresh for some, but the author takes a different look at things and tells the story not only of the war, but the toll the war took among normal afghans.

An engrossing, illuminating read.
This book was was well researched and gave a unique perspective, especially with respect to the Taliban. However, it was hard to get through for me and I thought it would be more powerful if it focused on telling the story of the three main characters. I did learn a lot about Afghanistan and it helped shape my perspective.
We need more books like this about Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. This is a view from the other side. The war against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban was over quickly but we turned it into a war against almost everyone. A lesson in why America should practice more self restraint in external affairs.
One of the best books on Afghanistan. Must read for anyone involved with the country. The narrative is strong and touching and beings out the complex yet simple fabric of Afghan rural societies, decisions, actions and why the international aid community still need to question their loyalties in the country. Brilliant work!
Excellent, approachable read. Seeing the conflict through the eyes of three main characters offers great insight on the recent decades of turmoil in Afghanistan.
A poignant account of war in Afghanistan unlike anything I have read before. Gopal humanizes the war by sharing the stories of three individuals whose lives have been directly affected by the ongoing interventions in Afghanistan and convincingly exposes many of the misguided judgments which have intensified and prolonged the "War on Terror." Absolutely brilliant.
Philip Monroe
well written and will keep you interested in the stories of the three Afghani lives, especially Heela's. Warning, it will leave you dis-illusioned about U.S. methods of spreading peace and democracy.
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“The West responded to the civil war by simply ignoring it, and after the 2001 invasion the years from 1992 to 1996 were all but stricken from the standard narrative. It was dangerous history, the truths buried within it too uncomfortable and “messy. If the mujahedeen had been no better than the Taliban or al-Qaeda, any attempt to bring the principal actors of that period to account could only lead to the highest echelons of Hamid Karzai’s government, and, by extension, to American policy over the previous thirty years.” 0 likes
“Following the Soviet invasion, the Communists, to their credit, passed decrees making girls’ education compulsory and abolishing certain oppressive tribal customs—such as the bride-price, a payment to the bride’s family in return for her hand in marriage. However, by massacring thousands of tribal elders, they paved the way for the “commanders” to step in as the new elite. Aided by American and Saudi patronage, extremism flourished. What had once been a social practice confined to areas deep in the hinterlands now became a political practice, which, according to ideologues, applied to the entire country. The modest gains of urban women were erased.

“The first time a woman enters her husband’s house," Heela “told me about life in the countryside, “she wears white”—her wedding dress—“and the first time she leaves, she wears white”—the color of the Muslim funeral shroud.

The rules of this arrangement were intricate and precise, and, it seemed to Heela, unchanged from time immemorial. In Uruzgan, a woman did not step outside her compound. In an emergency, she required the company of a male blood relative to leave, and then only with her father’s or husband’s permission. Even the sound of her voice carried a hint of subversion, so she was kept out of hearing range of unrelated males.

When the man of the house was not present, boys were dispatched to greet visitors. Unrelated males also did not inquire directly about a female member of the house. Asking “How is your wife?” qualified as somewhere between uncomfortably impolite and downright boorish. The markers of a woman’s life—births, anniversaries, funerals, prayers, feasts—existed entirely within the four walls of her home. Gossip, hopscotching from living room to living room, was carried by husbands or sons.”
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