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In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  630 ratings  ·  59 reviews
After the swift defeat of the Taliban in 2001, American optimism has steadily evaporated in the face of mounting violence; a new “war of a thousand cuts” has now brought the country to its knees. In the Graveyard of Empires is a political history of Afghanistan in the “Age of Terror” from 2001 to 2009, exploring the fundamental tragedy of America’s longest war since Vietna ...more
ebook, 448 pages
Published April 12th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 6th 2009)
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Will Byrnes
Seth G. Jones is a “senior political scientist” at the RAND corporation (as in Research AND Development, not that other Rand). He worked in the Defense Department for a couple of years, and has taught classes on counter-terrorism issues since 2002 at Georgetown and since 2005 at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He has also written on nation building. His stated goal in this book is “ to understand the motivations of the key actors and to assess what factors contributed to the rise of Afghanis ...more
Milton Soong
A intro level overview to the mess we have gotten to in Afghanistan. It comes in from a journalist point of view instead that of a historian (imaging a long form writeup in the New York Times and you won't be far off the mark.

The book opens with some historical background on past empires and their travails in Afghanistan (Alexander the Great, British in 19th Century, Soviets in the 20th). It then goes from the initial US invasion in 2001 until about 2009 (therefore it does not cover revent devel
Gail Cooke

While much has surely been written about the war in Afghanistan Seth G. Hughes who serves as an advisor and plans officer for the commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan adds new dimensions to an assessment of our country’s longest war since Vietnam.

Based upon interviews with countless military, diplomats, and experts in national security plus information from declassified government documents IN THE GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES delivers a clear, concisely rendered account
Andrew B.
The grim title and the KOd Soviet tank on the cover are misleading cliches to begin with. I imagine that the publisher went with the title/cover so Jones' work might find a place in the political nonfiction genre. But Jones is a Rand scholar, and he writes like one. The work is technical, heavily footnoted, and not exactly a breeze to read. The text is basically a very long Foreign Affairs article and will only be read for professional development.

The tank and the "Graveyard" epithet also misre
Jones is good on the structure of the Afghan opposition to first the USSR and now the US. This is a useful although not essential addition to the literature. Based on good access to a number of important sources including ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Jones examines what went wrong in Afghanistan and what might have gone right if the effort there hadn't been sidetracked to invade and try to occupy Iraq.

The U.S. mission to the inhospitable mountains and plains of this Central Asian redoubt shows
Really fascinating book about the various empires throughout history which have tried to conquer Afghanistan, only to be repelled. The basis of this historical lesson is to give context to America's current quaqmire. Book is relatively short in relation to the substance. It does not spend much time regarding Alexander the Great 3rd century BC, the British Empire of the 19th Century, and the Soviets failure in the 1980's, the author simply gives you a quick summary. The book's intentions is to sp ...more
This is a useful survey of American involvement in Afghanistan since 2001, if one which didn't surprise me with any of its analyses. The main reasons for the insurgency in Afghanistan were the Bush administration largely ignoring it once the Iraq invasion began, the historically low troop levels, and the wariness of various NATO members to commit forces outside of urban areas like Kabul. The thing which Jones covered that was most interesting to me was his analysis of the wider regional politics ...more
Joseph Stieb
It's really hard to find a book about Iraq or Afghanistan that is comprehensive but concise enough to assign to a class. Seth Jones achieves this for the latter country in this interesting, thorough, and readable book for the period of US involvement in Afghanistan up until the Obama troop surge in 2009. He has a great eye for the right amount of depth and does a great job chronicling the major mistakes of the war in Afghanistan so far. The biggest problems that he points out are the light footp ...more
Seth Jones, and the Rand Institute, in The Graveyard Of Empires, have a grim prediction for the United State in Afghanistan, and how little the U.S. has learned from previous British and Russian campaigns in the country, but also some enlightening points like empowering elders. An excellent read!
Paul Miller
The best history of post-9/11 Afghanistan and the U.S.-led war there. The afterword is an excellent synopsis of why the war matters and how to finish the job.
This is an excellent analysis of how the U.S. went wrong in its approach to its involvement in Afghanistan after 9/11. It also provides excellent insight into what contributes to an insurgency and how the Taliban effort to regain control of Afghanistan has turned into a full-fledged insurgency.

The U.S. initially went into Afghanistan with the idea of having a "light footprint." It did not want to be involved in nation building and had no plans for such an activity. Its efforts to train a nationa
Sean Sharp
Published in 2009 and missing the Obama years entirely, In the Graveyard of Empires would have been more aptly subtitled “Bush’s War in Afghanistan”. Such is the difficulty of writing history as events unfold even into the present day. As it is, the book misses important post-2009 events like the subsequent “surge” in troop levels through 2010, substantial increases in drone strikes, the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden, the 2014 Afghan presidential elections, the Peshawar massacre in Decembe ...more
A brief,useful, though not essential recap of Afghanistan's military history. He identifies the war's many successes and failures. Mainly, I was looking for some info on the 2001 portion, but there wasn't loads of new info there. It is technical, heavily footnoted, and challenging for the average reader that knows little about the region, or war in general.

Jones also exposes Pakistan's frustrating role in the Afghan wars. A number of political dilemmas create a political situation in which Pakis
Not much to ad to the previous reviews which have pretty much covered most of the necessary groundwork. Seth Jones took a couple of hard knocks for his work, however it is really not a bad piece of historiographical analysis and serves as an excellent primer for anyone wanting a scope of the region and its problems.

The shortcomings are related to the fact that there are other works out there, which seem to do the same job equally well if not better. Rashid's Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the
although ideally as reviewers or whatnot we should treat each book as a separate and unique creation, unfortunately I've just completed much of the Kaplan back catalog, and this book just pales in comparison to Soldiers of God. Soldiers of God is firsthand reporting with an embedded reporter inside a mujahideen team in Afghanistan. Graveyard of Empires is a foot-noted, analytically backed up, perfectly supported by academic cross-reference... and somehow, perfectly, misses the point. hmm even th ...more
I first saw Seth Jones on an amazing PBS Frontline program called Obama's War (streaming for free online at with Martin Smith. The video itself represented some incredible documentary journalism--Smith at a couple points almost gets blown up by surprise mortar fire. Jones was one of the commentators. He seemed to have some interesting takes on what has and has not gone well with the US' involvement in Afghanistan, and this book did not disappoint.

Its main focus is an in-depth history of
Chad Manske
An appropriate title for this discouraging, yet well-researched and written history of America's involvement in Afghanistan, RAND analyst Seth Jones unpacks the complexities of a seemingly never-ending conflict sure to drain the US treasury of its finances and human capital. Personally, I've always held a somewhat dim view of a satisfying outcome of our objectives and this work reinforces that opinion. An excellent and unbiased read.
This is a solid book that every citizen who wishes to be informed on America's conflict in Afghanistan should read. It is written in a straightforward manner sans unwieldy acronyms that burdens other texts on military strategy and current operations. Jones does an excellent job of providing just enough historical context without getting too far down into the weeds.

Although he appears to contradict himself, I believe his conclusions are essentially correct. Although he does not address in any con
An excellent history of America's involvement in Afghanistan and how we got to where we were in 2009 (when the book was published). Both angering and sobering account with decent suggestions of what should be done in Afghanistan, both militarily and politically. Highly recommend for anyone involved in the conflict in Afghanistan or those with an interest of what has happened there.
Someone asked me last week what made Seth Jones think he was an expert on Afghanistan (the asker, of course, considers himself an expert). I think the answer is: nothing. Jones doesn't pose as an expert, but as an historian and analyst, and he does a very good job.

He's been to Afghanistan a number of times, interviewed a wide variety of people directly involved in the planning and prosecution of the war, and conducted extensive research. He then simply tells the story of where we are and how we
I learned a lot by reading this book. Since I'm by no means an expert in this area, I can't challenge the authors facts or conclusions. I can say that it is a well put together, well thought out book. If you want to know more about the situation in Afghanistan and how it deteriorated up to 2008, then read this book.
I really wanted to like Seth Jone's "In the Graveyard of Empires". His opening was tremendous, as he covers thousands of years of Afghan history through their wars with the Greeks, Indians, British and Russians. The beginning of the main work on the US intervention in the region was strong as well, but seemed to get drier and more redundant as it went on. By the time that I hit the 2/3rds mark I was regretting ever reading the book.

In the past year I had Kaplan's "Soldiers of God" and Tapper's "
Maryanne Khan
The Graveyard referred to is Afghanistan where various Empires such as, most notably, the British Raj and the Soviets failed to overcome local resistance. The point Seth Jones is making is that the failure of American policy in Afghanistan is commonly thought of in terms of a) its ethnic makeup and b) 'greed'9meaning corruption at all levels.)

He adds two other perspectives: weak governance and religious ideology which compound the other two ways of thinking about Afghanistan.

If you want to know
This is a good book about our war in Afghanistan with some of Afghanistan's long war history weaved in to show parallels and give some insight as to what does and doesn't work in that country. I found the beginning of the book a little slow-going. This isn't a book that you can't wait to read and stay up all night reading because you can't put it down. And it's not meant to be. The book was meant to give info on the current war while also delving a little bit into how the key players got to this ...more
This is a good book. I learned a lot from it. Read it together with Coll's Ghost Wars.
A clever title and a good, albeit, overwhelming history of Afghanistan and assessment of our current position there. The author is careful not to take too many sides, providing a balance of mistakes by many players and suggestions that sometimes seem quite obvious but too frequently are ignored.

I got lost more than once in the deluge of names and dates, but that is typical for any Middle Eastern history. One very excellent chapter on the ideology of insurgencies is a must-read for any historian
Marie Gase
This is a very detailed book. I read it to get a better understanding of what happened previously in Afghanistan so I could better understand what we are doing there today. It was very good for this purpose. I didn't need all the exacting detail so I did skim portions of the book. I do feel that I have a much better understanding of Taliban, al Qaida, why they are so pissed and what we are doing there and why it is so hard. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of what ...more
David Mclaughlin
Excellent account of the war in Afghanistan from 2001-2008. Jones provides an analysis of the various factors (many of which could have been avoided/mitigated with a different strategy in 2002-2003) that lead to the rise of the Afghan insurgency that we still face on the battlefield today. Would highly recommend this both to people familiar with the conflict as well as those who are fairly new to subject.
The chapters covering the history of Afghanistan and the current war there are extremely thorough and densely packed with names and dates. That section was slow going even for me, and I'm used to dense historical material. However, Seth Jones really shines in the sections where he discusses the historical context of insurgencies, and places Afghanistan in that context. His analysis and recommendations make for interesting reading.
An in-depth look at the Afghan situation. Gives you a short history of the country and a long tale of the conflict. I feel like I know more than most TV commentator after reading it. You must be interested in the subject, otherwise the length of the book might be a little discouraging. Overall great analysis of the situation. Gives you the how and why things the multi-national coalition attempted to do either failed or succeeded.
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