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The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  584 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
As a former star reporter for NPR, Sarah Chayes developed a devoted listenership for her on-site reports on conflicts around the world. In The Punishment of Virtue, she reveals the misguided U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the wake of the defeat of the Taliban, which has severely undermined the effort to build democracy and allowed corrupt tribal warlords back into positions ...more
Kindle Edition, 428 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2006)
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Will Byrnes
Sarah Chayes offers an incisive, on-the-ground look at the reality of the conflict in Afghanistan. She informs her observations with historical research, ongoing contact with many significant political players in the country and the experience of living in the country for many years, and comes up with a better understanding of the forces at play than I have seen anywhere else. Her story begins while she is working as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and living with an Afghani family in Kandahar. ...more
I have (finally!) finished reading “The Punishment of Virtue; Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban,” by Sarah Chayes. It took as lot longer than I thought it would to finish it. I am both sorry and glad it is over.

This is an intriguing and complex look at warlordism in Afghanistan. It is at times thrilling, a true page turner, made even more exciting by the fact that it is a true insider’s account of post 9-11 Afghanistan. Sarah Chayes certainly knows Afghanistan like no one else - she has lived
Matthew Trevithick
Great title, not a very informative book. Despite Sebastian Junger's line on the back ("Every American who wants to know why planes flew into buildings on Sept 11 must buy this book"), this book has nothing to do with that. Nor is Ahmed Rashid or Steve Coll right in their reviews.

I work in Afghanistan (been here 7 months, will be here for 15+ more) and to be honest... by and large, the things she describes are just not all that significant. The murder of her friend (and subsequent investigation
Jan 25, 2008 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Afghanistan.
Shelves: other-nonfiction
This was a very interesting read about what was happening in Afghanistan after September 11. Sarah Chayes was a reporter who spent some time in the country while the war was going on and after the war when the government was being established. She was close to some high officials in the Afghan government and met many more. Her story seemed slightly biased in that she was very loyal to a few people and portrayed them as nearly perfect in her book; in reality, they may not have been as angelic as ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Gaijinmama rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a heart-wrenching first-person account of an NPR journalist who ends up quitting her job and basing herself in
Kandahar to run a nonprofit organization and try to do some real good for the people of Afghanistan.
This is not an objective account.
She makes it clear right from the start that she is VERY angry about the way things in Afghanistan have been handled on all sides.
She has an agenda and is absolutely certain of the rightness of her cause and methods. Also, this cause is most defin
Sep 14, 2007 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Afghanistan
Shelves: journalism
This is a weird little number. The author was a reporter for National Public Radio and went in with the U.S. invasion in 2001. She was charmed by both the people and the region she went to - Kandahar. So she left NPR, set up her own charity organization and settled in to do good. She is quickly disillusioned by the U.S. military and government's lack of understanding of the Afghan people and the continuing role Pakistan has been playing in keeping things stirred up. Also, she's a bit too self-im ...more
James Welch
Drawing upon her firsthand experiences in the country, Ms Chayes gives a vivid account of life in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Her description of the initial invasion of Afghanistan by the US and its allies is wonderfully detailed. Additionally, her insight on major leaders and power players in Southern Afghanistan provides a better understanding of the political landscape.
Jun 18, 2007 Caitlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing account of both the history of Afghanistan and its current problems, largely as a result of American mismanagement. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand the current conflict.
Joel Justiss
Feb 07, 2009 Joel Justiss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chayes gives a first-hand look at the politics and society of southern Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005, with some chapters on the history of the area since the ninth century. She tells a tragic story of a country steeped in tribalism, a government saddled with a tradition of corruption, and damaging U.S. policies based on misunderstandings of the Afghan social power structure.

11 I don’t believe in the clash of civilizations. I believe that most human beings share basic aspirations and values.
It se
Steve Van Slyke
Oct 16, 2010 Steve Van Slyke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events, dan-s
It's a sobering look at the realities of life in Afghanistan. One of the prime points that emerges is that there is not one, nor even three (as in the case of Iraq) entities to deal with to reach an agreement on how the country should be governed. There are instead a multitude of tribes. It would be as if the British, instead of coming to North America to colonize in the 1600s, had come instead come to help the native population establish a national government. How do you get tribes that have be ...more
Apr 02, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This highly readable book is part memoir and part political analysis. The author, a former overseas NPR correspondent, describes her sojourn over the years 2001-2005 in Kandahar, the ancient capital of Afghanistan, where she worked for an Afghan-based NGO and, as an instinctive investigative reporter, formed her own assessment of the political forces at work in that post-Taliban city.

Her conclusions are both alarming and disheartening. She comes to believe that Pakistan is the root cause of poli
Jul 12, 2013 Aisling rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amazing account of Afghanistan post Taliban by former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes. A fascinating insider account of the opposing forces, duplicity, backsliding, lies and downright stupidity that has plagued that country.
What an extraordinary brave woman Ms Chayes is and she clearly loves Afghanistan and it's people and has gained a superb understanding of the culture and character of the Afgha people but she does not allow that love to blind her to the negatives. Amazing that a woman journalist
Feb 04, 2008 Giuliana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
Sarah Chayes was an NPR reporter until she was sent to Kandahar. She decided then to quit her reporting job, learn Pashto, and help the Afghan people rebuild their homes and start cooperatives. More than that, her judgment and willingness to adopt the Afghan way of life allowed her to work as intermediary between the Afghani people and the U.S. military.

This wonderful, passionate, and engaging book retells Chayes' first years in Afghanistan and presents a moving portrait of the Afghan people. I
Jan 17, 2009 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author tells the story of her entering Afghanistan as an NPR reporter when the war first began after 911. She then became an NGO employee, and finally, a business woman making soap and moisturing products from the resources around Kandahar. Since Kandahar was the home of the Taliban who were just ousted before she arrived as a reporter, the city was still dangerous. However she insisted on staying with the people in Kandahar rather than with her fellow reporters or NGO workers. Through her m ...more
Wow, I feel like I've just taken a course on the history, government, and political situation in Afghanistan. The complexity of it all baffles me! I hear again and again how we lack a strong intelligence network, and then I read this account by Sarah Chayes and see how her deep knowledge was ignored again and again... I see how U.S. foreign policy is often determined by troops on the ground with little understanding of background or longterm implications of their actions... And I now understand ...more
Dennis Fischman
Apr 06, 2009 Dennis Fischman rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who has already read Ghost Wars.
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is a very mixed bag. The historical chapters make me want to go and read the Shahnameh and to find some good sources on the Mughal empire. The contemporary chapters are exciting and informative. I have to admire Sarah Chayes' honesty: when she realizes she's made a mistake or she has been too naive or trusting, she lets you see exactly how. Yet somehow, she still seems confident in her own judgment. I can forgive that: I used to say, "I'd rather be self-righteous than not be righteous ...more
Colleen Clark
I read this a couple of years ago. Like many people I was fascinated by her account of living in Afghanistan after 9/11. Just this month (july 2010) I gave this book as a house present to a family full of people interested in the world. Although it was published several years ago I think it's completely relevant to our current involvement in Afghanistan. I heard Chayes say in a TV interview last year that she was working now with the US military. I wonder if she has revised her opinion. What I t ...more
Chayes is certainly a radio-trained storyteller, and some parts of this memoir/history/argument are enthralling. She lived in Afghanistan (Kandahar) from late 2001 on, so she had a front-row seat for the arrival of US troops and the delicate balancing of relationships among the Taliban, the numerous tribes that comprise modern Afghanistan, warlords, and Pakistan. I was particularly intrigued (and frustrated) by the disjointed effort between the US diplomatic and military efforts.

Some sections d
Apr 15, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent example of a former journalist becoming an NGO within Afghanistan before the US and the coalition of the willing invasion and during the first few months of that invasion. We look into the nightmarish life within the warzone with the perpetual improvised explosive ordinances claiming the lives of people known to Sarah Chayes in this tell all version of her experiences in Afghanistan. A candid look at the war against Terrorism from the village level and the daily routines of Sarah Ch ...more
Mar 14, 2015 Erick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a truly painful book in that, it brings to light the horrid nature of man and how little the truth and justice are fought for. It's far too easy to get sucked into your TV, film, or entertainment form of choice and tune out from the reality of our world. Sarah Chayes brings a truly unique insight as there are few Americans who have lived the Afghani experience and understand what is really happening over there. Chayes writes with passion and great detail about her years in Afghanistan from ...more
Dec 29, 2007 Yvonne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter and now purusing humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan accounts her experiences in-country during the breakout of the war and the pursuing years of failures and limited sucesses. She gets into the heart of the local and regional politics and explains why the US State Department or the Military have been so challenged. Eye-opening indeed, yet not terribly surprising. Sarah spends a lot of time delving into the region's history, which can be rather dull reading ...more
Marik Casmon
Although the author climbs no Everests and sails no seas, this is an adventure book and a pretty amazing one. The author lived mostly in Afghanistan during the early years of this century and witnessed the rise and fall of the Taliban. She documents clearly that the Taliban was a creation of Pakistani and American policy. Further, she demonstrates that Pakistan and the U.S. supported the return to warlordism that followed the fall of the Taliban. At the same time, she got around. American reader ...more
Peggy Kelsey
Oct 02, 2012 Peggy Kelsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in understanding Afghanistan.
Shelves: afghanistan
Chayes was a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter from 1997-2002. She quit her job reporting on Afghanistan to work for Afghans for a Civil Society and later founded an NGO, Arghand Cooperative. This book explores the current situation in terms of her experience living in Kandahar and is grounded in a history of the area. This is one of the most important books I've read yet on Afghanistan for its cultural as well as political understanding of the country and general US foreign policy. Written a ...more
Feb 14, 2008 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people wanting a quick, readable introduction to recent Afghani history.
Recommended to Martha by: Saw author at a bookstore reading.
I learned a lot about the current/recent security and political situation in Afghanistan. The author is pretty well-connected with local government officials in Kandahar and members of the Karzai family. Even if you don't take what she says at 100% face value (she comes across as both naive and biased), you get a close-up look at some of the players in Afghani politics it will help inform your reading of unfolding events there. It's definitely just one, very limited perspective, but you can read ...more
Oct 15, 2008 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been doing quite a bit of research about Afghanistan and its history and this is the single, best-written, most comprehensive, and insightful book I've read on the subject. I can't think of a single negative to say about it. I'm going to put Sarah Chayes next to Robert Kaplan as one of the best, immersive, travelling, balanced-reporting journalists around. Sarah tells the fascinating story of her own involvement in the local politics in addition to the traditional objective reporting and su ...more
A compelling and well-written read at least partially undone by the author's self-righteousness, narcissism and sanctimoniousness. By going native for a couple of years she apparently knows more what ails the country than the Afghanis themselves. Her observations and invectives on the unwinding of the country seem apt, but, given we never get much of any perspective other than her own, it's tough to know. As the "Three Cups of Tea" controversy makes clear, one should always be a little leary of ...more
Scott Millsap
Sep 09, 2016 Scott Millsap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I think the writing of this book could have been better at times, the important points about the necessity of understanding local cultures and customs when conducting foriegn policy and the mis-steps that the USA made in Afghanistan are well made.

One particularly astute point is regarding the US's decisions to have our military boots on the ground frequently be the face of our foriegn policy, yet providing little to no training on how to do so. We are great at training warriors, but what
I read this book after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. I found some parts of it confusing and hard to follow but I guess that is part of the point - the history and politics of Afghanistan is hard to follow. It gave me a better understanding of Afghanistan.

She also has a very good vocabulary. I found myself noting some words that I needed to look up. It's nice to have a book that stretches your vocabulary every once and a while!
Oct 28, 2011 Whitney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is, similar to "Sewing Circles of Herat," is a book by a white female reporter about her experiences in Afghanistan, but what a difference! Where Christina Lamb gives her superficial impressions, here Sarah Chayes goes deep into historical analysis and the subtleties of the political and military players after the US invasion and comes out the other side with this extremely satisfying, dense and nuanced book.
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