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Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia
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Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,354 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Ahmed Rashid, "Pakistan's best and bravest reporter" is a voice of reason amid the chaos of Central Asia today. His unique knowledge of this complex, war-torn region gives him a panoramic vision and grasp of nuance that no Western writer can emulate.
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published June 3rd 2008 by Viking (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  2,354 ratings  ·  197 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Even more than a decade after its publication 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 ...more
Feb 03, 2013 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 rated it it was ok
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
Steve Kettmann
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 07, 2011 rated it liked it
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.

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Central Asia is a
Oct 30, 2010 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
Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellently written, organized, and researched chronicling, mainly post-9/11, the failure of the US in the Middle East region. Mainly how the US was unprepared, uninformed, and uninterested in actual results in the region. Depressing and informative would be the best words to describe this book.
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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 ...more
Dec 05, 2011 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
Pete Combe
Feb 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
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.
Hai Quan
Feb 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Peter Corrigan
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Whew. There is a lot here and much valuable information from a person with almost encyclopedic knowledge of the people and region. But as several other more diligent reviewers have commented there are weaknesses as well. Shoddy documentation at times as was pointed out, and a tendency to editorialize randomly and eviscerating those he does not approve of. Few escape his long litany of mistakes : the Bush administration and NATO in particular, but Pakistan too and rightfully so. Even Karzai for ...more
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
Thoroughly researched and thoroughly depressing - especially given that ten years after this book was published, a lot of the clusterfuck it describes still remains a clusterfuck. Certainly an excellent resource for anyone wanting to dig into the subject.
Ryan La Fleur
News outlets have been trickling out the story of a possible agreement reached between the United States government and representatives of the Taliban in Afghanistan finally to broker a peace deal in the longest war in United States history. This trickle has reached watershed proportions recently with reports that Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Envoy to Afghanistan, has reached in principle an arrangement that would see the reassignment of some 14,000 United States troops from Afghanistan, ...more
Tanya Fernandes
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here are a few facts about present day Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees from Europe and Pakistan are being sent back in droves to country that is experiencing a resurgent Taliban; the same Taliban that was apparently ousted after 9/11.

In 2014, Ashraf Ghani became President of the country replacing Karzai in a highly controversial and complex position of power; in that very same year, NATO forces pulled out of Aghanistan after a failed attempt of establishing peace and nation building.

The country is
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
Feb 14, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Mar 27, 2011 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
Apr 21, 2010 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
Sep 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who specialized in explaining the Taliband and Afghanistan to the West before 9/11. Because of his extensive knowledge he was consulted by many NATO and western countries in their policies and their fight against terrorist.

Why I started this book: It's been on my to-read list since last year and I finally found an audio copy.

Why I finished it: This book was so frustrating to read, and I bet that it was even more frustrating to live. Bush and his cronies
Feb 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Emanuel Ramos
Oct 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2012
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.
Orzala A.N.
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
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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