Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001” as Want to Read:
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  13,113 ratings  ·  912 reviews
The news-breaking book that has sent shockwaves through the Bush White House, Ghost Wars is the most accurate and revealing account yet of the CIA's secret involvement in al-Qaeda's evolution. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll has spent years reporting from the Middle East, accessed previously classified government files and interviewed
Paperback, 712 pages
Published December 28th 2004 by Penguin Books (London) (first published February 23rd 2004)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Ghost Wars, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Robert The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight by Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy begins on 9/11 and I found more inte…moreThe Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight by Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy begins on 9/11 and I found more interesting than Directorate S(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,113 ratings  ·  912 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
Jeffrey Keeten
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, spies
"Oh, okay, you want us to capture him. Right. You crazy white guys.”

 photo Osama20dead_zpsrzoimnfn.jpg

1979 is certainly a dividing line in my life. It was the year that Iranians stormed the embassy in Iran and took Americans hostage. This was quickly followed by the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. I can remember thinking to myself, Why do the Iranians hate us so much and why would anyone want Afghanistan? Like most Americans, before I could actually formulate an opinion about Afghanistan, I first had to go find it on a map.
Michael Finocchiaro
There is absolutely no surprise that Steve Coll won the Pulitzer for this extraordinary book about the CIA and Afghanistan up to 9/10/11. This a plethora of well-researched data here about the mistakes and miscues that characterized the US strategy towards first the Russian invasion of this sad, destroyed country and later how the US dealt with the groups left after the Russians left for good.
The hunt for Bin Laden takes up a good part of the latter third of the book and makes for exciting if s
Will Byrnes
This is probably the definitive work on the history of US involvement in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets and the resulting blowback.

Coll begins with the Islamabad riot of 1979, in which thousands of Islamic militants laid waste to the US embassy while Zia was riding about on a bicycle distributing unrelated leaflets, and accompanied by much of his military. Did he know about the plan and make himself deliberately unavailable? It is clear that he had an agenda of his own in dealing with t
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-history
A woman got on the train and saw me reading an old-school library hardcover edition of this book. She asked me what I thought of it. Unused as I am (sadly) to sudden unsolicited displays of friendly distaff behavior, I stammered, oh, uh, ur, bluh, well, it's very good, it reads like a novel, it won a lot of awards and “I am catching up on stuff I should have been paying attention to all along.”

“We all should have,” the lady replied.

You said it, honey. While we were snug in the roaring '90's and
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: afghanistan, war, pakistan
A hefty book,and it took me a good long while to finish it.But despite its sheer length,it kept my interest right through.

Steve Coll's research is exhaustive,and his insights worth reading.It won the Pulitzer Prize and deservedly so.

It gets off to a dramatic start as an angry mob attacks the US embassy in Islamabad,in 1979.The embassy had to be rebuilt later.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the event that would prompt the US to enter the conflict and heavily arm the Afghan resistance.
The C
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, american-history

It's easy to be an armchair analyst and tsk, tsk at all the missteps leading up to this or that disaster. After all, everyone doing so has the benefit of hindsight. We can see with perfect clarity what might have prevented 9/11. The problem is that not only do the principals involved in policymaking not have perfect foresight, but neither they nor we can know all the bad things that might have happened, but didn't, because a certain course of action (what in hindsight we see as the "wrong" cours
Judith E
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction

Stephen Coll’s Ghost Wars is a stellar portrait of the events leading up to 9/11. It is a massive and intense read that, by the end, you will have an understanding of how Usama bin Laden was able to successfully attack the U.S. Here are my lightweight comments.

- I have been completely re-educated about the U.S.’s knowledge and involvement of terrorists and bin Laden prior to 9/11. The intrigue and back channel work was complicated and intense for decades.

- After the Iran-Contra affair, the CIA
Yasser Kazemi
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an Unlucky Country ...
Mar 16, 2007 rated it liked it
I got this book for free by reviewing a chapter of a writing textbook for some publisher. It sat on my shelf for a year and a half while I scraped together the courage to actually read it. At 500 pages, this is one long piece of nonfiction. The title alone is exhausting. But it won a Pulitzer! So away we go.

The book begins shortly before I was born, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and erected a Communist leader. I don't remember this guy's name, but he never really had a strong grip on the
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Quite similar to Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, except I enjoyed "Taliban" quite a bit more.

Coll wants to counterfactually state that the Clinton administration was wrongheaded in their effort to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, stating that since Bin Laden successfully attacked the homeland. From Coll's perspective, obviously the real problem was Bin Laden and terrorism, not nuclear weapons.

I'm sorry, but I've got to call bullshit on most
Rebecca McNutt
Disturbing, deeply disturbing. When I was nine years old my father was deployed to Afghanistan for the Canadian Armed Forces. It's no place I'd ever want to visit, but as this book proves, it wasn't always what it evolved into. It was beautiful once. I'd like to think that someday it will be beautiful again. Sadly the Cold War, 9/11 and the Taliban, as well as numerous other influencing factors throughout history, have ravaged parts of the Middle East in ways that never should have happened. Gho ...more
Nov 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Coll's book—a dispiriting read, as much for the countless missed opportunities, bungled efforts, internecine squabbling, and an all-around short-sightedness that was endemic to every party involved, as for the fact that the entire world knows the brutal manner in which the final act was played out—is about as good a summation of what went wrong in Afghanistan in the eighties and nineties, the various ways in which the United States was implicated and involved, and how al-Qaeda managed to maneuve ...more
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The CIA was created by Harry Truman in an attempt to prevent a surprise like Pearl Harbor from happening again.

Ghost Wars is a detailed and fascinating book about how the CIA tried but failed to carry out that assignment before 9/11

They knew about bin Laden, they followed him as best they could with a special unit that was so engaged in their job they became known around the CIA as "The Manson Family" (many of them were female). Yet bureaucracy, technical limitations, logistics and concern about
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was well researched and well executed. I have to admit I had to keep a flow chart to track all of the incestuous relationships. I will also say that my patriotism about America and our government took a severe ass whipping.

Don't get me wrong, I hold no illusions, nor am I a head in the sand (no pun intended) type, but by the Goddess this book left me in a state of such shit that being a hermit started looking like an option.

The lies, the machinations, the thievery, the dishonesty and t
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Ghost Wars provides an extensive history of “War on Terrorism,” outlining all the mistakes CIA and the American government has made and how they’ve ignored the results of their own decisions. But while this is a good non-fiction book I would recommend everyone read, a surprising amount of information in here is not very astonishing.

I guess I have the men in my family to thank for discussing politics during those summer vacations and days-long visits where the women would be in part of the living
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, history
This book has an overwhelming amount of information, mostly regarding Afghanistan and the early years of Al Qaeda. If there is one thing that I took away from this avalanche of material, it is the opinion that the USA has done a miserable job on intelligence gathering in the region, and our policies were even worse.

If pressed, I’d have to put more blame on the American military than the intelligence services. Like the old saying goes, when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Our mili
Patrick Brown
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-thrillers
This is a fascinating look at the US and specifically CIA involvement in Afghanistan from the late 70s to early 2000s. Each of the major players -- Bin Laden, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Prince Turki, Pervez Musharraf, William Casey, George Tenet, Mullar Omar, etc. -- get their own mini-biographies. Coll does a tremendous job of contextualizing each major moment in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union and the subsequent radicalization of the region and blowback against American involvement.

One int
Jul 05, 2011 rated it liked it
It won a Pulitzer, I doubt anyone can argue its journalistic integrity, thoroughness, or detail, and its scope, understanding, and layering of history is unequivocal – but it was a complete bear to get through. Some non-fiction reads like a movie screenplay that I can’t put down: Black Hawk Down, See No Evil, Night, Homicide. This wasn’t among the worst in terms of readability – seeming like a compilation of names, dates, and short, declarative, newspaper-style sentences – but I didn’t think it ...more
Brett C
Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war-on-terror
This is an excellent book about Afghanistan. The author does a good job at highlighting the information, noting key players, and the various multidimensional problems that have existed in Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion, the Northern Alliance, the CIA, the rise of the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden. A tome of knowledge and sometimes was slow and dry but I still finished it in a few days.
Athan Tolis
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
If you want to understand why the senate voted down Obama’s veto 97-1 last week, pick up this 400 page book and start reading it. It will grip you so hard, you’ll only be able to put it down when you’re done.

It is difficult to discuss “Ghost Wars” and avoid hyperbole.

What we have here is not just a level-headed, comprehensive and exhaustive account of Afghan history from 1980 to 2001. This masterpiece of a book is nothing less than the full and definitive account of the manner in which overt an
At last I finished it... I'm still amazed at how much research went into this recount. It's a complex situation by all means, but Coll somehow made it all very clear!
Loring Wirbel
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
While waiting for the eventual paperback edition of Steve Coll's 2018 book on the Pakistan ISI, Directorate S, it seemed a good time to catch up with the 2004 updated edition of Ghost Wars, his work on the covert history of Afghanistan prior to Sept. 11, 2001. Even though Coll addresses the initial efforts of Mohammed Atta and others to assemble the team that flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the book deliberately closes with the jarring events of Sept. 9/10, 2011, centered on t ...more
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it
I have to consider this book a CIA whitewash. The author, who was an editor at the Washington Post, which more or less tells me he's a system controlled propagandist, got access to "classified documents" and interviews with CIA agents that were on the ground in Afghanistan to the high level guys. He just takes peoples, who should be some of the last on the planet you should trust, word for it. He passes the buck, glosses over or ignores the key facts about Afghanistan going back to the Carter ad ...more
Wayland Smith
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Really detailed exploration of the whole nasty history of the CIA in Afghanistan, al Qeda's rise to power, and the many, many times America could have possibly prevented the 9/11 attacks. There's a lot of detail and history here. This a richly researched book. It's heartbreaking at times how politics, greed, and an unwilingness to change led to a lack of results.

There's so much more in this book than I could hope to cover in a review. I give the author points for not taking sides on Democrat vs
Alper Bahadir
Feb 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Finally; it took me about 3 months but I finished it.

This was one of the best nonfiction books I have read in a long time. I have no idea how Coll got access to that much information and how he was able to organize it that well. But just trying to imagine how much research must have gone into this book makes me want to shake his hand. It's really a phenomenal collection of information and the language is accessible and intelligent at the same time. Some of the analysis is a bit superficial but
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wasn't expecting this. Having lived through 9/11 and knowing what life was like both before and after, this book even still was eye opening. Every Presidential administration - Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II all failed. None of them took the leadership needed to keep the Americans safe. Afghanistan, and many times Pakistan were always "distractions" that the administrations didn't know how to handle. They didn't get in there and get their hands dirty so to speak. It was easy to ke ...more
Dec 12, 2012 added it
Welcome (Zom)Boys and Ghouls to the most spookily scarifying tale of them all: Ghoulitzer Prize-winning BURNalist Steve KILL's G-G-G-Ghost Wars!

[ed- Readers who want Cryptkeeper to continue this review please chip in with your own Halloweenish takes on Osama bin Laden, Prince Turki al-Faisal ibn Saud, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence agency etc., they're giving him a struggle.]


A persistent theme of this book is the lack of any serious
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm not 100% sure what to make of this book.
The first half, roughly until 1990 or so, is a great read on the Afghan war against the Soviet. It it interesting to read between the lines that only when the mujahedeen turned out to be pretty resilient insurgents, did the CIA ratchet up its support for the Afghans. Supported by the Saudis, the CIA relied mainly on the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, and failed to see how ISI was pursuing its own version of the common agenda with the CIA and Saud
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow - every 20-30 pages of this book something happens where you say to yourself "I can't believe that happened." Ghost Wars is a history of US involvement in Afghanistan from the anti-Soviet uprising in the 1980s up to the day before the WTC attacks. I think it's essential reading for anyone to understand what's going there. There are so many twists and turns, so many parties involved and alliances forming and breaking, and so many dollars and arms changing hands. If it were written in a more l ...more
Thomas Jacob Jr.
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Wow. This book is something else. The breadth and depth of Steve Coll's reporting is difficult to comprehend.

Ghost Wars relays the trials and tribulations that befell the CIA spanning the years from the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the bombing of the American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan in 1979, straight through to the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the courageous Tajik guerrilla leader and leader of the anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban military operations in Afghanistan, just days be
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity 1 2 Jul 31, 2017 04:12AM  
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll 1 9 Apr 19, 2017 07:01AM  
[ESPN] Michigan vs Penn State Live S-tream College Ice Hockey 2016 1 2 Dec 01, 2016 10:14AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
  • Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
  • The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia
  • Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
  • See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
  • The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
  • Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
  • The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
  • In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan
  • The Forever War
  • The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth
  • Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations
  • Afghanistan
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  • Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
  • The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB
  • Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of our Times
See similar books…
Steve Coll is President & CEO of New America Foundation, and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. Previously he spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and senior editor at The Washington Post, serving as the paper's managing editor from 1998 to 2004.

He is author six books, including The Deal of the Century: The Break Up of AT&T (1986); The Taking of Getty Oil (1987); Eagle on the Stree

Related Articles

The Great Migration was the movement of six million African Americans out of the South to urban areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and West between...
44 likes · 4 comments
“Even President Reagan couldn’t understand him. During an early briefing Casey delivered to the national security cabinet, Reagan slipped Vice President Bush a note: “Did you understand a word he said?” Reagan later told William F. Buckley, “My problem with Bill was that I didn’t understand him at meetings. Now, you can ask a person to repeat himself once. You can ask him twice. But you can’t ask him a third time. You start to sound rude. So I’d just nod my head, but I didn’t know what he was actually saying.”
Such was the dialogue for six years between the president and his intelligence chief in a nuclear-armed nation running secret wars on four continents.”
“Still, the Pakistanis beat the CIA’s systems. In Quetta in 1983, ISI officers were caught colluding with Afghan rebels to profit by selling off CIA-supplied weapons. In another instance, the Pakistan army quietly sold the CIA its own surplus .303 rifles and about 30 million bullets. A ship registered in Singapore picked up about 100,000 guns in Karachi, steamed out to sea, turned around, came back to port, and off-loaded the guns, pretending they had come from abroad.” 3 likes
More quotes…