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

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  9,577 Ratings  ·  653 Reviews
Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize

The explosive first-hand account of America's secret history in Afghanistan

With the publication of Ghost Wars, Steve Coll became not only a Pulitzer Prize winner, but also the expert on the rise of the Taliban, the emergence of Bin Laden, and the secret efforts by CIA officers and their agents to capture or kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan aft
Paperback, 712 pages
Published December 28th 2004 by Penguin Books (London) (first published 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

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jeffrey Keeten
Dec 06, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies, politics
"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.

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 David 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
Mar 16, 2007 Erin 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
Nov 01, 2010 Szplug 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
Oct 24, 2012 Erwin 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
Dec 15, 2015 Cyndi 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
Jan 17, 2012 Clif rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 29, 2014 TheSkepticalReader rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-read
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
Patrick Brown
Nov 09, 2013 Patrick Brown 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
Alper Bahadir
Feb 27, 2007 Alper Bahadir 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
Athan Tolis
Oct 02, 2016 Athan Tolis 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 2011. This masterpiece of a book is nothing less than the full and definitive account of the manner in which overt an
Adam Balshan
Jul 10, 2017 Adam Balshan rated it really liked it
4.5 stars [History]
Coll writes a magisterial history of the diplomatic and espionage relations between the U.S. State Department, CIA, and Counterrorism Center on one hand, and the Soviet Union, Afghani warlords, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Taliban on the other, between 1979 and September 10, 2001.

Writing: 4.25 stars
Excellent writing: explanatory yet succinct, nuanced yet not pedantic, often noting contextual factors outside the immediate narrative. This is a serious history book with a page
Dec 12, 2012 Horza 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
Jul 05, 2011 Ryan 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
Feb 22, 2010 Cwn_annwn_13 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
Gerhard Greyvensteyn
Oct 07, 2016 Gerhard Greyvensteyn rated it it was amazing
Stunning. As thrilling as any recent geopolitical fiction, meticulously researched, grippingly written and convincingly presented. The final verdict on why 9/11 happened: a combination of earnest and well-meaning burocrats and politicians, and "indifference, lassitude, blindness, paralysis, and commercial greed". Truth really is stranger than fiction.
Thomas Jacob Jr.
Mar 23, 2017 Thomas Jacob Jr. 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
Feb 09, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Very interesting history of warlords, diplomacy, intelligence and covert action in the region. I offers a gripping, excellent account of the 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Islamabad, an event I had never heard of before. According to Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, the Uzbek air base from which the CIA flew the Predator UAVs was Tuzel.
All those Afghan communists were educated in the USSR, right? Nope. many were actually indoctrinated in the US. Here's a breakdown of the
Ericka Clou
There was a lot of really interesting information in this book that I was excited to read about. However, it was buried in a ton of information that while it did add a little color here and there, it largely bogged down my overall understanding of the topic. The main players in this narrative are the CIA, Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Massoud, President Reagan, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, Bin Laden, Pakistan, President Clinton, the Taliban, and arguably the drones. Howeve ...more
I was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this general topic area CAN'T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW FRIGGIN' GREAT IT IS. It is so often referenced in other books about the developments related to 9/11, Al Qaeda and military involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's practically ubiquitous, and every time someone mentions it they have to mention it's oh-so-great. I was prepared to despise it, because ...more
Mar 02, 2012 Andy 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
Stephen Shifflett
Nov 30, 2008 Stephen Shifflett rated it really liked it
If you thought you knew anything about the origins of radical jihad and bin Laden, you need to read this book.

Turns out we pretty much funded our own problems through our dependence on oil--especially in the 70s and 80s--and that we overtly funded the radical Islamists to fight against the Soviets (watch CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR).

Then we didn't heed the warnings concerning the jihadists' new enemy--the US (one of their principal financiers--Saudi Arabia being the other). Yet we stayed in bed with
Aug 22, 2008 Holly rated it did not like it
uuugh. Could not force myself to read this. I have read many other military history books and I just plain hated this one. I do sometimes have issues with falling asleep though...and this worked like a charm. If you like REALLY detailed info on the past couple hundred years in the'll love was just WAY too much info for me.
Aaron Million
May 27, 2017 Aaron Million rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A highly disturbing and frustrating look at American foreign policy and intelligence gathering in Central Asia in the two decades leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Coll manages to weave together several disparate strands: the rise of Osama bin Laden, the complicity of Saudi Arabia in allowing him to gain influence and radicalize Muslims, the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the implosion of Pakistan, the CIA's inner turmoil and fumbling as an attack grew near, the lack ...more
Akshat Upadhyay
Nov 10, 2016 Akshat Upadhyay rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, history
Truly engrossing...shows the myopic policies of the world's sole superpower. It could have included a little more info on the origins of the Hamburg cell and major policy decisions taken by the Bush administration post the 9 11 attacks.
Joseph Stieb
Apr 25, 2014 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
Shelves: terrorism, af-pak
One could call Afghanistan a cursed land for many reasons, but the one that emerges from Steve Coll’s epic “Ghost Wars” is that what happens in Afghanistan is rarely about Afghanistan, at least not in a direct sense. For the USSR, Afghanistan was a place to shore up a southern border and gain a long-desired foothold in the Central Asia. For the US, Afghanistan was about sticking it to the bear and preventing him from romping into more valuable allies’ neighborhoods. For Pakistan, Afghanistan was ...more
Robert Morris
Jan 17, 2016 Robert Morris rated it really liked it
This book is a lot to take on. I can't imagine how much it took to write. It is a 736 page, carefully reported document of failure. The author traces the history of US policy towards Afghanistan from the Soviet Union's intervention in 1979 until September 10th 2001. This is very much the story of how we not just failed to stop Al Queda, but of how we helped to found it.

It was a story that I understood in broad strokes already. In order to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, we worked with P
Jun 26, 2016 Stefan 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
Feb 05, 2009 Chuck rated it it was amazing
This is a somewhat difficult book to read with it's detailed analysis of how "we" got to 9-11. The many mistakes that were made by every administration beginning with Reagan and ending with George W. Bush are mind boggling and makes one want to scream at the so-called leaders of our country. While understanding the geopolitical complexities at work, one is left with the notion that stepping on the toes of our oil producing "friends" might have been more important than our national security. I wi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll 1 3 Apr 19, 2017 07:01AM  
[ESPN] Michigan vs Penn State Live S-tream College Ice Hockey 2016 1 2 Dec 01, 2016 10:14AM  
  • Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia
  • In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan
  • The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
  • The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  • The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • 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
  • Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History
  • See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
  • First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
  • Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
  • The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB
  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
  • The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11
  • Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam
  • The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
  • Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan
  • The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
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 t
More about Steve Coll...

Share This Book

“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.” 1 likes
More quotes…