The history of modern Afghanistan is an epic drama, a thriller, a tragedy, a surreal farce. Every forty years or so, over the last two centuries, some great global power has attempted to take control of Afghanistan, only to slink away wounded and bewildered. Games Without Rules recounts this strange story, not from the outside looking in, as is usually the case, but from the inside looking out. Here, the interventions and invasions by foreign powers are not the main event. They are interruptions of the main event, for Afghans have a story of their own, quite apart from all the invasions (a story often interrupted by invasions!)
It is a drama peopled by a dazzling array of colorful characters — such as the towering warrior-poet Ahmad Shah, who founded the country … and the wily spider-king Dost Mohammed the Great who told the British “I am like a wooden spoon; you can toss me about, but I will not be broken” … and the late 19th century “Iron Amir” who said a telescope would interest him only if it could shoot bullets, since what use had he for the moon? … and the 20th century modernist intellectual Mahmoud Tarzi, who used classical Persian poetic forms to write odes about asphalt and vaccines and electric lighting…
“With gifted prose and revealing details, Ansary gives us the oft-neglected Afghan perspective of the wars, foreign meddling and palace intrigue that have defined the past few centuries between the Indus and Oxus. This brilliant book should be required reading for anyone involved in the current war there.
— Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan
“Afghan American writer Ansary tells the history of modern Afghanistan with a master storyteller’s confidence and a disarmingly casual tone … But don’t be fooled: this is a nuanced, sophisticated historical narrative that strives to tell Afghan history from an Afghan perspective …”
— Book List
“Ansary casts the perplexing trajectory of Afghanistan as a kind of chaotic scrimmage interrupted periodically by foreign invaders bent on their own “great game…” one morass after the other—and it’s still ongoing, exacerbated by the Taliban, al-Qaida, refugees, drugs, corruption and discoveries of mineral wealth. Lively instruction on how Afghanistan has coped, and continues to cope, with being a strategic flash point.”
— Kirkus Reviews