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Andrew Exum's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Andrew Exum recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Andrew Exum's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Logic of Violence in Civil War

By analytically decoupling war and violence, this book explores the causes and dynamics of violence in civil war. Against the prevailing view that such violence is an instance of impenetrable madness, the book demonstrates that there is logic to it and that it has much less to do with collective emotions, ideologies, and cultures than currently believed. Kalyvas specifies a novel theory of selective violence: it is jointly produced by political actors seeking information and individual civilians trying to avoid the worst but also grabbing what opportunities their predicament affords them.... more
Recommended by Andrew Exum, and 1 others.

Andrew ExumYes, in picking five books on the war in Afghanistan, I chose three books on Afghanistan and two on conflict itself. The reason I chose this book is that it had a revolutionary effect on the way social scientists think about civil wars in general. Prior to the publication of this book, social science literature viewed political allegiance and loyalty in civil wars as being primarily exogenous.... (Source)

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In this powerful book, David B. Edwards traces the lives of three recent Afghan leaders in Afghanistan's history--Nur Muhammad Taraki, Samiullah Safi, and Qazi Amin Waqad--to explain how the promise of progress and prosperity that animated Afghanistan in the 1960s crumbled and became the present tragedy of discord, destruction, and despair. Before Taliban builds on the foundation that Edwards laid in his previous book, Heroes of the Age, in which he examines the lives of three significant figures of the late nineteenth century--a tribal khan, a Muslim saint, and a prince who... more
Recommended by Andrew Exum, and 1 others.

Andrew ExumIt starts with what happened in 1978 and Afghanistan’s descent into violence, and brings us up to speed on developments in Afghanistan up until [the] September 11 [attacks]. Because if you look at the history of Afghanistan in the 20th century, it’s a pretty peaceful country. As William Maley has written, Afghanistan is really the exception in Asia in the 20th century. When much of the continent... (Source)

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Much of the political turmoil that has occurred in Afghanistan since the Marxist revolution of 1978 has been attributed to the dispute between Soviet-aligned Marxists and the religious extremists inspired by Egyptian and Pakistani brands of "fundamentalist" Islam. In a significant departure from this view, David B. Edwards contends that—though Marxism and radical Islam have undoubtedly played a significant role in the conflict—Afghanistan's troubles derive less from foreign forces and the ideological divisions between groups than they do from the moral incoherence of Afghanistan itself.... more
Recommended by Andrew Exum, and 1 others.

Andrew ExumDavid Edwards wrote two books. The first book, Heroes of the Age, looks at the competition within Afghanistan between tribe, state and Islam. I remember I finished this book flying from Herat to Mazar-e-Sharif in the summer of 2009. The conclusion is haunting. Edwards writes, “I contended that Afghanistan’s central problem was Afghanistan itself, specifically certain profound moral contradictions... (Source)

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Afghanistan traces the historic struggles and the changing nature of political authority in this volatile region of the world, from the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century to the Taliban resurgence today. Thomas Barfield introduces readers to the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, explaining what unites them as Afghans despite the regional, cultural, and political differences that divide them. He shows how governing these peoples was relatively easy when power was concentrated in a small dynastic elite, but how this delicate political order broke down... more
Recommended by Andrew Exum, and 1 others.

Andrew ExumYes. The first three books that I’ve recommended are all eminently readable. Both Barfield and Edwards are obviously Afghan hands, they know a lot about Afghanistan, but they present the material in a very accessible way. They really are a delight to read. When you think about anthropological texts on Afghanistan, you think of pretty dry reading – that’s not these books at all. They’re really... (Source)

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On War

Carl von Clausewitz's On War has been called, "not simply the greatest, but the only truly great book on war." It is an extraordinary attempt to construct an all-embracing theory of how war works. Its coherence and ambition are unmatched by other military literature. On War is full of sharp observation, biting irony, and memorable phrases, the most famous being, "War is a continuation of politics by other means."

About the Author
Except for a brief stint in 1812 when he served in the Russian army, Clausewitz spent his whole career, from the age of...


Reid HoffmanReid read Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu as a boy, which informed his strategic thinking. (Source)

Ryan HolidayI know this will offend many strategy purists, but for most audiences I recommend these two books only with a pretty strong disclaimer. While both are clearly full of strategic wisdom, they are hard to separate from their respective eras and brands of warfare. As budding strategists in business and in life, most of us are really looking for advice that can help us with our own problems. The... (Source)

Mary KaldorThis is the sort of Bible of military strategists. (Source)

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