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Thomas Barfield's Top Book Recommendations

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

The riveting story that inspired Kipling's classic tale and a John Huston movie

The true story of Josiah Harlan, a Pennsylvania Quaker and the first American ever to enter Afghanistan, has never been told before. Soldier, spy, doctor, naturalist, traveler and writer, Josiah Harlan wanted to be a king, with all the imperialist hubris of his times. In an amazing twenty-year journey around Central Asia, he was variously employed as surgeon to the Maharaja of Punjab, revolutionary agent for the exiled Afghan King, and then commander-in-chief of the Afghan armies. In 1838, he set...
Recommended by Thomas Barfield, and 1 others.

Thomas BarfieldThe title is taken from the Kipling novel of the same name, in which a Westerner goes to somewhere like Afghanistan and is made king. The idea for the story came at least in part from Josiah Harlan, the first American in Afghanistan. He served as a general in the pay of the Afghan amir Dost Muhammad in the 1830s until the British invaded Afghanistan and expelled him. He was very anti the British... (Source)

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This political and diplomatic history of late nineteenth-century Afghanistan and its major ethnic groups lays bare how the ground was laid for the emergence of Afghanistan as a nation-state as well as for the implementation of schemes of modernization. It describes how Amir Sher 'Ali Khan and, more fully, Amir 'Abd al-Rahman Khan for the first time consolidated the authority of the central government at the expense of the traditional autonomous local magnates, and thus managed to organize a centralized monarchical state and extend its direct rule thoughout Afghanistan. They did so in the days... more
Recommended by Thomas Barfield, and 1 others.

Thomas BarfieldHassan Kakar was one of the first professionally trained historians in Afghanistan. He got his degree from SOAS in London in the late 1960s and was also one of the first to give equal weight to both British and Afghan sources. I have followed his work for close to 40 years. It is a synthesis that manages to show how both internal and external dynamics have shaped the course of Afghan history.... (Source)

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Recommended by Thomas Barfield, and 1 others.

Thomas BarfieldBuzkashi means, literally, goat-grabbing. It is a very famous game played in North Afghanistan which is a bit like polo played with a dead goat, or rather a calf because the Afghans say a goat is too fragile and the game ends too fast! In this type of polo a scrum of horsemen battle to grab the carcass and break free with it to win the round. It is a very exciting game because there are no rules,... (Source)

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After September 11th, Ahmed Rashid's crucial book "Taliban" introduced American readers to that now notorious regime. In this new work, he returns to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia to review the catastrophic aftermath of America's failed war on terror. Called "Pakistan's best and bravest reporter" by Christopher Hitchens, Rashid has shown himself to be a voice of reason amid the chaos of present-day Central Asia. "Descent Into Chaos" is his blistering critique of American policy-a dire warning and an impassioned call to correct these disasterous strategies before these failing states... more

Thomas BarfieldHis book about the Taliban came to prominence after 9/11. What Rashid manages to do is to show that this is a transnational problem. (Source)

Paddy DochertyBecause it is the authoritative account of the current situation in the region. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to understand what’s going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Source)

Gretchen PetersThis is a thorough analysis of how Western policy towards the region has made things worse since 2001. It is pretty bleak. Rashid joked to me while he was writing it that the working title was, What A Fucking Mess. (Source)

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The Muqaddimah

An Introduction to History - Abridged Edition

"The Muqaddimah," often translated as "Introduction" or "Prolegomenon," is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), this monumental work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics. The first complete English translation, by the eminent Islamicist and interpreter of Arabic literature Franz Rosenthal, was published in three volumes in 1958 as part of the Bollingen Series and received immediate...

Mark ZuckerbergIt's a history of the world written by an intellectual who lived in the 1300s. It focuses on how society and culture flow, including the creation of cities, politics, commerce and science. While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it's still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it's all considered... (Source)

Robert IrwinHe spends about two and a half years writing the first draught of the Muqaddimah, which he will work on for the rest of his life. It’s one hell of a great work. It’s intended as a prolegomenon – an introduction to what he is going to write – and the complexity starts there, really, because he started out with one idea of what he was going to write about…. And then he broadens and broadens (Source)

Thomas BarfieldIbn Khaldun began writing the book in 1375 so it’s certainly the oldest on my list. It is also a unique work from that period in its attempt to analyse the context of history by understanding how societies organise themselves and how different modes of organisation can affect the interactions amongst people. (Source)

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