I have somewhat mixed reactions to this portrait of Ahmad Shah Massoud. On reflection I found it a worthwhile and rewarding read, particularly as it dispels myths perpetrated by others (such as Massoud being as vicious as his enemies) and makes it rather clear that the Pakistani ISI is greatly responsible for the rise and arming of the Taliban to control and subjugate Afghanistan (even though this is tangential to the book).
But this is really a collection of stories, blurbs, and remembrances of Massoud that tell what he was like as a man and leader through the eyes of others. It paints Massoud as an intuitively excellent military strategist and a deeply humble and spiritual leader. It clearly puts Massoud on a very high pedestal as a Sufi like Islamic leader, not only humble but with an ability to deeply affect others on a spiritual level. He was also forward thinking as a believer in rights for women (such as having an education and career), tolerant of the religion of others, and kind (or at least not brutal) to his enemies. He contradictorily abhorred violence yet had to embrace it given the circumstances.
His failures in an impossible situation once the Soviets were thrown out of Afghanistan as Defense Minister under a shaky regime are probably the best sections of the book, as they allow us to see Massoud from a different, less critical angle, that is no doubt as true, if not more so, than those of his critics.
The author makes it very clear that this is not a critical biography of Massoud but look at this life through eyes of his close family, friends, and others that knew him very well. She does the reader a service by this (even though the disclaimer is in obscure place).
While I found the structure of the book, mostly very short vignettes from those close to Massoud, off putting at times, it was mostly well organized. It is structured in a logical and mostly chronological order, although sometimes the book is structured around themes especially toward the end.
If you want to know more about Massoud, at least from those who admired him most, this book is a good introduction. But as the author says herself, if you are look for a well rounded biography of Massoud that places him more clearly the entire context of Afghan history and culture, this is not the book for you.
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Doug Baker (cdbaker)
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Massoud explores the life of the late Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who struggled to liberate Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion and the Taliban. Many believe that his assassination on September 9, 2001, was ordered by Al-Qaeda to help clear the way for the attacks of September 11, 2001. These extraordinary stories offer rare insight into the being of a remarkable man whose stature has never been fully recognized in the West.