The book doesn’t quite live up to its subtitle. The first third of the book is a history of Afghanistan from 1979-2001. The history here is fine, but it is essentially just a compilation from a number of other, better secondary sources (e.g., Steve Coll’s GHOST WARS). Like all too many on the works on the US operations in Afghanistan, Camp is happy to stop his narrative with Operation ANACONDA in March 2002. This means the book really only covers from September 2001-March 2002 in detail. I was hoping for much more. It has been a decade, as of this writing, and I hope that future authors begin to expand their coverage of US operations in Afghanistan beyond early 2002. This is well-trod ground at this point, and we are all ready to advance the narrative beyond the first six months of the conflict.
The book is a work of popular, rather than academic, history, which may make it more accessible for readers, but that does mean that it relies on almost no primary sources, and there are no citations. There are a number of maps included, some very useful, some less so, as well as a host of call-out boxes and sidebars. I tended to find these call-out boxes more distracting than useful; this information could have been either integrated into the main body of the text or covered in substantive footnotes, had the author cared to use them.
I will say that the book is generally engagingly written, though the lengthy and frequent quotations cribbed from other secondary sources and call-out boxes do tend to break up the text a good bit. Some of the included maps are useful, though I must quibble with some of the cartography, which seems to obfuscate as much as it clarifies.
I can only recommend this to those who are interested in a reading a single volume of popular history on the first six months of the conflict, with no deeper or broader interests. The level of detail is probably more than those readers would prefer, while being entirely insufficient for those readers who want more detail and broader contextualization. There is no deep analysis here, and no real sense of debates or controversies. Camp is happy to report what his secondary sources have to say about operations in Afghanistan without seriously evaluating them. I must also criticize an author who is only willing to cover the first six months of the war in a book published in 2012. If the first 90 pages on Soviet involvement in Afghanistan had been cut, surely camp could have used that space to advance his narrative through at least 204 or so. Ideally, we’d have a good, single-volume history of the US war in Afghanistan through 2008 or so, but that’s not BOOTS ON THE GROUND. A bit disappointing.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers