The main purpose for picking up a few books on the Taliban, Islam or South Asian history would be to allow you to fool others into believing that you know what you are talking about. In these terrible times when people are running around scared shitless by their own ignorance, your ability to sound authoritative on the Afghan conflict could help you in everything from earning a promotion to boning a friend's wife. For this, you need books that are stripped down in style, full of clearly-defined maps, and packed with gory anecdotes and wise proverbs. Memorize just a few of these, and people will squirm; written all over their face will be something like, "Gee, I feel like a stupid fuck compared to [YOUR NAME HERE] because he knows so much about Afghanistan."
There isn't a lot about the Taliban published. This is a reflection of American foreign policy makers' decision to abandon the dusty, fly-infested mess of South Asia back in 1990, and as all eXile readers know, the media follows the State Department.
Yet the dearth of literature on the Taliban could be a good thing for the foreign policy philistine, because it means you won't have to read too much in order to sound smarter than the next jerk.
As far as I can tell (based on the catalogue at the University of Louisville Library), there are two relevant books on the subject: THE TALIBAN: MILITANT ISLAM, OIL AND FUNDAMENTALISM IN CENTRAL ASIA by Ahmed Rashid, and REAPING THE WHIRLWIND: THE TALIBAN MOVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN by Michael Griffin. The first was written by a Pak journalist, the second by a Brit.
I must admit I was rooting for the Brit Griffin. For the first time since my teenage worshipping of British post-punk waves, my Anglophilia has re-awoken. It was one thing for the English to piggy-back America in the Gulf War, or for them to bark loudest for war against Serbia -- that was just the English dusting off their old cruelty-for-the-sake-of-it-because-we-hate-this-miserable-island-we-live-on. But this time it's different; this time they're taking a real risk. If bin Laden has his way, London may be permanently aglow a year from now. This war promises to be no fun at all, and yet the Brits are backing us, and no matter what the reason (English women, weather, food, etc.), even Anglophobes like myself must defer.
That said, Michael Griffin is a slimy English dolt. A self-described "widely-traveled free-lance writer and journalist" and former UNICEF officer in Afghanistan, Griffin's horrific prose stinks of the lamp, making it downright unreadable, even for a desperate philistine such as myself. Here are some examples:
"[The Taliban] had seen Kabul's gilded ruins and the decadence at the extremities of a new Pashtun state, whose heart lay in the oases around Kandahar. Why proceed into the sea of alien steppe, visible from the summit and which rolled inconsolably into the horizons of Central Asia?
"The war paused, but the snow went on falling."
Ooooo, Orson. That's really deep! Couldja squirt out another bowlful of diarrhea?
Sure can. Pffffp! Glunk! Here it is: "From a distance, the Taliban forces did bear an uncanny resemblance to a horde -- the military equivalent of the swarm -- and, like a horde, they obeyed no obvious pattern, penetrating into every vent and orifice, hoovering up the vestiges of randomised power and garnering them into a humming storehouse of invincible legitimacy."
Oh, so what you mean is, the Taliban were like a horde? Cuz, like, I plum forgot what the heck y'alls was talkin about once you got into the orifices and vents 'n all. A po' nigga from Louisville like me jus' ain't got no luck readin dis.
Griffin's problem isn't that he's a Brit. In fact, for the most part, Brits make excellent non-fiction writers, one of the last areas of supremacy, along with narrating nature documentaries, that they can still claim. No, Griffin's problem is that he read Gibbon in publick school...and thought it was good. Folks, let's just come out and admit it: Gibbon can't write for shit. If you boiled out all the metaphors and adjectives from those six miserable tomes of his to its essentials, you'd probably have a forgettable 250-page history on the Roman Empire; as it is, you have 3000 pages of bombastic twerpdom gone hog-wild.