Learning his way in Afghanistan
Joshua Partlow ’00, a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, has reported extensively throughout South America and the Middle East. His first book, A Kingdom of Their Own: The Family Karzai and the Afghan Disaster, analyzes the war in Afghanistan through the lens of the ruling family, exploring the disconnect between President Hamid Karzai and American officials throughout his tenure as leader. Here, Partlow explains the initial kernel for the book:
I landed in Kabul a few days before the Afghan presidential election in 2009. At the time, I was living in Rio de Janeiro, covering South America for The Washington Post. I’d been asked to help out in Afghanistan and expected a brief assignment before heading back to the beach. I ended up staying, on and off, for five years. The stories I found there, the ones that felt the most urgent and important and decisive, tended to be about politics.
President Hamid Karzai, who appeared in 2001 as this beloved, pro-Western peacemaker, had become an embittered, seemingly paranoid leader constantly at odds with the United States. His brothers, also allies early in the war, were now accused of being drug traffickers and crooked businessmen. The U.S. military was fighting the Taliban, but it seemed that at least as much time and effort was going into fighting the Afghan government we were there to defend. I wanted to learn more about the Karzais and the arc of their experience in the war, and through them to understand why things had turned out so poorly in Afghanistan.
In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations (TED Books), psychology and behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely Ph.D. ’98 continues his exploration of the unexplained, investigating why we work for the things we work for.
Elias Muhanna ’00 provides the first English translation of the work of fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar and litterateur Shihab Al-Din Al-Newayri. The resulting book, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition: A Compendium of Knowledge from the Classical Islamic World (Penguin), is an encyclopedic view that traverses both time and space.
There are many parenting books, not all of them worth reading. The redeeming ones neither preach nor strain to be entertaining, and fortunately, Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh ’96 and Ken Harbaugh ’96 take this laid-back approach in their joint effort, Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey (Familius).
The debut young-adult novel from Ashlee Cowles M.Div. ’08, Beneath Wandering Stars (Merit), investigates questions of honor and family when the sister of a wounded soldier tries to complete a pilgrimage in his name.
What’s your nightstand reading, Paul Goldberg?
An award-winning investigative journalist and the editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, Goldberg ’81, who recently wrote the novel The Yid (Picador), talks about how his reading relates to his upcoming project:
I am in the final stretch of writing a dark comedy about a South Florida condo board. Its characters are fraudsters, some old and Russian, others old and American. The working title is The Chateau. As a consequence, my reading is a goal-directed, focused, blinders-on process that borders on anti-intellectualism.
At the foundation of my reading pile is Volume 4 of Nikolai Gogol, the dark-blue set, in Russian, published in the USSR. This book traveled with my family and me when we crossed the ocean from Moscow to Washington.
I am going through The Inspector General, a comedy about fraud. I read it like a Bible-thumping fundamentalist reads the Scripture. I need Gogol, because, for my money, no one—Shakespeare included— has done more of a bang-up job with mistaken identity.
Atop Gogol rests a pile of Berthold Brecht plays. They’re there because, a few months ago, as I sat writing, a character surprised me by popping up pretty much out of nowhere. She was an old crone, completely mad, swinging her crooked cane. I believe Berthold sent her.
A pile of Saul Bellow rests atop Brecht. I am currently re-re-reading Seize the Day. His multiple romps on the theme of fathers and sons (Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ought to be in my pile, but isn’t, in part because Bellow will suffice) are spewed out of the same knot of pain, the same angst, the same march to defeat that is slowly yielding The Chateau.