Looking Back on Alexander’s Anguish
By Frank L. Holt
Berkley, $22.95, 260 pages
“To see our way forward, we must first take a long look back.” That’s the message of this academic and data-rich but readable history about Alexander the Great in Bactria (today’s Afghanistan). The lessons from 329 B.C. still pertain to Afghanistan today. Into the Land of Bones is a revealing treatise on what all foreign invaders beginning with Alexander should have learned. They include the British in the First and Second Afghan Wars of the 19th century and the failed Soviet occupation of the 1980s, with uncanny parallels to the current actions of the USA and NATO alliance.
Life in Afghanistan since Alexander has been up and down, with good periods and bad. And although “the long rhythms of Afghan history do show some periods of relative calm during which cities grew, trade routes pulsed, irrigated agriculture expanded, and the arts flourished … between each renaissance we find an era of ruin brought on or exacerbated by … parochialism, tribalism, fierce independence, and mutual hostility … [along with] the physical challenges of a harsh terrain and environment.”
It’s a tough place to stage a war, and this book raises stern, historically sound cautions to outside powers bent on influencing or controlling Afghanistan.
Reviewed by Gustav Schreiber