AUTHOR: Ahmed Rashid is a academically inclined Pakistani journalist whose ability to write so that the West can understand the East - and not in diluted terms or from Western views - and drawing dynamically the vast ethnic and religious differences has made him world-renowned. World leaders such as Tony Blair have even come to him for advice and a deeper comprehension of the Islamic world and its unique (understatement, anyone?) views and actions. His understanding of the Middle East begins with his own Pakistani nationality, and was moulded by a lifelong interest in Afghanistan. He was present in the ancient eastern Afghan city of Herat when the first Soviet tanks rolled in. He was present when General Massoud was efficiently defending Kabul from the Taliban. He has interviewed the powerful leaders of the movement, including Massoud, Dostum, and very senior Taliban leadership.
THE BOOK: Taliban is not another political rant or full of "newly revealed" information; it is a fully-annotated academic work on the rise of the Islamic sharia movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the origins of the modern-day Taliban (Talib means "student" in Arabic; Taliban is a group of students), the religious, ideological and political impact on the surrounding area, the military history of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, complete to early 2001 - BEFORE 9/11, and unadulterated by it. (There are notations about the powerful Saudi-Afghan Al-Qaeda movement and some of bin Laden's origins, but they do not even begin to dominate or distort the text.) You will find that his judgement of the region, surrounded and based in historical fact, is seconded and supported by the NATO military commanders in the area and national leaders like Israel and Pakistan, itself.
SUGGESTION: Find a good map of the Middle East; the map included (while the glossary, footnotes and index are excellent) doesn't have everything noted that could be desired.
GET IT. READ IT. BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THE MIDDLE EAST.