After a good introductory chapter and a well-done short account of historical factors shaping Afghanistan, Goodson documents in eight stages the continual war from 1978 to early 2001. The detail of his periodization is daunting, but it brings out well the feudal reality of Afghanistan's many warring factions. Later chapters treat the war's impact on Afghan society over the last 23 years and fit that story into the regional and international context. The author depicts the Taliban as a "social movement and tribal militia running a country" and emphasizes that the terrible years since 1978 have brought death or injury to more than half of the country's population. Completed before September 11, this book concludes that a military unification of Afghanistan, which the Taliban almost achieved, seems unlikely; restoring this failed state would require a difficult combination of leadership from within and support from outside. Policymakers wrestling with post-Taliban planning will find this sober interpretation of Afghanistan's bleak recent history a useful guide.