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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 17:30 GMT
Bookshelves feel stress of war
bookshop generic
War is hell - but at least the books sell
Along with the current rash of Harry Potter tie-ins, celebrity biographies and cookery books, there's one subject that is certain to appear on best-seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, writes Owen Booth.

The events of 11 September and the subsequent war in Afghanistan have made sure the words Taleban or Osama Bin Laden on the cover of a book will virtually guarantee sales and publicity.

Ahmed Rashid's Taliban
Rashid has reportedly become "required reading"
Leading the way is Taliban - Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, first published in 1998.

Pakistan-born journalist Rashid wrote it when he "realised no-one knew anything about the Taleban and the world was ignoring the plight of the Afghans". It is based on first-hand interviews with members of the Taleban and the Northern Alliance.

War Lords

At first the book made little impact. "There was a recession in the publishing industry and not much demand for a serious book," Rashid says.

But after the war in Afghanistan began, it was re-titled The Story of the Afghan Warlords and has climbed the best-seller lists in the United States.

The book's recent paperback release in the UK ran to 80,000 copies. It has also become required reading in the British war cabinet, with Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell both said to be enthusiasts.

Rashid now has another book - Jihad - the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia - on the way.
Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden
Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden
Tom Carew's 40,000-selling Jihad! The Secret War in Afghanistan has meanwhile attracted attention for a different reason.


Carew claims to be a former SAS member who became a "latter-day Lawrence of Arabia" by fighting alongside the fundamentalist mujahideen during the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But after a BBC TV Newsnight investigation, the Ministry of Defence was moved to rubbish Carew's SAS credentials, announcing that: "The book has been deliberately written to give the impression he was in the SAS. This is not correct."

The  New Jackals by Simon Reeve
Simon Reeve's book
Carew's publishers have since offered to "reconsider minor parts" of the book.


Many other books by highly specialist experts on terrorism and international politics are meanwhile selling well in the aftermath of the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War On America by Congressional Task Force on Terrorism Director Yossef Bodansky has recently been climbing the best-seller lists along with Waging Modern War by General Wesley Clark, the America commander of the Kosovo campaign.

General Clark's book gained huge press attention because of its timely examination of "the new realities of war-fighting and war-planning," boasting sales well ahead of what would normally be expected for a book of its type.

Wesley Clark's Waging Modern War
Wesley Clark's Waging Modern War - outstripped expectations
Two other books Islam - a Short History and The New Terrorism, from small specialist publisher Phoenix Press, have also seen sales far exceed original expectations.

And also worth noting are the releases of Holy War Inc. Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden by Peter L Bergen, and The Breadwinner: The Story of a Girl's Life Under Taliban Rule, a children's book which follows the trials of an Afghan girl whose father is arrested by the Taleban.

Luke Knight, of publishers André Deutsch, says the current flurry of war-related books being published might seem crass. "Publishers always want a slice of the action," he says.

But he argues that it is taking place because what was once a niche market for books about war and soldiering "has gone mainstream" and is based on consumer demand. Deutsch's decision to reprint Simon Reeve's The New Jackals: Osama Bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism in paperback in October was a case in point.

Reeve's book outlines the terrorist career of Ramzi Yousef - the man sentenced to a total of 240 years in jail for the original bombing of World Trade Centre in 1993.

Taking a slightly different approach, the publishers Simon & Schuster UK are preparing to publish an anthology called Voices for Peace with contributions examining alternatives to war from Fergal Keane, Terry Waite, David Bellamy, Terry Jones and Matthew Parris.

Simon & Schuster's Helen Gummer says the book was inspired by "our concern about the level of debate surrounding the situation in Afghanistan".

She adds: "Publishing can be about stimulating debate - and if this book helps people to look more deeply at the issues then it can only be a good thing."

In the meantime, readers who have not yet had their fill of war stories can look forward to In the Hands of the Taliban, the story of Journalist Yvonne Ridley's capture while undercover in Afghanistan.

Also in the pipeline is Last Man Down: The Fireman's Story by Richard Picciotto, and titles including One Nation: America Remembers September 11, Because We Are Americans: What We Discovered on September 11 and Day of Terror, September 11, 2001.

The boom, it seems, is far from over.

Have you read any of the war books? Tell us what you thought about them, using the form below.

Your comments:

Also highly recommend An Unexpected Light by Jason Elliott. Excellent account of travels in Afghanistan around the time the Taleban were coming to power.
Connor, UK

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