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Summary

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a grueling debacle that has striking lessons for American foreign policy today. In The Great Gamble, Gregory Feifer examines the war from the perspective of the soldiers on the ground. During the last years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union sent some of its most elite troops to unfamiliar lands in Central Asia to fight a vaguely defined enemy, which eventually defeated their superior number with unconventional tactics. Although the Soviet leadership initially saw the invasion as a victory, many Russian soldiers came to view the war as a demoralizing and devastating defeat, the consequences of which had a substantial impact on the Soviet Union and its collapse.

Feifer's extensive research includes fascinating interviews with participants from both sides of the conflict.

In gripping detail, he vividly depicts the invasion of a volatile country that no power has ever successfully conquered. Parallels between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are impossible to ignore: Both conflicts were waged amid vague ideological rhetoric about freedom. Both were roundly condemned by the outside world for trying to impose their favored forms of government on countries with very different ways of life. And both seem destined to end on uncertain terms. The Great Gamble tells an unforgettable story full of drama, action, and political intrigue whose relevance in our own time is greater than ever.

©2008 Gregory Feifer (P)2009 Tantor

Critic reviews

"Feifer's thoughtful, deliberative use of eyewitness testimony gives an intensely close-up sense of what the war was like for those who fought it." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about The Great Gamble

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great book - full of detail

although I didn't know much about the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan before, I know a lot more now. thorough in scope and detail, covering both the political process, the characters involved, as well as the situation on the ground from the point of view of Soviet and mujahadeen combatants. narrator was good too, which is a great help.

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Very Very Interesting.

This was another fantastic book, very interesting with many well researched facts about the war. Sounded horrific for most who took part. Having been there a number of times I can relate to much of this story. Loved it.

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Works well on Audible

This is a good account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, stretching from the decision to go in (December 1978) to pretty much the present day - though mainly focusing on the main period of conflict in the 1980s. The author approaches this as much as a journalist than as a historian. By this I mean 3 particular things:

1) he doesn't attempt to produce a chronicle of everything that happened, but to convey the experiences of several individual combatants (mainly Russian, though the story of Ahmad Shah Massoud, 'the Lion of Panshir').
2) he has a journalistic sense of the key 'stories' and he the importance of following up on the long-term and continuing consequences (the final chapter shows how this war is not really 'over' in many ways).
3) he understands he has to hold the listener's attention - there is no waffle, dead text and everything is explained clearly and concisely but with good insight. There was some good back-story bits about the Russian political scene (such as it was) and the developing geopolitical contexts. Coming in at around 10hrs the book gets to the point and doesn't waste any time.

I liked the narration - it was slow and steady but I thought it managed to convey a good sense both of on-the-ground action and empathy for everyone caught up in it.

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  • Alyssa B. Goss
  • 22-11-09

Correction

I have to say I can't figure out what the previous reviewer is talking about. The total amount of time spent discussing America in this book doesn't total more than 15 minutes. There is one sentence in the introduction and a brief section in the epilogue. If such broad comparisons such as "America and Russia underestimated the power of tribal loyalty in Afghanistan" strikes you as dangerously liberal you need to avoid reading books in general, not just this one. Any other comparisons between the US and USSR have to be made by the listener. I wonder if possibly they mixed this book up with another book (which I haven't read but I've seen it around) called The Gamble, which is about the US war in Afghanistan. This seems more than likely to me.

I found this book to be informative. The time-line however was very difficult to follow, the scenes in the book tend to skip around. Other than that I found the narrative style to be clear and entertaining.

My only other complaint is that the narrator (who I have encountered before) reads everything in a kind of droning rumble. It takes a good hour to learn to decipher one of his words from another. I often found myself skipping back to re-listen to sections to figure out what he'd said.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 15-04-21

Based/Redpilled

This is truly a Based/Redpilled book and you should read it if you like swallowing dust and drinking SU-25 radar coolant

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  • WCHBlok
  • 29-11-21

Very good

This is my first book on the Soviet-Afghan War and I really enjoyed it. Maybe not quite as long or as detailed as I hoped for, but I thought it laid out the major players in a clear and concise way, covered a lot of the bigger events/operations and also went to the micro level with the experiences of some individual Soviet soldiers, both officers and enlisted. Was not aware of how much of an absolute shambles the war was from a Soviet perspective in terms of poorly-trained, poorly-supplied conscripts with some terrible leadership down at the NCO level, the amount of drug and alcohol abuse and rampant theft and black market dealing. I’ve always heard it was the Soviets’ Vietnam, but in my opinion this was way worse (from a performance/execution level, not even referring to any moral arguments).

I thought the narrator did a good job. He has a very nice voice and I appreciated the fact that he didn’t attempt accents/impressions like a lot of other narrators have done on other books.

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  • Haakon B. Dahl
  • 15-03-21

Worth it!

An American, I have deployed twice to Afghanistan. We were surrounded by the remnants and ruins of the evil Soviet invasion, and worked to demonstrate the difference. Yet one man is more or less like another, and the Russians who preceded us learned lessons that we would have to learn as well, and Afghans of various convictions were still the home team whereas we, like the Soviets, were just visiting.
This book treats all involved fairly, and despite being somewhat out of date (2009) in 2021, it remains a valuable building block for an understanding of the (relatively) deep history of current events.
Robertson Dean narrates with an even and accessible style. A bit dry, but it’s not a romance. The narration is well-suited to the work, and the writing is worth your time.
The book brings to life much of what was only rust and dust to those of us living the aftermath (again) in real-time.
In India I was struck by how many times I heard “this was built by the British before they left”. In Afghanistan the refrain is “this was destroyed by the Russians before they left”. The USSR thoroughly destroyed Afghanistan in a way that bears a wicked fruit to this day. Their armies were composed of saints and devils, like any army. Their misguidance was worse than ours, yet at the same time, we should have learned from their experience many things that it seems we had to absorb the hard way, if it all. And the “war” continues.
I have Afghan friends now living in America, and I have American friends who died in Afghanistan. This book has been valuable to me in opening up the story of those who went before us, regardless of ideology, of alignment, of station in life and so on and so forth.
“5 of 5. Recommend”
Pardon me, I should have focused more on the book. Please allow my tale to illustrate the value I took from this book and its narration.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ash
  • 17-07-20

Well Done

Superb book well researched that is very readable and brilliantly narrated. Well worth the credit.

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  • John
  • 09-03-20

Great treatment of a neglected subject

Great treatment of a neglected subject ... goes into the Soviet motivation and events after

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  • philip
  • 20-09-18

The Soviet Vietnam

Although written by an American, this story is told largely through the eyes of Soviet soldiers and officers. It it this more sympathetic towards the Russians than one might imagine. That said, it doesn't spare anybody from the stupidity of decisions and cruelty towards the people. Again, like the American experience in Vietnam. The anecdotes from participants are quite interesting, poignant and sometimes funny. In short, I could put this audiobook down. Robertson Dean does an excellent job too.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Alan
  • 14-01-11

Excellent book

I listened to this book while working out on my treadmill. It provided an interesting behind the scenes look at the before/during/after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The book also provides insight on the Kremlin and the CIA thinking during the occupation. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy this subject matter.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 21-03-16

The Great Gamble - Another Afghanistan War

Story: This is book has nice detail about the history and context of the Soviet Union’s interest and later war in Afghanistan. More importantly, it shows how Afghanistan helped degrade Soviet Power as well as an indicator of the decline of the Soviet system since WWII.
Reader: Very good. I would listen to him again.
Production: Very good.
(Opinion: Many use the Afghanistan’s nickname, the Grave Yard of Empires, frequently. I believe that is oversold. Afghanistan is usually a place people travel to in order to get somewhere or to protect something more valuable like India. It is a place tolerated. This is not detracted from the value of the people but it is a recognition that most outsiders do not go there to stay there. Thus, it is easy for this patient people to wait a more powerful people. As to empires, the empires did not collapse because of Afghanistan but Afghanistan was one of many ‘cuts’ in an empire’s fall. Alexander’s and the British Empire did not fall because of Afghanistan.)

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  • Steven
  • 06-04-09

A view from the Left

If you believe that (a) soldiers are all victims of deranged and/or senile political leaders, and (b) there is no material difference between the Politburo's efforts to bring Communism to Afghanistan and the Bush Administration's efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, this book is for you.

7 people found this helpful