Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History (17 CDs)

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In a little over a decade, two events have transformed the world we live in: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of militant Islam. Charlie Wilson's War is the untold story behind the last battle of the Cold War and how it fueled the new jihad. George Crile tells how Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from east Texas, conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful covert operation in the ...
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Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History

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In a little over a decade, two events have transformed the world we live in: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of militant Islam. Charlie Wilson's War is the untold story behind the last battle of the Cold War and how it fueled the new jihad. George Crile tells how Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from east Texas, conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful covert operation in the Agency's history.

In the early 1980s, after a Houston socialite turned Wilson's attention to the ragged band of Afghan "freedom fighters" who continued, despite overwhelming odds, to fight the Soviet invaders, the congressman became passionate about their cause. At a time when Ronald Reagan faced a total cutoff of funding for the Contra war, Wilson, who sat on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, managed to procure hundreds of millions of dollars to support the mujadiheen. The arms were secretly procured and distributed with the aid of an out-of-favor CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos, whose working-class Greek-American background made him an anomaly among the Ivy League world of American spies. Nicknamed "Dr. Dirty," the blue-collar James Bond was an aggressive agent who served on the front lines of the Cold War where he learned how to stretch the Agency's rules to the breaking point.

Avrokotos handpicked a staff of CIA outcasts to run his operation: "Hilly Billy," the logistics wizard who could open an unnumbered Swiss bank account for the U.S. government in twelve hours when others took months; Art Alper, the grandfatherly demolitions expert from the Technical Services Division who passed on his dark arts to the Afghans; Mike Vickers, the former Green Beret who created a systematic plan to turn a rabble of shepherds into an army of techno Holy warriors.

Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol, to secret chambers at Langley, to arms-dealers conventions, to the Khyber Pass, Charlie Wilson's War is brilliantly reported and one of the most detailed and compulsively readable accounts of the inside workings of the CIA ever written.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
March, Geraldine Brooks's second novel, won her the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. People of the Book, her third novel, seems headed for comparable acclaim. Its plot revolves ever so gracefully around the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th-century Sephardic holy book that somehow survived centuries of hatred and destruction. Into this real-life epic tale of heroism and chance, Brooks has skillfully woven a historical fiction of uncanny force. In her hands, this improbable, even wondrous story of one document's survival becomes both a timely meditation on faiths in conflict and a tense historical thriller. Superb storytelling; a literary masterpiece tinged with the excitement of rediscovery.
Dan Rather
Americans often ask: 'Where have all the heroes gone?' Well a lot of them come roaring through in this tour de force of reporting and writing. Tom Clancy's fiction pales in comparison with the amazing, mesmerizing story told by George Crile. By resurrecting a missing chapter out of our recent past, Charlie Wilson's War provides us with the key to understanding the present.
Gerard DeGroot
A cross between Tom Clancy and Carl Hiassen, with the distinguishing feature that it's all apparently true. . . . Throw in a middle-aged Texan belly dancer, an assortment of Congressional looinies, a few beauty queens, some ruthless Afghan rebels, and a murderous Pakistani dictator who only wants to be understood.
Christian Science Monitor
Jonathan Yardley
The good news is that this new novel by the author of March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, is intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original. Brooks has built upon her experience as a correspondent in Bosnia for the Wall Street Journal to construct a story around a book—small, rare and very old—and the people into whose hands it had fallen over five centuries…Suffice it to say that it's a book that resides comfortably in a place we too often imagine to be a no-man's land between popular fiction and literature. Brooks tells a believable and engaging story about sympathetic but imperfect characters—"popular" fiction demands all of that—but she also does the business of literature, exploring serious themes and writing about them in handsome prose. She appears to be finding readers and admirers in growing numbers, and People of the Book no doubt will increase those numbers.
—The Washington Post
Ken Auletta
An amazing tale, made all the more amazing because it was missed by the press. George Crile has written a book revealing the extraordinary details and intrigue of a secret war, and that alone would be a monumental achievement. But he has also written a book about how power works in Washington, about how the C.I.A. succeeded in this war but failed because it armed an ally who became our enemy, about how we might better understand Islamic fundamentalism, about how a solitary Congressman guilefully moved the U.S. government, and all of this comes with a breathtaking cast of characters worthy of a LeCarre novel. Only it's all true. And just as vivid.
PW Daily
Crucial and timely. . . . Criles book, with its investigative verve and gripping narrative, is a comprehensive political assessment and sobering account of the power structures that run parallel to, but apparently unknown by, official government authorities.
The New York Times
Charlie Wilson's War is a behind-the-scenes chronicle of a program that is still largely classified. Crile does not provide much insight into his reporting methods, but the book appears to be based on interviews with a number of the principals. The result is a vivid narrative, though a reader may wonder how much of this story is true in exactly the way Crile presents it. Still, few people who remember Wilson's years in Washington would discount even the wildest tales. — David Johnston
The Washington Post
The stories George Crile tells in Charlie Wilson's War must be true -- nobody could make them up. This is a rousing tale of jihad on the frontiers of the Cold War, infighting at the CIA and horse-trading in Congress, spiced by sex, booze, ambition and larger-than-life personalities. — Thomas Lippman
Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Margot Livesey

Reading Geraldine Brooks's remarkable debut novel, Year of Wonders, or more recently March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, it would be easy to forget that she grew up in Australia and worked as a journalist. Now in her dazzling new novel, People of the Book, Brooks allows both her native land and current events to play a larger role while still continuing to mine the historical material that speaks so ardently to her imagination. Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition.

Missing documents and art works (as Dan Brown and Lev Grossman, among others, have demonstrated) are endlessly appealing, and from this inviting premise Brooks spins her story in two directions. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs-a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain-that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. Their romance offers both predictable pleasures and genuine surprises, as does the other main relationship in Hanna's life: her fraught connection with her mother.

In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made. From the opening section, set in Sarajevo in 1940, to the final section, set in Seville in 1480,these narratives show Brooks writing at her very best. With equal authority she depicts the struggles of a young girl to escape the Nazis, a duel of wits between an inquisitor and a rabbi living in the Venice ghetto, and a girl's passionate relationship with her mistress in a harem. Like the illustrations in the Haggadah, each of these sections transports the reader to a fully realized, vividly peopled world. And each gives a glimpse of both the long history of anti-Semitism and of the struggle of women toward the independence that Hanna, despite her mother's lectures, tends to take for granted.

Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless.

Margot Livesey'sThe House on Fortune Street will be published by HarperCollins in May 2008.

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Publishers Weekly
Put the Tom Clancy clones back on the shelf; this covert-ops chronicle is practically impossible to put down. No thriller writer would dare invent Wilson, a six-feet-four-inch Texas congressman, liberal on social issues but rabidly anti-Communist, a boozer, engaged in serial affairs and wheeler-dealer of consummate skill. Only slightly less improbable is Gust Avrakotos, a blue-collar Greek immigrant who joined the CIA when it was an Ivy League preserve and fought his elitist colleagues almost as ruthlessly as he fought the Soviet Union in the Cold War's waning years. In conjunction with President Zia of Pakistan in the 1980s, Wilson and Arvakotos circumvented most of the barriers to arming the Afghan mujahideen-distance, money, law and internal CIA politics, to name a few. Their coups included getting Israeli-modified Chinese weapons smuggled into Afghanistan, with the Pakistanis turning a blind eye, and the cultivation of a genius-level weapons designer and strategist named Michael Vickers, a key architect of the guerrilla campaign that left the Soviet army stymied. The ultimate weapon in Afghanistan was the portable Stinger anti-aircraft missile, which eliminated the Soviet's Mi-24 helicopter gunships and began the train of events leading to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites. A triumph of ruthless ability over scruples, this story has dominated recent history in the form of blowback: many of the men armed by the CIA became the Taliban's murderous enforcers and Osama bin Laden's protectors. Yet superb writing from Crile, a 60 Minutes producer, will keep even the most vigorous critics of this Contra-like affair reading to the end. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This is a fast-paced and highly colored account, presumably true, of how a freewheeling Congressman teamed up with an Oliver North-ish CIA employee to funnel arms and money to the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet takeover of their country. The subtitle pretty well sums up not only what the book is about, but also its literary style and its target audience. Author George Crile is a CBS television producer, and has put his Washington insider's knowledge to good use. Representative Charles Wilson (D-TX), a 60ish and undeniably handsome politician, was frequently described as a freewheeling party boy with a perennial midlife crisis. Never really a Congressional insider in spite of his longevity, he was most noted for an extremely hawkish view of foreign affairs. The Speaker of the House viewed him as something of a loose cannon, but also as someone who could be useful if he could be held in check. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought everything together. Wilson leapt into extracurricular action, making under-the-table connections and deals that raised money, bought weapons, and got them into rebel hands. In the end he not only helped the mountain guerillas but also managed to spare his party and the House Leadership some discomfort. The combination of James Bond-like action, a noble cause, and sexual escapades proves too much for Crile, and he makes the most of the story. His narrative is fast-moving, supercharged, and overheated, chock-full of high drama and sexual innuendo. In short, it is great fun. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Grove Press, 550p. illus. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Raymond Puffer
Library Journal

Rare because haggadahs are seldom illuminated and precious for the quality of those illustrations, the Sarajevo Haggadah has survived the siege of that city, saved by a Muslim who headed the library at the National Museum. Rare books conservator Hanna Heath, summoned from Sydney to Sarajevo to evaluate it, finds tiny clues-an insect's wing, a wine stain, a hair-that establish its provenance and lead into flashbacks about the book's history, showing how it survived the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the Nazis and how it came to be created in the first place. Not the least of these stories is Hanna's own. Brooks, whose March won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, convincingly re-creates several unfamiliar settings-Seville in 1480, Barcelona in 1492, Venice in 1609, Vienna in 1894, Yugoslavian resistance to German occupation, and Sarajevo in 1996. Reader Edwina Wren, faced with re-creating all these accents, sometimes defaults to one that's generically foreign. Some of the many characters could also have been a little more developed, but this is both a literary novel and a popular hit, one of those big, ambitious, impossibly erudite books that pursue hidden knowledge through the ages. Recommended.
—John Hiett

Library Journal
A follow-up to "Charlie Did It," a piece on CBS's 60 Minutes that Crile produced with Robert Anderson in 1990, this book is an account of Texas representative Wilson's efforts to aid covert CIA activities to get military aid to Afghanistan's Mujahideen guerrillas, who were fighting the occupying Soviet Red Army in the 1980s. As a member of the powerful House Defense Appropriations and Intelligence Oversight committees, Wilson was in a good position to play a role in the "Great Game" and may have seen himself as a new Lawrence of Arabia. This work must be based on unacknowledged interviews with the main participants, for there is no bibliography and few reference notes; more documentation could surely have been provided. With its colorful international cast of characters, this book provides powerful background for understanding our current predicament. But while this may have been the largest covert operation in U.S. history, it was not the most important; that honor goes to Operation Bodyguard, which hid the D-day invasion plan from Hitler. An interesting and readable story that is suitable for academic and large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/02; illustrations and index not seen.]-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School -Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservationist, is thrilled to be chosen to work on the rare illuminated Haggadah created in Spain in the Middle Ages. The book had been protected in a museum in Sarajevo until 1994, when it was rescued from certain plunder during the Bosnian conflict and hidden in a bank vault by a Muslim librarian. Hanna is as eager to learn and preserve the mysterious history of the codex as she is to restore the manuscript. How did it come to be illustrated, a practice believed to have been forbidden by Jewish law? What is the meaning of the wine stain, the hair, the insect wing, and the salt crystals? The author uses these artifacts to weave a thrilling tale of the unusual creation of the Haggadah in Seville in 1480 and its dangerous journey to Tarragona, Venice, Vienna, and finally Sarajevo. It is a story of the Inquisition and wars, and the enlightenment or ignorance of the men and women who would save or destroy this brilliant treasure. Integrated into these compelling vignettes is Hanna's own story: her passion for her work, her unhappy relationship with her mother, and her bittersweet love affair. Sophisticated teens will appreciate Hanna's sarcastic, witty observations, which mask a vulnerable lack of confidence. The mystery of the codex and the forensic examinations are intriguing and will keep readers eagerly awaiting the next revelation. Inspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, Brooks has imagined a thrilling mystery and a history that has deep ramifications in our own time.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA

Kirkus Reviews
From 1480 Seville to 1996 Sarajevo, a priceless scripture is chased by fanatics political and religious. Its recovery makes for an enthralling historical mystery. In Sydney, ace (and gorgeous) old-book conservator Hannah Heath gets a 2 a.m. phone call. She's summoned to Sarajevo to check out a 15th-century Spanish-made Haggadah, a codex gone missing in Bosnia during a 1992 siege. The document is a curiosity, its lavish illuminations appearing to violate age-old religious injunctions against any kind of illustration. Remarkably, it's Muslim museum librarian Ozren Karaman who rescued the Hebrew artifact from furious shelling. Questioning (and bedding) Ozren, Hannah examines the Haggadah binding and from clues embedded there-an insect's wings, wine stains, white hair-reconstructs the book's biography. And it's an epic. Chapter by chapter, each almost an independent story, the chronicle unwinds-of the book's changing hands from those of anti-Nazi partisans dreaming of departing for Palestine from war-torn Croatia, from schemers in 1894 Vienna, home, despite Freud and Mahler, of virulent anti-Semitism. Perhaps the best chapter takes place in 1609 Venice. There, not-so-grand Inquisitor Domenico Vistorini, a heretic hunter with a drinking problem, contends in theological disputation with brilliant rabbinical star Judah Aryeh. The two strike up an unlikely alliance to save the book, even while Vistorini at first blanches at its art-a beautiful depiction of the glowing sun, prophesying, the hysterical priest assumes, Galileo's heliocentric blasphemy. Tracing those illustrations back to their origin point, Hannah unkinks a series of fascinating conundrums-and learns, even more fiercely, to prizethe printed page. Rich suspense based on a true-life literary puzzle, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks (March, 2005, etc.). Agent: Kristine Dahl/ICM
The Barnes & Noble Review
Before you give yourself up to the sweep and scope of People of the Book, the captivating new novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks, grab some paper and a pen. You'll be glad you did. From the opening chapter to the closing page, Brooks crams so many people, places, and events into her ambitious and intricate account of a Jewish prayer book that she leaves you longing for a scorecard.

Brooks starts out easy. It's 1996 and Hannah Heath, an expert in rare books, has been lured from her laid-back life in Australia to Sarajevo, "where they just stopped shooting at each other five minutes ago." Hannah's job is to conserve and analyze the world-famous Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the earliest illuminated Jewish texts. The ancient manuscript, filled with images so rich and beautiful that it is now a priceless artifact, has appeared, vanished, and reappeared numerous times in its 500-year history. Its most recent rediscovery in war-torn Sarajevo, where a Muslim librarian has saved this Jewish holy book, is nothing short of a miracle.

Hannah, at age 30 a cranky and demanding loner, is the first expert to handle the Haggadah in more than a hundred years. Though uneasy in the bombed-out city, she's ecstatic at the chance to preserve the rare volume:

As many times as I've worked on rare, beautiful things, that first touch is always a strange and powerful sensation. It's a combination between brushing a live wire and stroking the back of a newborn baby's head.
The Sarajevo Haggadah lives up to her expectations. Decorated with pigments made from silver and gold, saffron, malachite, and crushed lapis lazuli, it's a thing of extraordinary beauty. It also contains startling anomalies -- paintings of the human form done at a time when this was considered the highest sin, and the depiction of the earth as round, drawn when such a radical concept was punished by torture and death.

Though Brooks's book is a work of fiction, the Sarajevo Hagaddah itself is quite real. The author first learned of it during her stint covering the Bosnian war for The Wall Street Journal. When the manuscript suddenly resurfaced, speculation about where it had been, and how and by whom it had been saved over the course of its lifetime, fueled her imagination. With scant information to get in her way, Brooks was free to blend existing fact with her own lively fancy.

Though Hannah gets the story started, the series of tiny artifacts she finds in the binding of the Haggadah soon send us across the Continent and back in time. A fragment of an insect wing leads to Sarajevo in 1940. Right away, we reap the benefit of Brooks's gift for quickly setting a scene:

The wind blew across the Miljacka river, hard as a slap. Lola's thin coat was no protection. She ran across the narrow bridge, her hands thrust deep in her pockets. On the other side of the river, a set of rough-hewn stone stairs rose abruptly, leading to a warren of narrow lanes lined with shabby apartment buildings.
Later, with equal deftness, Brooks lets us share a character's yearning for a long-lost home:
We do not feel the sun here. Even after the passage of years, that is still the hardest thing for me. At home, I lived in brightness. Heat baked the yellow earth and dried the roof thatch until it crackled.
And here, with the sparest of imagery, Brooks walks a desperate boy onto a frozen river, then breaks your heart:
Embracing his little sister, he stepped off the bank, onto the ice. He walked to the center, where the ice was thin. His sister's head lay on his shoulder. They stood there for a moment, as the ice groaned and cracked. And then it gave way.
Each object that Hannah finds within the pages of the Sarajevo Haggadah acts as a springboard for Brooks to tell a new piece of the tale. A missing decoration on the manuscript leads to fin-de-siècle Vienna, where German nationalism is on the rise. Wine stains on the parchment point to the Inquisition in Venice. A white hair reveals a series of surprising twists in 15th-century Spain. In between historical chapters, Hannah's own life takes center stage. A love affair, a family secret, and a betrayal send the story spinning.

Gathered together, the historical vignettes form a patchwork of information, not just about the manuscript's journey, but also about the long and tangled history of persecution among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Brooks's knowledge runs deep. She packs each page with history and context, then illuminates them with emotion.

I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that made it, used it, protected it. I wanted it to be a gripping narrative, even suspenseful. So I wrote and rewrote certain sections of historical background to use as the seasoning between the discussion of technical issues.
That's Hannah explaining her approach to work, but it could just as easily be Brooks explaining the genesis of the novel.

For the most part, she -- and Hannah -- succeed. But a story made of fragments leads to a fragmented story. Though Brooks works hard to bring life and urgency to each new setting and cast of characters, the constant change can be jarring. The choice to move backward in time, from the present day to the Haggadah's creation in Spain five centuries ago, makes for a sometimes arduous read.

So keep that pen and paper handy. Write down names. Mark down dates. Using a map will probably help. How the lives of the people of the book merge, diverge, and reconnect forms the affecting arc of this ambitious and accomplished novel. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786189410
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2003
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 17 CDs, 20 hours 30 min
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 3.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of March, the recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. She is also the author of Year of Wonders, Nine Parts of Desire, and Foreign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She lives with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their son.
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Read an Excerpt

Charlie Wilson's War

The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History
By George Crile

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 George Crile
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0871138549

Chapter One

A Hot Tub in Las Vegas

When Congressman Charlie Wilson set off for a weekend in Las Vegas on June 27, 1980, there was no confusion in his mind about why he had chosen to stay at Caesars Palace. He was a man in search of pure decadent pleasure, and the moment he walked into the hotel and saw the way the receptionists were dressed, he knew he had come to the right place. No doubt there were other members of the Ninety-sixth Congress who fantasized about orgies and altered states. But had any of them chosen to take the kind of plunge that Charlie Wilson had in mind, you can be sure they would have gone to some trouble to maintain a low profile, if not don a disguise.

Instead Charlie strode into the lobby of Caesars almost as if he were trying to imitate his childhood hero, Douglas MacArthur, majestically stalking ashore to take back the Philippines. He looked in no way ashamed or uncertain about what he was doing in this center of gambling and entertainment.

In truth, it wouldn't have been easy for Wilson to fade into any background. Six foot seven in his cowboy boots, he was handsome, with one of those classic outdoor faces that tobacco companies bet millions on. And he just didn't have the heart or the temperament to operate in the shadows; he felt like a soldier out of uniform when he wasn't wearing his trademark bright suspenders and boldly striped shirts with their custom- designed military epaulets.

Moreover, Wilson had never been able to shake the politician's impulse to take center stage. He covered ground rapidly, shoulders back, square jaw jutting forward. There were no volume controls on his voice as he boomed out greetings with astonishing clarity-and people in the Caesars lobby turned to see who was making such a stir. He looked like a millionaire, but the truth was, after eight years in the Texas legislature and almost as many in the House, he had nothing to show for his efforts but debt and a $70,000-a-year government salary that didn't come near to supporting his lifestyle.

Along the way, however, Wilson had discovered that he didn't need money of his own to lead a big, glamorous life. The rules governing Congress were far looser in those days, and he'd become a master at getting others to pick up the tab: junkets to exotic foreign lands at government expense, campaign chests that could be tapped to underwrite all manner of entertainments, and, of course, the boundless generosity of friendly lobbyists, quick to provide the best seats at his favorite Broadway musicals, dinners at the finest Parisian restaurants, and romantic late-night boat parties on the Potomac.

All of which explains how the tall, charismatic congressman with the blazing eyes and the ever-present smile had grown accustomed to moving about the world with a certain flair. And so as he arrived in Las Vegas, he was observing his hard-and-fast rule that whenever he traveled, he went first class and tipped lavishly. The bellhops and receptionists at Caesars loved this, of course, and Wilson, in turn, appreciated their outfits: little white goddess robes showing lots of cleavage for the girls, and Roman togas and sandals for the bellhops.

In all of Vegas, there was no place like Caesars Palace in 1980. It was the first of the great hotel emporiums to be inspired by the fall of a civilization. Its promoters had had the genius to recognize that the sins of Rome could seem far more enticing than any contemporary offering; and as the young Roman in the toga whipped out the gleaming, two-inch-thick golden key to the Fantasy Suite, he opened a door designed to lead even the most pious of visitors straight to hell.

Charles Nesbitt Wilson comes from a part of the country very familiar with Satan. The Second Congressional District lies in the heart of the Bible Belt, and it may well be that Wilson's Baptist and Pentecostal constituents spend more time worrying about sin and wrestling with the Devil than just about any other group of Americans. JESUS IS THE LORD OF LUFKIN reads the huge sign in the center of the district's biggest city where Wilson maintained a house, on Crooked Creek Road.

The congressman did at least have one dim justification for being in Las Vegas that weekend. He could say he was there to help a constituent: the striking twenty-three-year-old Liz Wickersham, former Miss Georgia, fourth runner-up in the Miss America contest, soon-to-be Playboy cover girl, and, later, host of a CNN talk show that an admirer, Ted Turner, would create specifically for her. The free-spirited Wickersham was the daughter of one of Wilson's main fund-raisers, Charlie Wickersham, who owned the Ford-Lincoln dealership in Orange, Texas, where Wilson always got special deals on his huge secondhand Lincolns. When Liz moved to Washington, her father asked Wilson to show her around, which he did with great enthusiasm. He even took her to the White House, where he introduced her to Jimmy Carter, proudly informing him that Liz Wicker-sham had won the Miss Georgia beauty contest the very year Carter had been elected president. There was never any question that Wilson would go all out to promote the career of his friend and fund-raiser's attractive young daughter. Now, in Vegas, he was doing just that-orchestrating an introduction to a producer who was casting for a soap opera.

A few months earlier, a young hustler named Paul Brown had approached him about helping to develop a Dallas-type TV series based on the real political goings-on in the nation's capital. It wasn't long before Brown had convinced Wilson to invest most of his savings-$29,000 and to sign on as the show's consultant. The reason for the Las Vegas weekend was to meet a big-time Hollywood producer who, Brown claimed, was eager to back the project.

It was a giddy moment for Wilson and Liz as they sat in the Fantasy Suite talking about a deal that was all but iced. Brown had already persuaded Caesars to comp the congressman's stay, and now he was making Charlie and Liz feel like they were the toasts of the town. He had brought up some pretty showgirls, and before long the whole party was acting as if they were part of a big-time Hollywood mogul's entourage, knocking back champagne as they congratulated one another on the deal that was about to be signed and the role that Liz was about to land.

Two years later, teams of investigators and federal prosecutors would spend weeks trying to reconstruct exactly what the congressman did that night after Paul Brown and the other hangers-on left the Fantasy Suite. It almost landed Wilson in jail. And given the very high wire he later had to walk to avoid indictment, it's quite astonishing to hear the way he cheerfully describes those moments in the hot tub that the investigators were never quite able to document. No matter how much hellish trouble it later caused him, the congressman leaves the unmistakable impression that he relished every single moment of his outrageous escapade.

"It was an enormous Jacuzzi," he recalled. "I was in a robe at first because, after all, I was a congressman. And then everyone disappeared except for two beautiful, long-legged showgirls with high heels. They were a bit drunk and flirtatious and they walked right into the water with their high heels on. . . . The girls had cocaine and the music was loud-Sinatra, 'My Kind of Town.' We all mellowed out, saying outrageous things to each other. It was total happiness. And both of them had ten long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder. It was just tremendous fun-better than anything you've ever seen in the movies."

As Wilson later framed the episode that almost brought him down, "the Feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale-and I ain't telling."

Other middle-aged men have brought young women to the Fantasy Suite for activities not unlike Wilson's. But ordinarily there is something a bit desperate and tawdry about such aging pleasure seekers. It's unlikely that any of them would be able to talk about their debauchery in such a way that it would sound almost fresh and innocent. Charlie Wilson, however, had a genius for getting people to judge him not as a middle-aged scoundrel but instead as if he were a good-hearted adolescent, guilty of little more than youthful excess.

This survival skill permitted him to routinely do things that no one else in Congress could have gotten away with. One of the first to marvel at this unique capacity to openly flaunt the rules was the young Diane Sawyer, who met Wilson in 1980 when she was just beginning her career as a network correspondent. "He was just untamed," she recalled, "tall and gangly and wild-like a kid before they discovered Ritalin. He had this ungoverned enthusiasm, and it extended to women and the world."

The congressman was like no one Sawyer had met in Washington. He was simply outrageous. Sawyer recalled the experience of driving with Charlie in his big old Continental on one of their few dinner dates: "Going down Connecticut Avenue with him, I felt as if we could have been driving into any American Graffiti hamburger place."

When Wilson was first elected to Congress, he'd persuaded a distinguished college professor, Charles Simpson, to leave academia and sign on as his administrative assistant. Simpson says Wilson was the brightest person he's ever worked with: "He had an uncanny ability to take a complex issue, break it down, get all the bullshit out, and deliver the heart of it. There's no question he could have been anything he wanted to be. His goal was to become secretary of defense. Certainly he intended to run for the Senate."

But Simpson gradually came to believe that his boss had a fatal flaw. That failing was perfectly summed up in a fitness report written by Wilson's commanding officer in the navy in the late 1950s: "Charlie Wilson is the best officer who ever served under me at sea and undoubtedly the worst in port."

There was little question in Simpson's mind in those days that his boss had a drinking problem. As with many alcoholics, it was not immediately noticeable; Wilson had an uncanny ability to consume enormous quantities of Scotch and seem unaffected. Also, he was a happy drunk who told wonderful stories and made everyone laugh. On the occasions when drinking would get to him, Simpson says, "Wilson would simply lie down on the floor for an hour, wake up, and act as if he had just had twelve hours of sleep. It was the most unreal thing I'd ever seen. He'd do this at his own parties-just sleep for an hour with everything going on around him, then get up and start again."

Most of the 435 members of Congress lead surprisingly anonymous lives in Washington. They are, of course, celebrities of sorts in their own districts, but the reality of life in the capital is that all but a few will leave Washington without much of anyone knowing they had been there. Wilson, in contrast, had begun to attract a great deal of media attention by the early 1980s, albeit the kind that any other politician would have considered the kiss of death. The gossip columnists called him "Good-Time Charlie," and they had a good time themselves describing the parade of beauty queens he escorted to White House receptions and fancy embassy parties. One Texas newspaper called him "the biggest playboy in Congress." The Washington Post featured a picture of Wilson and House Majority Leader Jim Wright saddled up on white horses, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue to a nightclub Wilson had just invested in. The Dallas Morning News observed that there were more congressmen on the floor of Wilson's disco, Élan ("a club for the dashing" was its motto), than you were ever likely to find on the floors of Congress. When challenged about his lifestyle, Wilson replied good-naturedly, "Why should I go around looking like a constipated hound dog? I'm having the time of my life."

In truth, at age forty-seven, in his fourth term in office, Charlie Wilson was completely lost. Public officials are forever doing stupid things, but they don't step into hot tubs with naked women and cocaine unless they are driven to play Russian roulette with their careers. And it was hard not to conclude that this recently divorced congressman was a man in free fall, programmed for disaster.

Wilson himself would later say, "I was caught up in the longest midlife crisis in history. I wasn't hurting anybody, but I sure was aimless." If Charlie Wilson's midlife crisis had thrown him off course, it was nothing compared to the crisis America was going through. The night Wilson checked into Caesars Palace, Ted Koppel had opened his Nightline broadcast with a disturbing refrain: "Good evening. Tonight is the two hundred and thirty-seventh night of captivity for the hostages in Tehran." The United States, with its $200 billion annual defense budget, couldn't even force a taunting Third World nation to turn over fifty hostages. And then, when it finally screwed up its courage to mount a rescue mission, the whole world watched the humiliating spectacle of Desert One, as a U.S. helicopter pilot lost his vision in a blinding dust cloud and rammed into a parked plane, leaving eight soldiers dead and the rescue mission aborted.

Over and over again it was said that "Vietnam syndrome" had infected the spirit of America. And by the summer of 1980 a growing number of conservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, had begun to warn that the Soviet Union might have achieved nuclear superiority, that a "window of opportunity" had been opened in which the Soviets could launch and win a nuclear war. Other voices added to the unease, claiming that the KGB had infiltrated most Western intelligence services and that they were mounting devastatingly effective "disinformation" campaigns, which were blinding America to the danger it faced.

To the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, this kind of extreme worst-case thinking had created what he called "America's paranoid fear of Communism." A born-again Christian, a onetime peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia, Carter had almost no experience in foreign affairs when he ran for president, but he had won over an American public still traumatized by Vietnam and Watergate. The intelligence scandals in the late 1970s had only reinforced the widespread suspicion that the CIA was out of control-a virtual government within the government. Vowing "never to lie" to the American public and to introduce a new morality in Washington, Carter had all but promised an end to the CIA's dirty tricks.

Once in office, President Carter moved to discipline the Agency, coming close to suggesting that it was time to stop conducting covert operations altogether.


Excerpted from Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile Copyright © 2003 by George Crile
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Strange Award at Langley
Chapter 1: A Hot Tub in Las Vegas
Chapter 2: Defender of Trinity
Chapter 3: A Rogue Elephant in the Agency Woods
Chapter 4: A Texas Bombshell
Chapter 5: The Secret Life of Charlie Wilson
Chapter 6: The Curse of Aliquippa
Chapter 7: How the Israelis Broke the Congressman's Heart and He Fell for the Muj
Chapter 8: The Station Chief
Chapter 9: Cocaine Charlie
Chapter 10: The Congressman Takes His Belly Dancer to the Jihad
Chapter 11: The Rebirth of Gust Avrakotos
Chapter 12: The United States v. Charles Wilson
Chapter 13 : The Seduction of Doc Long
Chapter 14: Gust's Secret
Chapter 15: The Opening Salvo
Chapter 16: Howard of Afghanistan
Chapter 17: Cogan's Last Stand
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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks published her first book, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, based on her work as a journalist in the Middle East, in 1994. Three years later, Brooks recalled her Australian childhood -- and the pen-pal network that introduced her to the wider world -- in Foreign Correspondence. She became a novelist with Year of Wonders (2001), a vivid and accomplished tale set in a plague-stricken English village in 1666. Her second work of fiction, March, a powerful imagining of the Civil War experience of the father whose absence haunts Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.

The inspiration for March came to Brooks after she had already begun writing another book. That novel emerged from the history of a Hebrew codex created in medieval Spain, a rare illuminated manuscript that had made its way through five hundred years to the war-torn Sarajevo of the 1990s. Set aside by the author as she immersed herself in the events of the American Civil War, the tale of the Sarajevo Haggadah was picked up again after the completion of March and has earned wide acclaim.

Spanning five centuries and four cultures, People of the Book combines several elements of Brooks's earlier work, both fiction and nonfiction -- the interest in Islamic heritage illustrated in Nine Parts of Desire, the influence of cross-cultural exchange expressed in Foreign Correspondence, and the fascination with historical periods made palpable in both Year of Wonders and March. Encompassing romance, adventure, espionage, and erudition, People of the Book invents a history for the Sarajevo Haggadah based on the spare but tantalizing available knowledge of its past. Within a tense, page-turning framing narrative that follows Hanna Heath, a young Australian rare book expert called upon to restore the manuscript, Brooks sets historical episodes that travel backwards in time from World War II Bosnia to 1894 Vienna, Venice during the Inquisition, and the 15th-century Spain of the Convivencia. The result is a tour de force of storytelling imagination and a magnanimous embrace of large concerns -- chief among them the liberating but ever-embattled virtue of tolerance. --James Mustich

JAMES MUSTICH: Let's begin with the genesis of People of the Book. When did you first learn about the Sarajevo Haggadah?

GERALDINE BROOKS: I was working as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and my beat was the United Nations, so I was occasionally required to go to Sarajevo to cover the U.N. operations there. It was on one of those trips, during the siege of the city in the early 1990s, that I heard my fellow journalists speculating about this priceless 15th-century Hebrew codex that was the treasure of the Bosnian museum. It was missing, and nobody knew where it was. So there were rumors that the government had sold it to buy arms, which they desperately needed. Somebody else said, "No, no, everyone knows the Israelis sent in a Mossad team to take it out." The truth turned out to be, in a way, much better than the rumors: a Muslim librarian in the first days of the war had braved shelling to go into the museum, crack a safe, and bring this book to safety.

JM: When you first heard of it, though, its whereabouts was a mystery.

GB: Yes. And I was inclined to think it was lost, because thousands of books went up in flames during the siege. JM: When did you find out what had actually happened to it? GB: It was just before the end of the war. The Haggadah was brought out very ceremonially, as a great surprise, at the seder of the Sarajevo Jewish community. I thought, "Ah, well, that's interesting," and I kind of filed it away. But I guess it took root in my imagination. I was very intrigued with how this book that had been created during one period of cross-cultural harmony -- in Spain during the time of cross-fertilization of ideas about art and science known as the Convivencia, which came to a violent end in 1492 -- had made it through 500 years to Sarajevo, a city whose own multicultural tolerance was being smashed by ethnic cleansing. It was as if the book were fated to end up in the same story again and again. JM: Did you originally conceive of People of the Book as the tapestry of stories it became? GB: I wasn't sure what to do. I was interested in the stories from the past, because they were the ones that we couldn't know anything about, or only very little. We just had a sort of skeleton of fact, and that's what I like -- it opens great big voids in which your imagination can work. But I was a little bit baffled about how to do it, because my other two novels happen in a very tight time frame. Year of Wonders is a single year in a plague village, and March covers the same amount of time, the period during which Mr. March is away at war. Even though they both have flashbacks and what-have-you, it's not like the five centuries and four separate cultures I wanted to encompass in People of the Book. So I wasn't sure what would be the connective tissue. Then I heard, quite by chance, that the U.N. was funding a restoration of the actual codex, and I got on the phone and talked my way into the room while the conservator was working on the book. JM: What was that like? GB: Oh, it was wonderful. Very few people at that time had actually seen this book. It had been locked away in safes for a couple of centuries. So to be able to actually spend time in the room with it was marvelous. But it was very dramatic -- it wasn't like any other book conservation job, because the Haggadah was under intense guard. Things were still very unstable in the city; the room was full of Bosnian police and Secret Service guys as well as U.N. soldiers. It was kind of a crazy scene, with this woman at the center of it who was the conservator. I got to watch her do her very painstaking work, and as she was working I noticed that she was punctilious about looking in the binding for any speck of matter. When she did find something -- she thought it might be a breadcrumb -- she was very excited. She said, "A chemical analysis of this could tell us so much," and she put it in a little envelope. That gave me the structure for the novel. I thought that my fictional conservator would find artifacts in the binding, and that those would be the vehicles to enable me to jump the reader back in time. And I knew that the reader would find out how that thing got there, while the conservator might or might not. JM: The book is filled with fascinating details of the arts of manuscript illumination and preservation, including how pigments were made in different periods, how brushes were made from animal fur, how books were bound. Is most of that information accurate? GB: Almost all of it. I've taken maybe one liberty for dramatic purposes. [laughs] JM: It's astonishing to realize how ingenious illuminators were in developing the tools they used to create their manuscripts. GB: It was dangerous, too, because the pigments they made could be very toxic, and mixing them was quite hazardous. I don't think that these illuminators made out too well on their retirement programs! [laughs] JM: I want to talk to you a bit about the way inventing a story based on facts enhances our appreciation of the facts -- the history -- involved. At least, the stories you imagined about the Haggadah did that for me. When I interviewed Philip Pullman a couple of months ago, he spoke about story as its own mode of apprehending truth, rather than as an un-truth. GB: Yes. JM: And there is certainly plenty in aspects of the Haggadah's recent history that benefits from straight reporting. The piece you had in The New Yorker in December, for instance, the true story of what happened to the codex during World War Two, was incredibly gripping. [Editor's note: "The Book of Exodus," The New Yorker, December 3, 2007. Also available on the People of the Book page at] GB: If I had put that whole story in the book, nobody would have believed me. [laughs] JM: As you were writing People of the Book, given your training as a journalist, was there any conflict in your own mind? Did you ever say to yourself, "I'm inventing too much" or "Maybe I should just tell the story directly"? GB: Yes, I did. When I started writing the World War II sections, I was very worried about dealing with people whose lives are in living memory, as I thought. Then I found out that one woman involved in the tale was not only in living memory, but still alive! I was quite concerned because I do have a very strong view about the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. I'm very, very leery of nonfiction books where they change timeframes and use -- what do they call those things? -- composite characters. I don't think that's right. So I had to do a lot of thinking about this. I decided that what I would do in those sections was use the real events as inspiration, but create the characters myself. JM: The chain of episodes, each with its own characters, allows you to treat what one might call the human dimension of the Haggadah's story in a way that you couldn't in nonfiction. GB: Well, there's not enough solid information to do it as nonfiction. Just getting that World War II thing sorted was an immense research challenge, and there are still voids -- despite all the trips I took and all the interviews I did. And that's recent. So if you jump back to the next thing -- why did the binding get screwed up in Vienna? -- we have no idea. Beyond that, it gets even harder. So you couldn't write a really meaningful nonfiction version of this story. You have to imagine how it was, based on research. JM: In doing so, the material gives you a marvelous opportunity to speak about different religious groups living together and falling apart throughout history. The specter of tolerance haunts the book across all the periods depicted; it comes and goes. But there must have been some inspiration in the fact that some form of cross-cultural harmony is made palpable in the mix of people depicted in the images in the real Haggadah. GB: Yes. JM: The vast canvas is so different from the concentrated time frames of your first two novels. Did that pose a special challenge? GB: Yes. Well, I was very comfortable back in the invented past. I wrote "A White Hair" and "Salt Water" -- I had drafts of those done before I did anything else -- and I was tooling along, telling myself, "I know how to do this." Then I get to the character in the near-present, the book conservator, and I just couldn't get her voice right. She was originally going to be Bosnian, and I imagined her story would be only a bookend to the rest -- she was going to open the narrative and set it up, and then she would come back at the end and wrap the whole thing. She wasn't supposed to be a main character of the book. But in any case, I couldn't hear her voice. She didn't sound convincingly Sarajevan to me. The Sarajevans have a very particular world view -- a mordant wit coupled with this unbearable sadness and . . . truckloads of guts, you know. I just wasn't getting her. So I had to throw out about 50 pages. Then I thought, "Why am I beating myself up? What's a voice I can hear?" And I thought, "Ah, g'day!" [laughs] As soon as I made her Australian, Hanna just kind of burst into the room, and then demanded her own story line, and a much bigger role. She's the character that wouldn't go away. So the book was very different once that voice started playing in my head. The other really gnarly bit was the World War II part. Initially, I didn't want to come too close to the facts there. I was going to do a whole other thing, not about the librarian at all but about another figure, who was going to be on trial for war crimes in Belgrade after WWII. But I just couldn't get it off the ground. It was clunking along the runway, with no lift. That's when I got the idea for March. The Haggadah story went into the drawer, and while it was in the drawer, I began to see the story more clearly, as often happens when you turn your attention away. So by the time I was ready to bring it out again, I knew what I had to do with it. JM: One of the things that the way you're structured the book allows us to do is to witness the way the book survives the same disaster over and over again -- the violent clash of cultures in the aftermath of a period of tolerance. GB: Yes. JM: While I was reading People of the Book, I was also reading Rebecca West's account of her journeys through Yugoslavia in the 1930s, Black Lamb and Gray Falcon. There's a passage that seemed to echo the theme of the relentlessness of violence in that part of the world. I wanted to share it with you. She's not in Sarajevo in this section; she's somewhere in Croatia. But she says: "Were I to go down into the market-place, armed with the powers of witchcraft, and take a peasant by the shoulders and whisper to him, 'In your lifetime, have you known peace?', wait for his answer, shake his shoulders and transform him in his turn into his father, and ask him the same question, and transform him, in turn, to his father, I would never hear the word 'Yes,' if I carried my questioning of the dead back for a thousand years." GB: Wow. She could write! Whoa! JM: The passage seemed to crystallize something I felt as I was reading your book -- that most of us are distanced from history in a way that warps our understanding of it. The "people of the book" you write about must confront history -- the violence of history -- in such an immediate way. As Hanna thinks at one point, "the people who had owned this book had known unbearable stress: pogrom, Inquisition, exile, genocide, war." GB: Right. JM: The same is true of the characters in March and Year of Wonders. It leads me to wonder if your experiences as a journalist have made you conscious of the force of history in a way that allows you to approach that theme more powerfully than other writers can. GB: Certainly I'm still mining my experiences as a journalist. I think it's no coincidence that all three of my novels basically are about how people act in a time of catastrophe. Do they go to their best self or their worst self? That's a question that hasn't stopped intriguing me, exploring how people are when they're confronted with the choice of who to be in a hard time. Regarding the Rebecca West passage, perhaps if she'd asked that question in Sarajevo, she might have had a very different answer. What's not in People of the Book, but is the sort of underpinning of it, is the Convivencia in Spain that lasted for several centuries. There was a long time when everybody seemed to recognize that their society was better and stronger if they all just got along. Incredible exchanges of information happened in the pavilions of the book: people would be translating Hebrew into Latin, and then the Latin into Arabic, and back the other way around -- linguists and scribes working together across their cultural differences to share knowledge. Without a doubt, that Spain was a much richer and better place than the horrible arid thing that Ferdinand and Isabel created when they expelled Muslims and Jews in pursuit of a monoculture. Monocultures are not natural, not for plants and not for human culture. The same thing happened with Nazism and the same thing happened with the ethnic cleansers in Bosnia. But before the ethnic cleansers, Sarajevo had several centuries -- before the Nazis anyway -- of being a city that was open and tolerant, and was a lovely place because of that. JM: It's very moving when Ozren, the librarian who, in the novel, saves the Haggadah during the siege of Sarajevo, talks about the surprise that the Sarajevans feel about the fact that this horrific violence has come to their city. "Years ago," he tells Hanna, "we watched Lebanon fall apart and said, 'That's the Middle East, they're primitive over there.' Then we saw Dubrovnik in flames, and we said, "We're different in Sarajevo.' That's what we all thought. How could you possibly have an ethnic war here, when every second person is the product of a mixed marriage?" GB: Yes. I was actually quoting several Sarajevan friends in that. JM: Did you find any of the historical periods you imagined in composing the novel more congenial than others? GB: Well, I love Venice. Now, how many times in your life are you going to have a legitimate excuse to go to work in Venice? I loved researching there, and I found it necessary to research the angel hair pasta with freshly shaved truffles extensively. [laughs] It's kind of hard for me now to divide what I knew and what I didn't know starting out -- but I didn't know a lot. I didn't know what Venice in 1609 was like. But that year was a given, because we know the book was actually there that year, and was saved by the ecclesiastical censor. So that set me off on trying to find out what was going on in Venice in 1609. Fantastic. Wonderful. Then I'd finished the whole first draft of the book, and actually I'd even sent it to Molly Stern, my editor. But I just felt that there was a big piece missing -- a great big hole in the narrative. I thought, I need something between Venice and World War II. What happened with the Haggadah in those three centuries, what can I do there? I knew that it had been in Vienna in the 1890s and that the binding was badly restored there, so I needed to find out what was going on in Vienna then. I picked up Frederic Morton's unbelievably wonderful narrative history, A Nervous Splendor, which treats a year in Vienna as the 20th century approached -- the year that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne pops himself and his mistress in their hunting lodge in Mayerling. Morton goes from the top of the society to the bottom; he talks about the street performers, and Freud and Mahler, and Klimt. There was so much happening there. JM: Is that where you got the marvelously ornate etiquette of the telephone operators? [Editor's note: see the chapter of People of the Book entitled "Feathers and a Rose."] GB: Yes. I have a huge debt to Frederic Morton for sort of setting the scene. That section seemed to write itself almost effortlessly, because the characters were very clear to me once I thought, "Yeah, they bungled the book-binding in Vienna. Why?" JM: I was especially taken with "The White Hair," the section that imagines the inspiration for the creation of the Haggadah in 15th-century Spain. Not to reveal too much, but when one discovers the reason for the figurative illustrations, the explanation for the presence of the mysterious Islamic figure in the picture of the gathering around the seder table, and the specific eyes for which the manuscript was made -- it's a marvelous expression of the theme of human outreach across cultures that ties the novel together. GB: Well, the big mystery about this book is why was it illustrated at a time when there was so much feeling against illustration in the Jewish tradition. Scholars say if you're going to illustrate anything, it's going to be a Haggadah, because the idea of that celebration is the instruction of your children. The Bible says, "Teach it to your sons on that day." So that was my inspiration in that section. If you're going to try to get to something across to a kid, what better way to do it than with really wonderful, pretty pictures? But also, I think that the truth was probably that a wealthy Jewish family saw the books of the Christians, and they were so gorgeous they wanted illuminated books of their own. If you look at an illuminated manuscript, even today, it just blows your mind. For them, without all the clutter and inputs that we have, it must have been even more extraordinary. So I can just see somebody saying, "Why not?" [laughs] JM: One more question: what's next? Do you have another project in the works? GB: I do. It's still in the early days. I was lucky when I finished March because I had this in my drawer. Now I'm in that scary, cobwebby, "Is this going to work?" phase. But I've got a good idea, I think, and it's again people in crisis and what happens to faith in crisis. I don't know what it is with me and vicars, but all of my books are about these religious figures. There was the vicar of the plague village in Year of Wonders, then there was Mr. March, the Transcendentalist minister. People would ask me about that even before People of the Book: "Why vicars?" And I'd say, "Just wait. My next book sounds like a bad joke: it's got a rabbi and a priest and an imam." So I'm almost embarrassed to say there's yet another minister in the next, and it's set back in a year that I'm particularly fond of, 1666. But it's in this country.January 30, 2008
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2006

    He who controls the Gold destroys the world

    I would suggest reading 'Oliver North - Under Fire' before reading this to get a view of both sides of government. Charlie Wilson is the epitome of what scares me about politicians. I'd consider Charlie Wilson as more of a 'Sell-Out' than a hero for what he did in Afghanistan. Crile displays Charlie as this person who would go to no lengths to protect America. To me, I can't imagine any womanizing coke-head caring about anything but their own needs. Charlie goes off and defends Pakistan's right to build an Islamic bomb, which makes me view Oliver North as a saint compared to Charlie. Even though Oliver North sold arms to Iran in exchange to free the hostages and use the profits to send to Nicaragua, Charlie sold weapons, gave billions of dollars, and trained are eventual enemy. It's nice to know that coke-heads can run this country. It makes me think about the high gas prices and products and why they came about. It amazed me on how Israel played such a neutral position by providing Iran with weapons, by making special weapons for the Afghans, and by becoming involved in American politics so deeply. Israel makes me think that they care more about themselves than anyone else in the world even disregarding their own allies. There is no way that I can believe that the money to fund this Afghan program was handled properly. Charlies deep pashion for the Afghans were probably caused because of the money he was stealing from the program. The US was probably funding the Islamic bomb with this money as well. The only thing I can say bad about this book is how Crile would introduce each charcter in the same format. You will know what I'm talking about when you read the book. Also, I guess Tom Hanks is supposed to play Charile Wilson in the movie, which I find hard to believe because of Charlie's coke problem and also being 6'4 wher Hanks is only 5'10. Every paranoid idea that I ever thought about this government comes to reality in Crile's book, 'Charlie Wilson's War'.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    Good Story. Vague History.

    This book contains an incredible story of Hedinism, Obsession, Politics, War, Good vs. Evil, and Intrigue. However, I have to wonder if the 'History' may be a bit dubious or slanted. The Author idolizes Congressman Charlie Wilson and takes effort to draw the reader into his congregation of Wilson Worshipers. But, from this 'tale', it is hard to decide if Wilson should be tried and shot, or should he be given the greatest of American and Afghan honors. Maybe, we should do both! Or, maybe he should be dismissed as an exaggerator and egotist. Either way, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading History and Historical Fiction. But, they should all need to keep in mind that this 'Story' may be just that, a story. I think the real fun of this book though will be in the years to come. As we watch the unfolding of the 'rest of the story' as declassification and 'deathbed testimony' reveals the Truths and Consequenses of this 'One-Man War'.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2005

    Hilarious and Insightful

    Fantastic, a must read. While reading this book I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. However, not only funny, this book is an insightful look into Middle East politics. Absolutely wonderful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2004

    An evil book praising a terrorist organisation

    Crile, a producer for the US news programme `60 Minutes¿, has written a hymn of praise for the CIA and its terrorist operation in Afghanistan. He also idolises Congressman Charlie Wilson, a good ol¿ Texan, a coke-snorting, whisky-guzzling, whoring, arms-dealing, freeloading, hit-and-run drunk-driver, who constantly broke US laws to arrange aid for the terrorist cause. Crile ignores the fact that the US intervened first in Afghanistan, supporting reactionary terrorists trying to overthrow the progressive government: on 3 July 1979, President Carter signed a secret directive authorising covert aid to the mujehadin. The CIA promoted drug trafficking to raise funds for them. The British, French and Israeli governments all sold arms to them. Only in December 1979, five months after the US intervention, did Soviet troops enter Afghanistan, at the Afghan government¿s request, to defend the people against the terrorist onslaught. The CIA, assisted by Thatcher, spent $1 billion a year arming and training more than 300,000 Islamic mercenaries drawn from around the world to fight against Afghani national liberation. Crile tells us that MI6 did much of the CIA¿s dirty work, `murder, assassination, and indiscriminate bombings¿. It was the CIA¿s biggest operation, far bigger than their terrorist Contra operation in Nicaragua, indeed the biggest secret war ever. The CIA-organised Contras targeted schools, clinics and hospitals: so did the mujehadin, and more so. The Contras ¿raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children¿ and ¿groups of civilians, including women and children, were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded¿, as the CIA told a Congressional Intelligence Committee. So did the mujehadin, and more so. The CIA¿s special favourite was the repellent criminal and fascist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was ¿responsible for the practice of throwing acid in the faces of Afghan women who failed to cover themselves properly¿. In the end, Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and the mujehadin proceeded to wreck Afghanistan and attack their sponsor the USA. Crile claims that the withdrawal destroyed the Soviet Union. Not so; as Castro said, ¿Imperialism could not have destroyed the Soviet Union if the Soviets had not destroyed it first.¿

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2015

    Well done and documented...

    As I watched this happen and enjoyed the hell of it all...

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  • Posted June 29, 2014

    The True Story behind Charlie Wilson¿s War & 9/11

    You don’t have to read between the lines to see how Charlie & and his friends conducted an undeclared war against the Cold War Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend…” It worked both ways. Congress did not make a declaration of war to use “Afghan Mujahedeen” “freedom fighters to drive the infidel Soviets out; but they DID secretly fund it. We and Saudi Arabia, and Israel (to a degree) provided the funds, high technology weapons and training of the Mujahedeen warriors to focus on the Soviet invaders, rather than fight each other. Now that the Soviet Evil Empire is gone, years later, they have the wherewithal to destroy a new group of infidels: us-- the USA. And since we gave them everything they needed to attack us, they chose us rather than their thousands-of-years of self-slaughtering. All they needed was a new Superpower to attack. And now, we are “The enemy…” instead of their friend. All signs seem to point to the Russians as financing today’s Islamic Fundamentalists against us. Allahu Akbar!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012



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  • Posted January 18, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    A must read for everyone who lives in America. Excellent author, exposing truth on our spending of tax dollars. Very good book. I shudder at all of the other potential pet projects that the US is funding. All in all, I heartily recommend the book.

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  • Posted November 27, 2011


    An interesting perspective on what started all our current problems in the middle east.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011

    Good story

    Good story, could of been better edited for a shorter story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2007

    Overly dense, but a good story

    Incredible story about these two fascinating characters, Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos, and their cohort Joanne Herring, and an excellent lesson in the covert nature of Congressional funding. It should urge us all to pay more attention. However, I recommend the book more for the story than for the writing. It needed a much stronger editorial hand. The endless passages about the nobliltiy of the fight and the enduring love and affection the characters felt for each other was overwrought. Maybe the author felt the need to exhaustively defend the participants in the shadow of 9/11, but it was tiring and unnecessary. I also found a great deal of historical context deficient, with too much assumed about knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair, the reasons for the Soviet invasion, and Pakistan's leader and the imposition of martial law, just to name a few. But it made me thirst for more information about Charlie Wilson and his band of players and in that, it is a success.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2003

    An excellent untold story

    Charlie Wilson was the hero with clay feet as many of our hero's are. We often overlook their flaws or their flaws weren't reported in the years prior to the intense scrutinization of the media. The politics of this war are amazing also. The infighting between the CIA, Pentagon & Congress. The other unsung heroes, Gust Avrakotos & Mike Vickers, are also fascinating characters in their own right. Plus some of the most interesting parts of the story come after the Soviet withdrawal & the battle of afghanistan & how it relates to the war on terror. The legacy of which continues to this day. This book will help people understand what's going on in afghanistan today. Although there does need to be a follow up to fill in the gap.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2003

    very informative

    this book gave an incredible look to the inside of the CIA. but also shows you the fickleness of politicians on the right and left. but i loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2003

    Response to

    Do not drop your jaw - Read the book again. Joanne WAS awarded Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam the highest civil honor of Pakistan by Zia - This is a good read. Not recommended for Zia's followers though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2003

    Inaccurate Information

    I am originally from Pakistan and that's why I looked forward to reading this book since I witnessed the effects of Afghan war in my country. There is really an acute shortage of material on this topic and when I heard about this book, I couldn't wait to get it. It started off amazing. Although Mr. Crile has not specifically stated his sources, I generally trusted what he was saying (he being a journalist, sources being attached to sensitive organizations and what not) but all my excitement deflated when I reached page 60 something where Mr. Crile describes the relations of Joanne Herring and General Zia. He wrote that Joanne was called 'sir' in Pakistan. Give me a break. Maybe some peon in some office may have called her 'sir' but that doesn't qualify as a fact worth quoting. The bigger and more outrageous claim was just a few lines down on the same page where Mr. Crile says that Joanne Herring was given the highest honor that Pakistani Government can give and that is the title of 'Quid-e-Azam' translated as 'The Great Leader'. I dropped first my jaw and then the book when I read that. It's ridiculous. It's so painfully obvious to me that Mr. Crile's sources were exaggerating and Mr. Crile didn't do any effort to corroborate the information. Had he¿d done that, he would have come to known that the title of 'Quid-e-Azam' is reserved for the founder of Pakistan, M. A. Jinnah and it's not conferred upon anyone else by Pakistan Government. It¿s like saying that US president honored someone with the title of 'The Founding Father'. As I said, it's ridiculous. I could give him the benefit of doubt if there was an honor which sounded like 'Quid-e-Azam'. There isn't. They are all like 'Nishan-e-Imtiaz', 'Sitara-e-Imtiaz' etc. and none of their meanings come anywhere close to 'The Great Leader'. Its not that I think that Mr. Crile is lying. He just heard something and quoted it in a 'history' book. Historians used to be a bit more cautious in recording facts. Had he¿d tried to verify that from any (and I mean ANY, it's that common knowledge) Pakistani, he/she would have told him that that 'fact' can not possibly be true. That was it for me. The book's credibility was GONE. I tried to go beyond that and read some 100 pages more but now that I knew for sure that Mr. Crile's sources had passed him blown up info and he hadn't verified it, the only way I could read it anymore was to consider it a work of fiction but then, its not written very well for a fictional book. I have a lot more to say about how Mr. Cile's sources have described Zia and some other things but I won't. It¿s useless.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2003

    Strange but True.....

    I could not put this book down. I enjoy military history and political intrigue as well as foreign relations. This had it all. The 15 years of research here really shows through with very detailed behind the scenes insights. I found myself really loving and hating the characters involved, from the title character, Charlie Wilson, to Muhjadin themselves. I learned a great deal about the inner workings of our government, for better or worse. The ups and downs of the characters in this story are sometimes hard to take as you keep hoping they fix their lives, but alas the book shows hereos come with chinks in the armor. The recent events in the Middle East make this story all the more relevant and amazing. The moral of the story is that every action has a reaction and if you focus on too short of a horizon you can create more havoc than you eliminate. The only complaint is that the book gives short coverage to the lack of follow up after the Red Army leaves Afghanastan, which is the root cause of many problems today. Read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2003

    A War Book Women Will Love

    An extraordinary war story with a brainy, gorgeous woman as one of the main characters. Joanne Herring, a Houston socialite, paved the way for Charlie,and he rode into Afghanistan on her coattail. Every woman should be proud of this outstanding heroine.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2003

    The Democrats war in Afghanistan

    Who would have know that the Democrats had their private war going on while bashing President Reagan over the Contra war in Nicaragua. The American news media was not after this story compared to the one in Central America. The reader gets the insider view of national politics in Washington as we follow Rep. Wilson's efforts to fund the war. In Congress it was all about power and money. Ideals seem to have come second. Wilson wanted revenge to send Russian boys home in body bags as the USSR did to the USA with Vietnam. Congressman Wilson's passion and commitment comes through loud and clear. Along with Wilson's self-destructive nature that almost cost him elective office. Great story, hard to put the book down. The covert effort to defeat the USSR made for some strange alliances in the Middle East. The success in this covert effort created some of the conditions for today's war on terror.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2003


    This was not only an interesting read, it was also fun. It gives you insight into the workings of the government that are distrubing to say the least. The book made me wonder what kind of 'back door' politics are going on now that we will not know about for another 20 years. This is the type of book that is hard to put down once you start reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2003

    Fantastic Summer Read

    'Charlie Wilson's War' is the unbelievable yet true story of the covert CIA operation to support the Afghan rebels who so courageously resisted Soviet occupation in the 1980's. It is also the story of two extraordinary men, Congressman Charles Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrokotos, whose guile, determination, and utter disregard for the rules made this quixotic undertaking a reality. This book is about impossible personalities prevailing against impossible odds to defeat an impossible foe. It is also impossible to put down. The prose is quick and engaging. George Crile and his crack team drop you immediately into the action, creating a close bond with the book's main protagonists. However, Wilson and Avrokotos are not allowed to completely overshadow the action. Crile brings his expert eye to this historic tale, forged after almost two decades of service as an executive producer at 'Sixty Minutes'. The result is an easy to follow, orderly read- despite the utter chaos of the region's history, politics, and religious, ethnic, and territorial turmoil. What makes this book all the more fascinating is the direct connections Crile ties to our present day difficulties with Afghanistan and the larger Islamic world, not to mention the final days of the Soviet empire. For the first time since 9/11, one source ties together the complicated web of covert operations, David and Goliath type odds, and the final missed opportunities into a coherent story. A story that is an object lesson into our current relationships in the Middle East. 'Charlie Wilson's War' is proof once again that truth is far stranger than fiction, for throughout this story you will be struck time and time again by the sheer magnitude of the undertaking, the force of the personalities, and the effect they have on the entire world. This book caries my highest recommendation. Whether you like fiction or non fiction, history, spy novels, or fantasy, this saga has something for every reader. Go buy this book, and buy it for a friend!!!!

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