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Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story Of the Largest Covert Operation in History [Paperback]

George Crile
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 28 2004
Charlie Wilson's War was a publishing sensation and a New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times bestseller. In the early 1980s, a Houston socialite turned the attention of maverick Texas congressman Charlie Wilson to the ragged band of Afghan "freedom fighters" who continued, despite overwhelming odds, to fight the Soviet invaders. Wilson, who sat on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, managed to procure hundreds of millions of dollars to support the mujahideen. The arms were secretly procured and distributed with the help of an out-of-favor CIA operative, Gust Avrokotos, whose working-class Greek-American background made him an anomaly among the Ivy League world of American spies. Avrakotos handpicked a staff of CIA outcasts to run his operation and, with their help, continually stretched the Agency's rules to the breaking point. Moving from the back rooms of the Capitol, to secret chambers at Langley, to arms-dealers' conventions, to the Khyber Pass, this book presents an astonishing chapter of our recent past, and the key to understanding what helped trigger the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union and ultimately led to the emergence of a brand-new foe in the form of radical Islam.

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From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

A longtime Sixty Minutes producer investigates the expenditure of what eventually amounted to $1 billion a year to support Afghanistan's Mujahideen in their battle against the Soviets.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars storytelling at its very best Feb. 14 2004
Format:Hardcover
This book is pure adventure, whether the scene is Congress or Afghanistan. I simply could not put it down. George Crile tells the gripping story of how one congressman, Texan Charlie Wilson, took up the cause of Afghan freedom fighters and escalated American support for them many, many times over. Because of his efforts, billions of dollars were given to the mujahideen, including high-tech weaponry. Crile takes us behind closed doors in Congress, where Charlie Wilson wheels, deals, and strong-arms to get funding for Afghanistan; he takes us into the secret world of the CIA, where danger surrounds overseas stations and bureaucratic politics plagues operations.
At the heart is a cast of colorful characters, including Wilson and CIA man Gust Avrokotos. Wilson--a socially liberal, staunchly anti-Communist Democrat from a conservative and religious district of Texas--womanizes, drinks, (maybe) does drugs, is involved in scandal after scandal (including a hit-and-run car accident), and yet is re-elected over and over and singlehandedly secures funding for the freedom fighters. Avrokotos is the foul-mouthed (he has a sexual analogy for just about every situation), tough-talking son of Greek immigrants from a steel town near Pittsburgh, who joins the Agency in the 1960s and eventually heads up the Near East division, where he adeptly manages the Afghanistan operation.
I loved the book, plain and simple, but I did have a problem or two with it. Crile seems to accept as fact nearly everything Wilson and Avrokotos said in their interviews. Their accounts form the backbone of the book, and Crile seldom questions their veracity. More than that, he usually adopts their opinions as his own: if Avrokotos dislikes this or that CIA colleague, then so does Crile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-Written With Troubling Gaffs Jan. 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
This is an amazing tale; a story of a Texas Congressman who loved wine, women and song. Together with a rogue CIA operative, he launches what we are told is one of the largest and most successful covert operations in U.S. history.
The author and veteran producer of CBS news magazine 60 minutes and 60 minutes II, George Crile, tells the tale in an engaging and well-written fashion. Yet it appears that he never learned the lesson I was taught in my first journalism class: "avoid minor mistakes so your readers will be more forgiving when you make a large one."
I was not through 10 per cent of the book before I had found three factual errors. Let me give you an example. On page 43 and 44, Crile refers to the Hall of Fame football player, Mike Ditka, as a linebacker. Ditka played tight end. This mistake does not change the point the author was trying to make. But what happened to the "check every fact before using it in your story" lesson taught in the same journalism class?
The lesson is this. I know a little about football; I know nothing about CIA Appropriations or the Mujahideen. Why should I believe Crile's reporting is any more credible?
This book reads as well as any well-written non-fiction thriller. Whether you should assign any more credibility to it than you would a fluffy novel, is a troubling question?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Put Down Oct. 30 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Charlie Wilson's War is a non-fiction book that drew me into its story just like good novels do. I found this implausible, yet true, story so captivating that I had a hard time putting the book down. Not only is Charlie Wilson's War a compelling story that flows like a novel, the foibles of the main characters and the improbability of them forming a secret alliance, and then teaming with the Mujahideen to fight and defeat the Soviets seems to be right out of a Tom Clancy book. But it's not. It's a chronicle of actual history and a partial biography. Actually, it contains enough information about the two main characters, Charles Wilson and Gust Avrakotos that it is partially two biographies.
Somehow, despite the fact that I despised the boozing, womanizing, schmoozing, and politics of "Good Time Charlie," I found myself rooting for him throughout the story. I had a similar feeling about Gust Avrakotos, the Greek immigrant CIA case officer who teamed-up with the Congressman from Texas to wage a revenge-inspired war through the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviets. Despite Gust's crudity and roughness of character, I rooted for him too. I think it would be hard not to root for these rogues. They and their associates form a cast of outrageous characters that I found myself amazed at and at other times laughing out loud at their antics.
Unfortunately, there isn't a cozy and happy ending to this well-written story. The broad outlines of what happened most of us know: The Soviet Army retreated from Afganhistan in defeat - an event that many historians believe may have been a catalyst or accelerator for the events that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War History Women Will Find Riveting! Sept. 12 2003
By Kelly
Format:Hardcover
Were more war histories written this way, I believe that fewer women in the book would have simply been the Congressman's girlfriends and more (i.e., more than one) would have been among the key players shaping world history.
As a stereotypical woman, I usually consider books about war history to be a dull collection of grim facts. Nonetheless, I randomly looked at the jacket of this book at our local bookstore only to find THE MOST RIVETING BOOK I HAVE EVER READ! It's an extraordinarily engaging narrative of the personal relationships leading to events that not only do I remember (as in, many occurring during my lifetime), but that profoundly affect my life today as an American.
The book is ingenius on many levels. But the one that meant the most to me is how the author explained the interplay of characters' backgrounds, perceptions, beliefs, and feelings so that I could see how individuals and relationships have shaped decisions. Had military policy and history been presented in this manner while I was still in school, I would not have been turned off to the subject, and I would know a lot more today about the world we live in. One of the many things this book shows is how important it is that women be educated about international military issues. My being so thrilled while reading proves that stereotypical women like me can be just as enraptured by the drama as so many men seem to be!
I could go on, but the truth is that I simply cannot say enough wonderful things about this book. I am extrordinarily grateful to the author and those who helped him write it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars utterly amazing
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Published on July 15 2004 by joe-maryland
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not the story it's the message...
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5.0 out of 5 stars WOW. Simply amazing.
This story is so unbelievable that it has to be true... right?
It should be called Gust's and Charlie's War, but that just wouldn't flow, now, would it?
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Published on July 7 2004 by William Franklin Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooray for the perfect gift!!
We purchased this book as a Christmas gift for my Father-in-law, who is incredibly difficult to buy for. This is the first gift ever I think he has actually enjoyed. Read more
Published on June 3 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A BIT OF HISTORY THAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
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