As the U.S. winds down its 20-year war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever to understand the history and culture of this volatile, ethnically diverse, mountainous region at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. We will begin with Thomas Barfield’s Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton University Press, 2010), an authoritative and comprehensive history of Afghanistan’s changing political culture from pre-modern times to the present. An anthropology professor at Boston University, Bareld explores the social, cultural, and political context of the region’s complex history, geography, and peoples. We then turn to The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border (Yale University Press, 2014) by Hasan Abbas, Professor of International Relations, National Defense University in Washington DC. The book traces the roots of religious extremism in the area, analyzes the Taliban’s support base within Pakistan, and examines the multiple factors behind the resurgence of the Taliban as a force that is likely to play a central, if not dominant, role in Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrawal from the country becomes a reality. Reading will average 40-50 pages a week; active participation in class discussions is expected.