Afghan Napoleon

by Sandy Gall / Introduction by Rory Stewart

‘Sandy Gall’s knowledge of the jihad is encyclopaedic. He was the first well-known journalist to make the dangerous journey into occupied Afghanistan and bring the human cost of this terrible war to our TV screens. To produce such a book at the age of 93 deserves admiration.’

‘extraordinary story’
The Telegraph

‘This book is essential reading for those who want an insider’s understanding of the Afghan civil war.’
Literary Review

‘Gall’s lovingly woven storytelling are a valuable addition to our understanding of Afghanistan.’
History Today

‘…an outstanding contribution, of unparalleled proportions, it reveals many valuable societal aspects about Afghanistan, that are certainly rare gems to historians, authors and historiographers that are studying the contemporary events of Afghanistan.’
Eurasia Review


‘A remarkable and emotionally affecting portrait’
John Simpson

‘Gall’s book is fascinating for its ability to draw on never before seen sources such as Massoud’s personal diaries and his own experiences working as a correspondent in Afghanistan. The personal insights about Massoud from Gall’s own interactions with him, words from Massoud’s own diaries, and interviews with friends and family paint an intimate picture of Massoud’s family life and character.’
Oxford Middle East Review

‘I can think of no one better than the legendary foreign correspondent Sandy Gall to tell the compelling story of Ahmed Shah Massoud’s extraordinary life and death.’
Jeremy Bowen, BBC’s Middle East Editor

Afghan Napoleon offers an overdue portrait of one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century’
Tamim Ansary, author of The Invention of Yesterday

‘The unputdownable story of an authentic Afghan hero by one of the greatest chroniclers’
Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan

‘authoritative, beautifully written and deeply reported biography’ 
Peter Bergen, author of The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden

‘a remarkable book, both a coruscating memoir by Sandy Gall and a revealing insight into a guerrilla leader’
Hew Strachan


When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the forces of resistance were disparate and divided mujahideen groups, as interested in fighting each other and competing for Western arms as opposing the Russians. The exception was Ahmed Shah Massoud, the military strategist and political operator who solidified the resistance and undermined the Russian occupation by leading its members to a series of defensive victories.

Sandy Gall was embedded with Massoud during Soviet offences and reported on the war in Afghanistan for a number of years. He has now written an illuminating biography of this charismatic guerrilla commander, which contains excerpts from the surviving volumes of Massoud’s diaries. Massoud’s prolific diary-keeping was little known during his lifetime, and his entries detail crucial moments in his life and throw fascinating light on his struggles, both in the resistance and in his personal life. Born into an ostensibly liberalising Afghanistan in the 1960s, Massoud ardently opposed communism and Mohammed Daoud, Afghanistan’s puppet leader. He quickly rose to prominence and distinguished himself by coordinating the defence of the Panjshir Valley against repeated Soviet offensives. As the occupation wore on, Massoud became the resistance’s unifying force.

Massoud’s assassination in 2001 presaged the attack on the Twin Towers just two days later and it is widely believed to have been ordered by Osama bin Laden. Forever the underdog in a life dominated by conflict, Massoud’s attempts to build political consensus in Afghanistan were ultimately frustrated. Despite that, he is recognised today as a national hero.

SANDY GALL is a British journalist, author, and former ITN newscaster. His journalism career started nearly seventy years ago on the Aberdeen Press and Journal, before he joined Reuters and then ITN, covering wars and revolutions. He has written four books about Afghanistan and made three documentaries about the Soviet occupation, two of which were nominated for BAFTA awards.

Additional information



Published Date