Andrew Meier at Bookforum:
Steve Coll is the closest thing American journalism has to a High Priest of Foreign Correspondence. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, former managing editor of the Washington Post, former president of the New America Foundation, staff writer for the New Yorker, and current dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, Coll still manages to practice high-minded reportage, the species now maladroitly branded “fact-based.” Coll began his rise nearly thirty years ago in New Delhi, as “a wide-eyed rookie newspaper correspondent” for the Post. In 1993, after jihadists detonated a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center, his editors called. Posted to London, Coll caught wind of a “wealthy Saudi exile in Sudan,” Osama Bin Laden. Not many had yet heard of Al Qaeda. In Ghost Wars, Coll’s acclaimed 2004 history “of the often-secret actions, debates, and policies that had led to Al Qaeda’s rise amid Afghanistan’s civil wars and finally to the September 11 attacks,” he returned to the region. Now, after a decade of research and 550 interviews, he offers Directorate S, an epic sequel that picks up on the eve of Massoud’s assassination.
Coll has proven himself an obsessive devotee of geopolitical catastrophe of the Central Asian variety. He is also a deft guide to the shadow world. Few books delve as deeply into the personnel of the CIA and the Taliban, offering a daunting array of characters (the cast list alone runs five pages).