Photo: Kaveh Sardari

Today, money is the dominant measure of social achievement no matter where it comes from or how it is obtained.  It's not about need; it's about winning.  To compete in this race -- for zeroes, in bank accounts -- elites in countries rich and poor are rewriting the rules in their favor.  They are rigging the system.  That is what ordinary people mean by "corruption."  And it is the existential threat facing our generation.

My intent is to combat it, and to help restore to their place of honor other values without which our society can not endure. 

Literary agent: Kathleen Anderson

Lecture agent: Annette Luba-Lucas

Selected Afghanistan Reflections... 
                            the full series by clicking the "Read all Reflections" button below.

If you'd like to help a few families in Kandahar -- ordinary Afghans whom I know -- here, with my thanks, is the link:

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More Relevant than Ever...

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After more than a decade working to understand kleptocracy overseas, and the disasters it spawns, I knew: it was time to train my eye on my own country.  This book is the result (and yes, it’s the same book, US and UK versions).  “Unflinching,” Knopf calls it.  “Blistering,” says Hurst.  

And indeed: it’s one thing to cop to the idea that America is dominated by the same type of networks that run corrupt developing countries – in which public and private sectors, super-rich takers and their regulators, are woven together, often joined by out-and-out-criminals.  But it was painful to grapple with the reality.  

As I found in other countries, it is a reality that lies at the root of most of our crises: from repeated banking and stock market meltdowns and the unemployment and homelessness and desperation that result, to the disproportionately high toll of COVID sickness and death in this country, and the systematic mistreatment of black people and native nations and other subordinated groups -- not to mention the return of Afghanistan to the Taliban, and whatever will now ensue.  

This book, like my others, goes beyond the usual chronicle of events.  You’ll spend time with the mythical (and real) King Midas of the golden touch, with Jesus, and with Joe Kennedy and other 19th and early 20th century kleptocrats, as well as the anarchists and farmers who fought them.  You'll see how the pattern here post-1980 mirrors the pattern back then.  And you’ll consider with me what we can do to stop this scourge before it destroys our country and the land and principles it stands on.

A "sweeping and remarkably clear-eyed account"

-- Publishers' Weekly

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Afghanistan books

Overly optimistic subtitle aside, this 2006 book exposes the misguided U.S. policy in Afghanistan, which undermined hopes of democratic development, ushered corrupt tribal warlords back into power and ultimately led to the triumph of the very same Taliban the U.S. overthrew in 2001.


Note: paperback reprint underway.  Inform your bookseller if they have trouble stocking. 

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Published in 2015, this book charts the fateful decisions in Kabul and Washington not to address corruption in Afghanistan.  The end result was the 2021 U.S. defeat at the hands of the Taliban. But this is not just an Afghanistan phenomenon.  Kleptocrats, on the rise world-wide since the late 1990s, drive indignant populations to extremes.  You will visit Nigeria, North Africa, and Central Asia, and glance at warning signs in the West.  

Recent public comment

October 19 2021


Sarah discusses U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his role in Afghanistan over the past several U.S. administrations.

On Corruption: With Fareed Zakaria

with Fareed Zakaria
October 17, 2021

In the wake of the "Pandora Papers" investigation, author Sarah Chayes lays out America's role in facilitating corrupt financial schemes. 

Source: CNN

Watch the Interview