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Mr. Rohde expresses cautious support for the Obama administration’s effort to improve security in Afghanistan and suppress the Taliban and al Qaeda. But his engaging portrait of the social and historic roots of the ongoing conflict makes the dream of a stable, democratic Afghanistan seem more distant than ever.

The inbred patterns of thought that drive one man to make imprudent choices - or that give rise to decades of political violence in South Asia - are not easily understood or altered. “A Rope and a Prayer” confirms this truth with humility and even-handedness.

Joan Frawley Desmond lived with her family in New Delhi while her husband served as Time magazine’s South Asia bureau chief.