At the Open Book Center in Minneapolis, where I sometimes work at The Loft, I met writer Joel Turnipseed for coffee. Afterward, he insisted we walk over to Big Brain Comics, a great little bookstore, so he could get me a copy of The Photographer, a graphic novel/photography book that tells the story of Didier Lefèvre’s trip across Afghanistan in the 1980s, because it was such an amazing book. As it happens, I was reading Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between at the time, one of the best travel books I’ve read in a long time, and Stewart even mentioned running into Lefèvre again on his way across the country in 2002. But what his book has in terms of narrative, vibrancy and erudition, The Photographer has in visuals, clarity and raw honesty. Together, they give a picture of Afghanistan that you could never get from a million news items—the richness, the texture, the cold, hard edge of history. It’s all there. Turn off CNN, and pick up these two books, and you’ll find a place like you would never imagine.