The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State

Few journalists are as conversant with the frightening post-9/11 world than the New Yorker's Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower). In The Terror Years, a collection of 11 pieces from the magazine, Wright displays equally incisive investigative skills and comprehensive reportage to describe the West's fight against terrorism, the intractable conflict in the Middle East and the rise of al-Qaeda's even more ruthless progeny, ISIS.

The collection's most poignant story is "Five Hostages," recounting the desperate, private efforts led by David Bradley, publisher of the Atlantic, to save Kayla Mueller and four other kidnapped journalists and activists. The beheadings of Mueller and three other hostages by ISIS in 2014 and 2015 first exposed most of the world to the depravity of that organization, "a proto-state that uses terror not just to conquer but to rule." But as Wright reveals in "The Rebellion Within," some former terrorists in Egypt, including one who provided the original intellectual underpinning for al-Qaeda's activities, have begun to question the wisdom of these barbaric tactics and the use of violence in general to achieve the movement's goals.

Because of the breadth and complexity of its subject matter, The Terror Years would have benefited from at least a brief chronology. Nevertheless, Wright's sobering journalism isn't likely to make his readers optimistic about a quick and painless victory in the "expensive and clumsy enterprise" that is fighting terrorism. But anyone who reflects on these thorough, thoughtful pieces will be better equipped to evaluate the prescriptions for waging that fight offered by those vying to lead it. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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