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

Lawrence Wright. Knopf, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-35205-5
Suffering, violence, and tense intrigue run through these dispatches from the frontlines of the “war on terror,” culled from the author’s New Yorker articles. Pulitzer-winning journalist Wright (Thirteen Days in September) investigates every facet of the shadowy conflict, including Washington officialdom, terrorist cells, and the lives and deaths of the war’s victims, from Syria to lower Manhattan. The pieces include profiles of al-Qaeda mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri as his militancy is forged under torture in Egyptian prisons; FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan, who used sympathy and cagey questioning rather than waterboarding to get information; and Egyptian Islamist Dr. Fadl (as he’s commonly known), a leading theorist of jihad who renounced violence in 2008. Quieter but equally searching pieces explore the plight of Syrian filmmakers walking a tightrope between expression and government co-optation; the author’s experience training journalists in Saudi Arabia, where they are stifled by theocratic dictatorship; and the heartbreak of families of five American hostages held by ISIS. Wright mixes engrossing procedural writing on organizing and fighting terrorism with vivid firsthand reportage. (Surveying veiled Saudi women, he writes, “It felt to me that all the women had died, and only their shades remained.”) He writes with empathy for every side while clearly registering the moral catastrophes that darken this pitiless struggle. Agent: Andew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/27/2016
Release date: 08/23/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-8041-7003-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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