New books delve into the complexities of America’s post-9/11 national identity.

Divided by Terror

John Bodnar. Univ. of North Carolina, May

In 2021, the question of what makes a patriot is hotly debated. According to history professor Bodnar, for some of the country, patriotism is flag waving and support for the “war on terror,” and elsewhere, it means demanding acknowledgement and accountability for U.S. actions abroad. Two decades after the attacks, he writes, America remains a country deeply divided on the very question of what allegiance and loyalty entail.


Samuel Moyn. FSG, Sept.

In the years since 9/11, Americans have worked to define the rules of war—to ban torture and limit civilian casualties—rather than to extricate themselves from war itself, writes history professor Moyn. By endlessly legislating the manner and style in which countries conduct war, he proposes, politicians have cemented the idea that armed conflict is an immutable and inevitable fact of life.

Innocent Until Proven Muslim

Maha Hilal. Broadleaf, Sept.

The cofounder of the Justice for Muslims Collective analyzes America’s war on terror and the ensuing scapegoating and othering of Muslims in the U.S. The resulting narrative, driven in one way or another by every U.S. president in office in the past 20 years, has led, she writes, to violence and Islamophobia. Through the experiences of Muslim Americans, Hilal discusses what it means for Muslims to be viewed as enemies in their own country, and how other Americans can reject this inaccurate and harmful portrayal.

Last Best Hope

George Packer. FSG, June

Packer, an Atlantic staff writer and the author of the National Book Award–winning The Unwinding, asks how America’s national identity has ended up in a crisis state, divided both politically and ideologically, after the fleeting national unity that followed the 9/11 attacks. Using earlier eras of upheaval as fertile ground for sourcing a solution, he examines what he calls the “four inadequate narratives that dominate American public life”—libertarian America, cosmopolitan America, diverse America, and white America—and analyzes previous tension points in U.S. history to suggest a way out of these divisive narratives.

The Muslim Problem

Tawseef Khan. Atlantic, Sept.

Immigration and asylum law attorney and human rights activist Khan aims to contradict widely held stereotypes of Muslims, held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Chapters on harmful stereotypes such as “Muslim Men Are Threatening” and “Islam Hates Women” seek to address these pervasive views of Islam, help non-Muslims understand and move past them, and help Muslims navigate an increasingly anti-Muslim world.

Reign of Terror

Spencer Ackerman. Viking, Aug.

The war on terror was created by Bush, condoned by Obama, and politicized by Trump, according to Pulitzer Prize–winning national security correspondent Ackerman—and all the while, the American public grew increasingly paranoid, tribal, and nativist. With persecution and mistrust of immigrants and Muslims now baked into the culture, he writes, America will need to dig out of an us-vs.-them hole of its own government’s making.

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