In a dizzying scenario of violence, Soufan provides clarity and balance.

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ANATOMY OF TERROR

FROM THE DEATH OF BIN LADEN TO THE RISE OF THE ISLAMIC STATE

Tracing the hydra-headed reach of al-Qaida and how its leadership morphed into the Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and elsewhere.

Former FBI agent Soufan (The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, 2011) composes a concise, accessible, enormously readable account of the trajectory of al-Qaida, especially through the actions of its murderous main protagonists. To tell the story of this splintering terrorist operation, Soufan—as others have had to do before him—first steps backward to delineate the state of the Islamic world in which these jihadis could take root: scant education for most Muslims, based on dogma and ritual and little critical thinking; oppression of women; unemployment and blunted economic opportunity; and insularity and ignorance about the outside world. In such conditions, radicalism was attractive, and Osama bin Laden, having “crystallized his legend by helping the mujahideen [sic] win a famous victory against Russian special forces in the mountain passes of Jaji near the Pakistani border,” stepped in after the Russian withdrawal and urged the Arab recruits to fight “the imperialists.” He believed it was necessary to concentrate the movement’s ire on defeating the Americans first, the far enemy—hence the spectacular success, by al-Qaida’s accounting, of 9/11. Bin Laden’s nemesis in building up the Iraqi jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by the Americans in 2006, would take up the struggle against the apostate Shia especially, to great controversy within the organization: “waging jihad with my brothers to establish for Islam a homeland and for the Koran a state.” After bin Laden’s death in 2011 and the rise of the Arab Spring, the main organization splintered, in Somalia, Yemen, Algeria, and elsewhere, with Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri becoming ringmaster. As the al-Qaida franchises proliferated, the goal—the establishment of an Islamic state, made possible more quickly than imagined by the Syrian civil war—was shared and spread, and, as the author notes, the organization “once again has the means and the opportunity to attack.”

In a dizzying scenario of violence, Soufan provides clarity and balance.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24117-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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