In This Review
The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions

The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions

By Neil J. Smelser

Princeton University
Press, 2007, 292 pp.

Whatever one's complaints about the excess of new books on terrorism despite there being so little left to say, Smelser, a leading social scientist, turns his attention to the topic with valuable results. After 9/11, Smelser was invited to contribute to various panels on terrorism established by the National Academies, and he took the view that social scientists ought to offer fresh approaches that sidestep partisan political debates. The resulting book is valuable not only because of Smelser's shrewd judgments but also because he draws on such a wide literature -- including on issues related to a range of radical political movements and on the factors that allow these movements to prosper or become discouraged. A couple of nice touches are his use of personal experiences to illuminate key issues and his identification of a number of "entrapments," apparently intractable debates in which analysis can get snarled up -- for example, the debate over the tradeoffs between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties.