In This Review

The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
By Lawrence Wright
Knopf, 2016, 384 pp

In ten essays based mostly on articles published in The New Yorker, Wright takes readers on a disquieting journey through the world of violent jihadism, spending time with its perpetrators, its theorists, its mavericks, its victims, and its enemies. He manages to be insightful without telling readers what to think. Even for those familiar with Saudi Arabia, Wright’s portrait of the spiritual home of contemporary jihadism will be as chilling as it is credible. His sketches of the hellhole called Gaza and his profile of filmmakers in autocratic Syria are tangential to the main theme but nonetheless compelling. Throughout, Wright demonstrates how the U.S. government has tripped over its own shoelaces in trying to counter the jihadist threat. Wright’s portraits do not add up to a big picture or an overarching argument, but that is just as well: had that been Wright’s aim, it would have been overreach. In an epilogue, he outlines six paths by which violent Islam is likely to collapse or burn itself out. All of them, alas, stretch far into the future.