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Books on terrorism

Islam & Terrorism

Issue: "Islam and teroris," Oct. 27, 2001
1
Germs
Judith Miller
CONTENT
A history of the development and use of bio-weapons by governments and cults, and a forecast of future use by terrorists and rogue states.

GIST
A highly readable, sober look at bio-weapons, the reasons for the ban on their use, the attempts to develop defenses against them, and several instances of their past use by cults-including one in Oregon and another in Japan. Judith Miller, who wrote the book with Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, has been in the news since receiving a letter containing a powdery substance at The New York Times.

2
The New Jackals
Simon Reeve
CONTENT
The story of the FBI search for Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and many other terrorist acts.

GIST
Simon Reeve takes a complex story and transforms it into an international thriller, following multiple characters-FBI agents, terrorists, Osama bin Laden-until he's pieced together the events that led up to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, as well as other audacious attacks masterminded by Yousef. Sometimes his footnotes ("author interview with Filipino investigators") are vague.

3
Bin Laden
Yossef Bodansky
CONTENT
A comprehensive look at bin Laden by a former congressional investigator.

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GIST
A scholarly, though readable, book that traces Osama bin Laden's influence to his ability to mobilize the "Afghan Arabs" who came together from all over the Middle East to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Bodansky shows the role of bin Laden and his terrorists in stirring up terror in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Malaysia, and the Philippines. This book is the best of the volumes on bin Laden and company.

4
Unholy Wars
John K. Cooley
CONTENT
A scholarly book with dull writing that traces the role of the CIA and cold-war ideology in the rise of Islamic extremism.

GIST
Reporters have traced the rise of Islamic extremism to the Afghan War. Cooley emphasizes the U.S. role in arming Islamic fundamentalists to act as our proxies in that fight, thus building a powerful force that has come back to haunt us. There are lessons here about hubris and the inability of even very smart people to predict all the future consequences of their well-meaning actions.

5
Reaping the Whirlwind
Michael Griffin
CONTENT
This history of modern Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban calls into question whether any factions or leaders can bring stable government out of chaos.

GIST
Afghanistan is a jumble of ethnic groups, tribes, and warring factions. Internal divisions and outside meddling by countries like Pakistan and Russia make cohesion highly unlikely. This book does little to sort out the confusion for the lay reader. With its hard-to-follow narrative and its tossing in of names of a huge number of players, this is not for any but the most determined readers.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A tailor comes from London to an isolated English village in 1666. He finds lodging with a young widow and makes clothes for villagers from the bolts of fabric he brought. But hidden in that fabric is a germ-the Plague-which he unwittingly lets loose upon the village. The tailor dies, then the neighbor's child, then the widow's children-nearly every household is infected. The pastor proposes that the town quarantine itself to keep the disease from spreading to other villages. In Year of Wonders (Viking 2001), based on the true story of Eyams, an English village, reporter Geraldine Brooks captures the feel of life in 17th-century Britain and the worldview of a people who believe in God. That faith is demonstrated by the self-sacrificial love of Anna (the widow) and the pastor and his wife. What's the problem? Turns out the compassionate pastor who has been preaching a gospel of grace to the town has been practicing an unforgiving works righteousness at home. Here Ms. Brooks confesses that she took liberties with history. The real pastor was "heroic and saintly," the fictional pastor a hypocrite. She concludes the novel with Anna moving to Muslim lands and finding her life's work as a midwife and her faith in tatters.
Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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