Jessica Stern

ISIS: The State of Terror

About the Book

Drawing on their unusual access to intelligence sources, law enforcement, and groundbreaking research, two of America’s leading experts on violent extremism and terrorism explain the genesis, evolution, and implications of today’s most barbaric jihadist army, Islamic State—and how we can fight it.

Though terrorist groups are a fixture of contemporary politics and warfare, the world has never witnessed the degree of sheer brutality demonstrated by the group know as ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Its sadistic disregard for human life, sophisticated use of social media, acquisition of territory, and ability to attract foreign fighters—many from modern Western democracies—is unprecedented.

Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger analyze the tools ISIS uses both to frighten innocent citizens and lure new soldiers—including the “ghoulish pornography” of their pro-jihadi videos, the seductive appeal of “jihadic chic,” and its startling effective social media expertise. While this jihadi army poses a significant threat, our response must be carefully calibrated the authors warn; sending troops onto the battlefield could become the ideal recruiting tool, increasing ISIS’s ranks.

ISIS: The State of Terror offers practical ideas on potential government responses—most importantly, emphasizing that we must alter our present conceptions of terrorism and terrorists and react to the rapidly changing jihadi landscape, both online and off, as quickly as the terrorists do. As it lays out what our next move—as a country, as a government, as the world—should be, it offers a vital assessment of the future of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism.

Buy Online: Amazon

About co-author J.M. Berger

J.M. Berger is a researcher, analyst and writer covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a comprehensive history of American jihadists. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic,The Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, the CTC Sentinel, the New York Daily News and the Boston Globe, and on National Public Radio, Public Radio International and the National Geographic Channel. Berger has discussed terrorism and extremism on CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets.

J.M runs a website that publishes investigative reports and analysis on terrorism, as well exclusive primary source documents. IntelWire has published thousands of declassified documents on the September 11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. Connect with him on Twitter for more updates and analysis.


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From The Washington Post: “Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger’s new book, “ISIS,” should be required reading for every politician and policymaker…Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations….Stern and Berger offer a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group.”

“ISIS” was named a notable non-fiction of 2015 by the Washington Postand one of 10 “must-read books on the evolution of terrorism in the Middle East” by the Wall Street Journal.

The Islamic State, known as ISIS, exploded into the public eye in 2014 with startling speed and shocking brutality. It has captured the imagination of the global jihadist movement, attracting recruits in unprecedented numbers and wreaking bloody destruction with a sadistic glee that has alienated even the hardcore terrorists of its parent organization, al Qaeda.

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, two of America’s leading experts on terrorism, dissect the new model for violent extremism that ISIS has leveraged into an empire of death in Iraq and Syria, and an international network that is rapidly expanding in the Middle East, North Africa and around the world.

ISIS: The State of Terror traces the ideological innovations that the group deploys to recruit unprecedented numbers of Westerners, the composition of its infamous snuff videos, and the technological tools it exploits on social media to broadcast its atrocities, and its recruiting pitch to the world, including its success at attracting thousands of Western adherents. The authors examine ISIS’s predatory abuse of women and children and its use of horror to manipulate world leaders and its own adherents as it builds its twisted society. The authors offer a much-needed perspective on how world leaders should prioritize and respond to ISIS’s deliberate and insidious provocations.

Get the latest updates on ISIS: The State of Terror by following the book on Twitter!

Read and Listen to Excerpts of ISIS: The State of Terror

ISIS as Cult

Brookings Lawfare Blog, March 26, 2015

ISIS and Sexual Slavery

Brookings Lawfare Blog, March 25, 2015

The Race to the Caliphate

Brookings Lawfare Blog, March 24, 2015

Smart Mobs, Ultraviolence, and Civil Society: ISIS Innovations

Brookings Lawfare Blog, March 23, 2015

Audiobook Excerpt from ISIS: The State of Terror

Harper Collins Audio, March 23, 2015

‘Raising Tomorrow’s Mujahideen’: The Horrific World of ISIS’s Child Soldiers

The Guardian, March 10, 2015

Thugs Wanted–Bring Your Own Boots

The Guardian, March 9, 2015

ISIS and the Foreign Fighter Phenomenon

The Atlantic, March 8, 2015

Reviews for ISIS: The State of Terror

Washington Post: “Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger’s new book, “ISIS,” should be required reading for every politician and policymaker…Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations….Stern and Berger offer a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group.”

Salon:“Understanding ISIS, who it appeals to and why, as well as how it sees itself, isn’t something we’re supposed to do. One purpose of ISIS’ savagery is to make us react without thinking, to compel us to view the world as it does, as a stark conflict between good and evil demanding immediate, dramatic action. In that light, consider ‘ISIS: The State of Terror,’ a profound act of counterterrorism.”

The Telegraph:“Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger have produced a clear and succinct account of the rise of the fanatics… This book’s achievement is to demonstrate how ISIS fits within the spectrum of blood-soaked jihadism.”

Evening Standard: “One can only conclude, with the clarity of recent hindsight, that we should have seen it coming — at least when seen through the lens of ISIS: The State of Terror, a new history of the threat by US academics Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger….a timely and important history of a movement that now defines the 21st century.”

Literary Review:  “Stern and Berger draw on Internet-based sources, big-brained research on political violence and some of the most acute thinking about the insurgency that is around today.”

New York Times:“The authors do nimble jobs of turning their copious research and their own expertise on terrorism into coherent, accessible narratives that leave us with an understanding of the Islamic State’s history and metastasis, and its modus operandi….The most compelling sections of the Stern-Berger book are devoted to comparing ISIS and Al Qaeda….The authors describe Al Qaeda as an exclusive ‘vanguard movement,’ a ‘cabal that saw itself as the elite intellectual leaders of a global ideological revolution that it would assist and manipulate.’ … ISIS, in contrast, is more of a populist start-up operation.”

The Independent (Ireland): “…an engrossing book in which two scholars of Islamic terrorism describe the rise of a formidable jihadi movement… The jihadis are master propagandists, and the authors’ description of the workings of the ISIS publicity machine is one of the strongest parts of a book full of insights… illuminating…”

Kirkus Reviews: “A detailed study of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from its rise out of al-Qaida to its intended fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecies. … this book offers much to learn about ISIS and an expanded understanding of current events.”

Mick Endsor: “ISIS: The State of Terroris a brilliant analysis of a group that, in a matter of years, has gone from the verge of extinction to one of the single greatest threats to peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond. Many more pages will undoubtedly be written on ISIS in the coming years but Stern and Berger have set the standard here.”

The Malaysian Reserve: “The book expertly focuses on the timelines and events that led to ISIS as well as the people within the organisation… A serious in-depth look into ISIS that doesn’t feel as if it’s just another Western ‘liberal’ propaganda. A must read, especially for those living in Muslim countries whether you’re a Muslim or not.”

New York Times: “[Stern and Berger] dissect the Islamic State’s messaging in some detail, showing how the cruelty is aimed at recruiting a very specific demographic, ‘angry, maladjusted young men’ attracted to a total war against unbelief…The authors contrast the Islamic State’s messaging with Al Qaeda’s, and show why ISIS has ultimately been more successful.”

On the Islamic State and Terrorism

CBC RADIO CANADA:How “Spiritual Dread” and Flawed Risk Perceptions Make Us Overreact to Terrorism

THE TAKEAWAY: How Terrorists Prey on the Vulnerable for Maximum Impact

BOSTON GLOBE: Attacks on Soft Targets Likely to Get Worse

WBUR: Counterterrorism Expert on What to Expect After Manchester

BOSTON GLOBE: Trump’s Executive Order Will Make Us Less Safe


BU TODAY: Is the War on Terrorism Really Winnable? 

BOSTON GLOBE: ISIS Targets the “Gray Zone” of Moderate Islam

SENATE HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE TESTIMONY: Inside the Mind of ISIS: Understanding Its Goals and Ideology to Better Protect the Homeland 

THE ATLANTIC: How Not to Contain ISIS

NEW YORK TIMES: How Terror Hardens Us

LAWFARE: What Does ISIS Really Want Now?

POLITICO: The Islamic State Paradox

PBS NEWSHOUR: Why the Islamic State Hates France

BBC: Islamic State Moulds Children Into New Generation of Militants

WASHINGTON POST: The Gangster-Terrorist Who Gave Us ISIS

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Obama and Terrorism

C-SPAN: Radio Q&A with Jessica Stern

TIME: A 6-Point Plan to Defeat ISIS in the Propaganda War

THE GUARDIAN: Thugs Wanted–Bring Your Own Boots

THE GUARDIAN: Raising Tomorrow’s Mujahideen–The Horrific World of ISIS’s Child Soldiers

THE BOSTON GLOBE: Harvard Lecturer Jessica Stern on the Roots of ISIS

FOREIGN POLICYBrief Interviews with Hideous Terrorists

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School

COST OF WAR PROJECT: Terrorism after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq


Profile in BU Today


To The Point

All Things Considered 

Radio National Australia

Huffpost Live

PBS Newshour

American Academy of Arts & Sciences


BBC’s NewsHour

State of the Union 

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