• Reign of Terror

  • How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump
  • By: Spencer Ackerman
  • Narrated by: Spencer Ackerman
  • Length: 13 hrs and 55 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (445 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2021

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued." (The New York Times)

"One of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era." (New York Magazine)

An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction

For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States has waged an endless conflict known as the War on Terror. In addition to multiple ground wars, the era pioneered drone strikes and industrial-scale digital surveillance, weakened the rule of law through indefinite detentions, sanctioned torture, and manipulated the truth about it all. These conflicts have yielded neither peace nor victory, but they have transformed America. What began as the persecution of Muslims and immigrants has become a normalized feature of American politics and national security, expanding the possibilities for applying similar or worse measures against other targets at home, as the summer of 2020 showed. A politically divided and economically destabilized country turned the War on Terror into a cultural - and then a tribal - struggle. It began on the ideological frontiers of the Republican Party before expanding to conquer the GOP, often with the acquiescence of the Democratic Party. Today’s nativist resurgence walked through a door opened by the 9/11 era. And that door remains open. 

Reign of Terror shows how these developments created an opportunity for American authoritarianism and gave rise to Donald Trump. It shows that Barack Obama squandered an opportunity to dismantle the War on Terror after killing Osama bin Laden. By the end of his tenure, the war had metastasized into a bitter, broader cultural struggle in search of a demagogue like Trump to lead it. 

Reign of Terror is a pathbreaking and definitive union of journalism and intellectual history with the power to transform how America understands its national security policies and their catastrophic impact on civic life.

©2021 Spencer Ackerman (P)2021 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"A bracing chronicle of the war on terror and its corrosive effect on American democracy." (Jamelle Bouie, The New York Times

Named a best nonfiction book of 2021 by The Washington Post and Foreign Policy 

"In the genre of books that seek to explain why we are in the mess we are in, Reign of Terror is a formidable entry. To those who want to portray Trump as wholly exceptional, and discontinuous with the recent past, the book is an essential corrective." (The New Republic)

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued." (The New York Times)

"Reign of Terror is at its strongest when Ackerman recalls some of the outrages-of-the-week of the past 20 years, which may have faded from memory but feel portentous in retrospect.... The book compellingly argues that, the protestations of neoconservative Never Trumpers notwithstanding, Trump’s 'America First' doctrine was not a break from Bush’s 'freedom agenda'; it was its inevitable conclusion." (Slate)

What listeners say about Reign of Terror

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Insightful and true, but leftist

I agree wholeheartedly with the book's assessment that the war on terror is a malignant tumor killing whatever one thinks the good parts of USA are.
However, the author's unashamed and undisguised leftist leanings, while not harming the narratives credibility in my view, will surely infuriate anyone on the right, so beware. A shame, really, as this will stop me from recommending the book to a lot of friends that would not be able to get over what they will construe as a slanted view that shows only half of the picture.
On the other hand, you don't want a book to sound as if it was written by a committee, but an individual, sharing with you their thoughts. Guess we have to hope for a right leaning writer to develop this narrative in their own way. Looking forward to that!

20 people found this helpful

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A Skeleton Key to Modern America

To understand the national psychosis that enveloped America post-9/11, There is no better book.

8 people found this helpful

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Vital analysis for policymakers and the public

Ackerman vividly illustrates the ruinous consequences of post-9/11 policy. Every American should learn about the continuity between the initiation of the global war on terror and present conditions. If we do not internalize the lessons from this book, either Trump himself or someone worse will return and take the domestic security state to its logical conclusion.

6 people found this helpful

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Terrific.

Just a really well thought out, well argued book that traces a path from 9/11 to the horrors of 2021.

A terrific read.

6 people found this helpful

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A powerful history

As a Muslim American, I keenly understand how 9/11 changed everything for our community. As Ackerman meticulously demonstrates though, 9/11 changed everything about America as well remaking our values, our role in the world, and unleashing the violent carnage that displaces millions to this day.

The book is a helpful primer on the history of how we’ve gone in the wrong direction since 9/11. Ackerman’s critique is multi partisan and blistering. The audio version is read by Ackerman and his narration is excellent.

This book poses the difficult questions that too many Americans have ignored or chosen to look away. If you are unfamiliar with the subject matter, it’s a must read.

5 people found this helpful

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We should have just locked the cockpit doors

Throughout Ackerman's point by point research curating the atrocities of the War on Terror lies one question.
Would we have been better off, more secure, more safe and more free, having done nothing after 9/11 than what America ultimately chose to do over the succeeding two decades?
What is shown between the lines is the bottomless cowardice of Americans who would never realistically come face to face with terror, but relished inflicting it on others from the comfort of their ignorance.

5 people found this helpful

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Riveting review of the last twenty years

Spencer Ackerman so eloquently distills the failures of US Foreign and Domestic policies in the years leading up to, and since 9/11. This is a seminal text in explaining the failures of, and following the patterns from the War on Terror to the US today.

Now, at the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this history of the US' failures, atrocities, and reliance on butchery is more necessary for people everywhere to read/listen to.

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very informative

well sourced and illuminating. really paints a picture of how we got to where we are today. much of this you will know if you have read anything about Iraq, Afghanistan, post 9/11 national policy, and follow current events but this really connects the dots very well in an engaging way.

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Sound Thesis Compelling Story

I struggled to finish the book bevause of the headlines like retelling of history of a year ago. I feel like much of the last 3/4 of the book can be cut down dramatically or skimmed by the reader. The book does offer a coherent analysis of the connection between modern politics of the demonrats and the republicants using the bloody shirt of 911 as a tool for political repression of everyone not part of the elite vampire class of capitalist swine.

2 people found this helpful

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an exceptional history and analysis

Thorough in its history of 9/11 and deep analysis about how it shaped our politics

1 person found this helpful