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Publisher's Summary

The author of the explosive Atlantic cover story "What ISIS Really Wants" has written the definitive, electrifying account of the strategy, psychology, and theology driving the Islamic State.

Tens of thousands of men and women have left comfortable, privileged lives to join the Islamic State and kill for it. To them, its violence is beautiful and holy, and the caliphate a fulfillment of prophecy and the only place on earth where they can live and die as Muslims.

The Way of the Strangers is an intimate journey into the minds of the Islamic State's true believers. From the streets of Cairo to the mosques of London, Wood interviews supporters, recruiters, and sympathizers of the group. We meet an Egyptian tailor who once made bespoke suits for Paul Newman and now wants to live, finally, under Shariah; a Japanese convert who believes that the eradication of borders - one of the Islamic State's proudest achievements - is a religious imperative; and a charming, garrulous Australian preacher who translates the group's sermons and threats into English and is accused of recruiting for the organization. We also learn about a prodigy of Islamic rhetoric, now stripped of the citizenship of the nation of his birth and determined to see it drenched in blood. Wood speaks with non-Islamic State Muslim scholars and jihadists, and explores the group's idiosyncratic, coherent approach to Islam.

The Islamic State is bent on murder and apocalypse, but its followers find meaning and fellowship in its utopian dream. Its first caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has declared that he is the sole legitimate authority for Muslims worldwide. The theology, law, and emotional appeal of the Islamic State are key to understanding it - and predicting what its followers will do next.

Through character study and analysis, Wood provides a clear-eyed look at a movement that has inspired so many people to abandon or uproot their families. Many seek death - and they will be the terror threat of the next decade, as they strike back against the countries fighting their caliphate. Just as Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower informed our understanding of Al Qaida, Graeme Wood's The Way of the Strangers will shape how we see a new generation of terrorists.

©2017 Graeme Wood (P)2016 Random House Audio

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A longer version of the Atlantic article

So Graeme Wood wrote an extraordinary and influential article in The Atlantic titled, "What ISIS really wants", basically arguing that ISIS is not a bunch of delusional nuts but are acting in the service of some pretty hardcore theology and mostly rational political philosophy, formed over a long period of time. It's grim to be sure, but it gives them ample justification for their actions and suggests they can't be defeated -- if they can be defeated -- by for example making sure that young people have good jobs and the proper education, or whatever. This is the book length version of the article. If you're in a rush, you could just read the article. The additions boil down to a lot of encounters with a bunch of radical Islamist types. Some are odd and some are unsettling but they don't really add a lot to the thesis in themselves, and they get a bit repetitious.

It's always a risk for authors to narrate their own books, and I've given up on a few because they really should not have. Happy to say, Wood does a good job, illuminating a lot of sticky bits with emphasis that a professional narrator might have missed.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Time, Knowledge and Study In = High Quality Out

Wood is way more knowledgeable than I knew. His own understanding of the Arabic language and Islamic philosophy and religious schools, history and thinking is quite subtle and he is able to apply this where necessary to increase understanding where necessary, not to show how smart he is.

Wood takes people at their word (and actions) that they are motivated by their faith (and cites credible reasons for beleiving so.

Bottom line is that this is the most imformative, accurate and fair assessment of why and how otherwise good people believe evil, crazy and destructive things and act on those beliefs in horrific and often difficult to understand ways.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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First Rate

This is a fantastic, thorough, engaging and dynamic book. Excellent and interesting, an actual page-turner as well as an academically rigorous work.

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Very informative

Amazing content and applicability. However was relatively boring other than learning new things and understanding the Islamic State.

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Absolutely brilliant

This is the definitive work on the ideology of supporters of the Islamic State. Absolutely brilliant and definitive.

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Thought provoking

Extremely informative and thought provoking. I had to listen in pieces to digest what was being discussed.

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Graeme Wood puts on a clinic

Fascinating interviews, insightful analysis, captivating stories, this is the best book you can find to get into the minds and hearts of ISIS supporters. It's at once hilarious and chilling, and Graeme's narration is spectacular. Must buy!

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Insightful, clever, sad, funny, sad again.

Amazing case study on what most refuse to discuss. Excellent narration, production value and content.

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fascinating almost ethnographic

a very well-written book. it's hard not to Discount the weight of evidence and research he puts forth to describe Islamic State and their followers that is somewhat of a minority position in the popular press.

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  • Robert
  • HAMPDEN, MA, United States
  • 06-29-17

Broad perspective

Knowing little about the origins of the IS, I found this book informative. Wood interviews a wide variety of people with differing views on Islam. I appreciated his investment in time, travel and risk of personal safety to learn about one of the most violent groups on the planet. Would recommend to anyone curious to know more about the IS, their roots and perception by the rest of the Muslim community.