"ISIS: The State of Terror" by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger


Click to buy now! 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 rapidly expanding in the Middle East, North Africa and around the world.

Buy now! | Excerpt in The Atlantic | Audiobook excerpt

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, insidious provocations.

Jessica Stern is author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

Buy it now! | Buy the Kindle edition!



Reza Aslan, best-selling author and religious scholar: "By far the most important contribution yet to our understanding of an organization that remains cloaked in mystery and misunderstanding... A brisk, readable, and eye-opening account of ISIS's past, present, and future. This is a book every American should read."

Best-selling author and CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen: "The first serious book to analyze the rise of ISIS... Stern and Berger write clearly and persuasively and marshal impressive primary research from ISIS's prodigious propaganda to help explain how ISIS became the dominant jihadi group today. It's a terrific and important read."

Dr. John Horgan, author of The Psychology of Terrorism: "A timely and urgent book that is essential reading for analysts and policy makers alike. In what is already a cornerstone contribution, Stern and Berger offer the kind of cold-blood analysis so desperately needed on the poorly understood phenomenon that is the so-called Islamic state."

Aaron Zelin, fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "A penetrating analysis . . . The book provides important context for an evolving organization and proto-state that is attempting to rewrite the jihadi playbook."

Mike Walker, former undersecretary and acting secretary of the United States Army: "Stern and Berger pull back the curtain to expose facts and myths about the violent Salafi apocalyptic cult calling itself the Islamic State. A must-read."

Kecia Ali, associate professor religion, Boston University: "ISIS emerged in territory occupied by American soldiers, governed by dictatorial regimes, and fought over by sectarian extremists. Stern and Berger provide context for understanding ISIS's past and considering how its media model may affect future extremist movements."




Reviews of 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... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group."


  • J.M. Berger: Has ISIS sparked a regional ME war?
  • Jessica Stern: How ISIS Lures Westerners
  • Audio: Book launch at Brookings Institution
  • Audio: Stern and Berger on All Things Considered
  • Audio: Stern and Berger on The Diane Rehm Show
  • Video: Stern and Berger on HuffPostLive


    The Hindu: "I regard the work as an excellent primer for students of terrorism who are baffled by the diminished stature of al-Qaeda and the meteoric rise of the IS. Training institutions will greatly benefit from prescribing it as compulsory reading at a time when field operatives of the government need a clear understanding of what they are battling against."

    New York Review of Books: "In ISIS: The State of Terror, Stern and Berger provide a fascinating analysis of the movement's use of video and social media. They have tracked individual Twitter accounts, showing how users kept changing their Twitter handles, piggybacked on the World Cup by inserting images of beheadings into the soccer chat, and created new apps and automated bots to boost their numbers. Stern and Berger show that at least 45,000 pro-movement accounts were online in late 2014, and describe how their users attempted to circumvent Twitter administrators by changing their profile pictures from the movement's flags to kittens."

    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. ... Stern and Berger's book is packed with useful insights and also seeks to explain the different aspects of ISIS."

    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."

    Prospect: "Perhaps the most interesting comparison to make is between IS and apocalyptic cults. Stern and Berger cite the examples of Heaven's Gate and the Branch Davidians, whose members attempted, or were pressured into, mass suicide on the basis that the end was nigh. THe eschatology of IS has found fertile soil."

    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."

    Backbench: "Stern and Berger have made a valuable contribution to the discourse surrounding ISIS and I highly recommend their new book, which is equally accessible to both the academic and more casual reader with an interest in Middle Eastern affairs."

    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..."

    Prospect Magazine: "...the heart of their book is about the technology and psychology of IS. They ... break down the illusion of novelty, by situating the militants' sadistic tactics, apocalyptic ideas and social media dexterity in the context of other violent extremist groups. This may not be consolatory, but it is clarifying."

    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 Terror is 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."

    Buy it now! | Buy the Kindle edition!