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The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia Hardcover – November 19, 2012


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The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia + Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes + High-Value Target: Countering al Qaeda in Yemen (ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393082423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393082425
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

While U.S. foreign policy focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen presents a mounting threat as al-Qaeda grows in strength and influence in the remote regions of the Arab world. Johnsen, an expert on Yemen, draws on al-Qaeda battle notes to deliver a detailed analysis of how a nation that had been a success story in the U.S. effort to defeat al-Qaeda and stabilize the region has been the site for resurgence instead. He examines the historical factors that have contributed to the buildup of al-Qaeda in Yemen as young men were recruited by the government, Yemeni tribes, and mosques in a concerted effort to turn the war in Afghanistan into a broader jihad. Johnsen explores the motivations of major figures, including tribal loyalties, old rivalries, new oil revenue, and geopolitics. Most compelling are the details of recruitment and training of young men vulnerable to appeals to righteousness and adventure as they are drawn into the training campuses and safe houses, where terrorists plot their attacks on the U.S. and its allies. Gripping and insightful. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“Gregory Johnsen has written a break-through book on one of the most under-reported and misunderstood stories of the post 9-11 era. Penned in gripping prose and with incredible attention to detail, The Last Refuge unfolds with the pace of an action novel. But this story is all too true. If we ignore the widening covert war in Yemen and fail to learn from its complicated history, we do so at our own peril. Years from now, Johnsen will be seen as one of the few who got it right.” (Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army)

“Gregory Johnsen, an authority on Yemen and jihadist extremists, has delivered in The Last Refuge a wonderfully well written and deeply reported account of the only al-Qaeda affiliate that continues to pose a real threat to the West.” (Peter L. Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Osama bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad)

The Last Refuge offers a valuable look at al-Qaeda’s operational history in Yemen. Gregory Johnsen has done us all a service by explaining the country, the threats, and why we should pay attention.” (Ali H. Soufan, author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda)

“Johnsen... has produced the first comprehensive history of the al Qaeda movement [in Yemen]: an engrossing account of the operations, personalities, and motivations that have caused the US such headaches.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Gregory Johnsen has written the best new book on al Qaeda in 2012 and the best book on Yemen in years.... The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia is a detailed narrative account of the development of [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is also a great read...” (Bruce Riedel - Daily Beast)

The Last Refuge is an authoritative and deftly written account of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni incarnation. The book is dense with terrorist genealogies, but it also offers a lively portrait of the American government’s stumbling efforts to understand and influence a profoundly alien culture. His account, starting in the 1980s, implicitly places Yemen near the center of the global jihadi movement; it may not be where al-Qaeda started, but it has always furnished many of the movement’s foot soldiers, and it has now succeeded Afghanistan as the US government’s most urgent concern about counterterrorism.” (Robert R. Worth - The New York Review of Books)

“Gripping and insightful.” (Booklist)

“Part modern history, part explanatory narrative… Johnson moves deftly between decades, continents and languages.... The Last Refuge is a cogent insight into what the U.S. has done in the past twenty-five years—a bird’s-eye-view on those successes and failures, in all their shades of horrid gray...” (Haley Sweetland Edwards - The Washington Monthly)

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Customer Reviews

The book is a fascinating read for the specialist or non specialist.
M. R.
Johnsen offers a comprehensive look at the role that Yemen has played in terrorism since the 1980s, focusing most particularly on terrorist acts by Al-Qaeda.
Just the Facts, Please
I would recommend this book without reservation for someone who is a serious student of this subject.
J. Sanchez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. R. on February 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a fascinating read for the specialist or non specialist. Johnsen gives us a well researched narrative that is powerful and compelling and certainly helps one to understand the crisis of Yemen better.

Be careful not to expect any kind of analysis of U.S. policy in Yemen. The book, while providing an in depth story, does not come to a set of conclusions or policy recommendations. In the last chapter of the book, the story of AQAP simply ends, without any kind of discussions about the implications of the story the book has so painstakingly laid out. From reading Johnsen's blogs and other materials, it seems like he has quite strong (and very intelligently put) opinions about U.S. policy in the region, and it is a disappointment that these weren't included in this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Adam on December 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having traveled to Yemen and followed AQAP closely for awhile I was particularly excited when this book came out. Mr. Johnsen does a great job of detailing the history behind jihadists in Yemen which is much more varied and complex than one would assume. He writes many of the chapters in a narrative format and his style is both thrilling and informative. He makes a strong case against the over-reliance on drone strikes in fighting AQAP. The one thing I would have added would be a more extensive conclusion detailing possible options such as economic and political measures that could be used in tandem with a security approach.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jamie on November 28, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent book. I highly recommend for anyone who would like to know more about how Al-Qaida has evolved with the countries in the region. Puts a new perspective on the events of the last 10+ years.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Just the Facts, Please on February 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is an outstanding book that is well-researched and well-written. Johnsen offers a comprehensive look at the role that Yemen has played in terrorism since the 1980s, focusing most particularly on terrorist acts by Al-Qaeda. He discusses the history of Osama bin Laden and how the decisions of the U.S. and of various countries in the Middle East affected Al-Qaeda's (and subsequently AQAP's) successes and failures. He also looks at corruption in Yemen and actions by its longtime president, Ali Abdullah Salih, the shrewd-but-fickle politician who always had his hand out for money but whose support for U.S. policies ran hot and cold. Johnsen writes without an obvious political agenda, and he takes a measured look at miscalculations and successes by the United States. As an author, Johnsen took a lot of information and shaped it well; I was amazed at how readable and interesting the book is. This could have been painfully dry in the hands of a less-skilled writer! I highly recommend this book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Edmund J. Hull on November 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In his remarkable book, Greg Johnsen has managed to crawl inside Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and provide us insights into personalities, ideology, organization, strengths and weaknesses. This book should be on the reading list for every diplomat, soldier or spy heading to Sana'a as well as any journalist or pundit who seeks to write or comment on Yemen's challenges or post-Bin Ladin Al Qaeda. Johnsen also treats fairly Saleh's and the U.S.' waxing and waning efforts against Al Qaeda and usefully explains the complexities of the Al Huthi rebellion and southern secession. Given his past criticism of narrowly focused counter-terrorism -- no magic missiles -- it is a bit ironic that he himself says little about efforts toward political and economic development. Clearly AQAP prioritizes it -- e.g. its efforts to bring Taliban-like justice to Jaar. A critical assessment of John Brennan's broad aspirational strategy would have been welcome, but perhaps that's volume 2. Author of High-Value Target: Countering al Qaeda in Yemen
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Martenis on October 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author starts the book with the history of Yemen and bin Laden in 1980's and concludes in 2011 after bin Laden's and al-Awlaki's assassinations. He covers most of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Salih's 30 year presidency and interactions with western and Saudi Arabian interests.

As a history book, it is well written; although so many unfamiliar Arab names are used that sound so much alike makes a difficult read for a westerner. The problem for me is that it seems to be just that - a history book, or long newspaper article (very long) - a description of events tied together with Muslim beliefs; a lot of violence with no other purpose than pursuit of power or revenge - disturbing.

The author has a nucleus of a book here, but I expected SOME analysis of the whole Middle East conundrum. The title of the book is not correct - Yemen is not the last refuge for al-Qaeda. As soon as we (USA) leave the area (as we should and eventually will), then al-Qaeda and radical Islam will be back in business until moderates decide that the radicals pose a very real problem (or until the region runs out of oil or the world finds a replacement for oil).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Leonardo on February 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Johnson didn't miss anything in compiling facts for this work. It's hard to believe that it is even possible to amass so many facts and so much background information. I'm not aware of any other book that even comes close to giving such a complete picture of the events and societal forces at play in this complex country.
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