Sageman, a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychiatry and ethnopolitical conflict, applies his varied experience and skills to build an empirical argument for the socio-psychological reasons why someone would join an organization such as al-Qaeda. As an officer in the Foreign Service in the late '80s, Sageman worked closely with Islamic fundamentalists during the Afghan-Soviet war and gained an intimate understanding of the development, form and function of their networks. Sageman wrote this book in order to dispel incorrect assertions about terrorist networks made by so-called experts. Using public documents, Sageman tells us that the motivation to join a militant organization does not necessarily stem from extreme poverty or extreme religious devotion but mostly from the need to escape a sense of alienation. He also disproves conventional wisdom that terrorist groups employ a "top-down" approach to recruiting, showing instead that many cells evolve from friendships and kinships and that the seeds of sedition grow as certain members of a cell influence the thinking of the others. Unfortunately, Sageman's academic and dry prose will lose readers who would be interested in his insightful argument. The growing field of counterterrorism includes many more readers than just academics, and a book like this one could have easily covered a greater portion of this market if more care had been taken to enhance the writing.
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"One of the most original and innovative social science studies ever conducted on how individuals are driven to join terrorist organizations."—ForeWord Magazine
"The most sophisticated analysis of global jihadis yet published. . . . His conclusions have demolished much of the conventional wisdom about who joins jihadi groups."—William Dalrymple, New York Review of Books
"In the late '80s, Sageman worked closely with Islamic fundamentalists during the Afghan-Soviet war and gained an intimate understanding of the development, form, and function of their networks. Sagemen wrote this book in order to dispel incorrect assertions about terrorist networks made by so-called experts."—Publishers Weekly
"The best source of information about modern Islamic terrorists."—Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books
"Marc Sageman advances our understanding of al Qaeda as only the best-known part of the global Salafi jihad. A major contribution to network analysis in its own right, this is a very powerful book."—Randall Collins, author of Interaction Ritual Chains
"Pathbreaking. Combining his skills as a political scientist and a psychiatrist, Sageman dissects the lives of nearly two hundred al Qaeda members and provides unprecedented insight into terrorist ideology, motivation, and action. More than anyone else, Sageman understands the staying power of robust terrorist networks, and he proposes a multipronged response to target al Qaeda. Understanding Terror Networks is timely, very readable, and original. It is a must read for the informed reader and specialist."—Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror
"Marc Sageman breaks new ground in Understanding Terror Networks. He deftly dismantles the pet—and dangerously mistaken—theories of both the terrorism 'experts' and those in our government charged with defending against terrorists: that al Qaeda is an organic replica of a Mafia crime family, and that the tactics used against organized crime will somehow work against our new adversaries. Sageman tells us not only who these people are who seem unafraid to die as they seek to harm us, but why they do what they do. A must read for all concerned with the phenomenon of terrorism."—Milt Bearden, author of The Black Tulip and coauthor of The Main Enemy
"Understanding Terror Networks is one of the most insightful studies published so far on the global Salafi jihad. . . . A major contribution to the academic literature on terrorism. It is required reading for anyone seeking to understand how widespread the terrorist threat has become and the measures that are required to counteract it."—Washington Times
"Marc Sageman is a former CIA case officer who worked undercover on the Afghan frontier during the 1980s. . . . In Understanding Terror Networks he spreads out a feast of stimulating insights."—Washington Post
"The author effectively refutes the traditional explanation that factors such as poverty, trauma, madness, or ignorance drive people to terrorism. Instead he highlights the crucial role of social networks in the transformation of socially isolated individuals into fanatical mujahideen. . . . This thoughtful book combines theories with empirical data to provide valuable insights. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice
"Understanding Terror Networks is a new and different view of a new and different form of terrorism. The insights and conclusions of Sageman befit his name and will benefit seasoned observers of terrorism, practitioners, and newcomers to the field."—Security Management
"Terrorism analysts should read the book to correct some of their procession's assumptions. The concerned citizen will gain a sobering sense of the pervasiveness and stealth of potential jihadist networks around the globe."—Military Review