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Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS Hardcover – September 29, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 256 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Named a Best Book of 2015 by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, The Washington Post, People Magazine, San Francisco ChronicleKansas City Star, and Kirkus Reviews

“Gripping … Mr. Warrick has a gift for constructing narratives with a novelistic energy and detail, and in this volume, he creates the most revealing portrait yet laid out in a book of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the founding father of the organization that would become the Islamic State … For readers interested in the roots of the Islamic State and the evil genius of its godfather, there is no better book to begin with than Black Flags.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Warrick charts Zarqawi’s rise from booze-swilling Jordanian street tough to one of the most brutal jihadists in the world. He demonstrates how much the militants of the Islamic State owe to Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006—not only their ideology but even the color of the jumpsuits that prisoners wear in execution videos. The militants of ISIS, one of Warrick’s sources explains, are the ‘children of Zarqawi.’”The New Yorker

“A revealing, riveting and exquisitely detailed account of the life and death of Zarqawi, the improbable terrorist mastermind, and the rise of the movement now known as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).”San Francisco Chronicle

"A detailed, step-by-step narrative demonstrating how repeated miscalculations by the United States, Arab leaders and al-Qaeda wound up empowering the Islamic State ... Black Flags provides answers in this still-unfolding history of what happens when religious radicals try to outdo one another for the mantle of God’s favorite."Dallas Morning News

"Invaluable for anyone struggling to understand the gruesome excesses and inexplicable appeal of ISIS ... [a] seminal book."Los Angeles Times

"Warrick’s book might be the most thorough and nuanced account of the birth and growth of ISIS published so far. Black Flags is full of personalities, but it keeps its gaze carefully focused on the wider arc of history."
Boston Globe

"The sort of work every journalist would love to write and few can: a detailed and perceptive analysis that's also a page-turner ... necessary reading for anybody who wants to put Islamic State into the context of both contemporary jihadism and the long history of Muslim fundamentalism."Chicago Tribune

"[Black Flags] is clear and well-told, a good guide for those horrified by the group's emergence but not familiar with every step of the crumbling of Iraq and Syria over the past dozen years ... [It] lays out in strong detail just how rough a neighborhood, both geographically and ideologically, the struggle against ISIS is taking place in."—Associated Press

“Joby Warrick … [has] a great eye for memorable characters. In Black Flags he puts faces on the amorphous organizations we hear about all the time, namely ISIS  and the CIA. Learning about the origins of ISIS is key to understanding the organization today—and key to understanding why we failed to halt ISIS’s growth.”

“Joby Warrick moves easily through the intelligence warrens of Washington and the shattered landscape of the Middle East to tell this insightful narrative of the rise of the Islamic State. Black Flags is an invaluable guide to an unfolding tragedy that must be understood before it can be ended.”
—Lawrence Wright, author of Thirteen Days in September and The Looming Tower
“Joby Warrick is one of America's leading national security reporters, so it's no surprise that Black Flags is the most deeply reported and well-written account we have about ISIS and its terrorist army.”
—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
“Joby Warrick weaves Black Flags with the tradecraft of a spy, the mind of an investigative reporter, and the pen of a novelist. The picture that emerges is sometimes hard to bear: of brutal ISIS
torturers and Jordanian interrogators, of bumbling U.S. leaders, of American intelligence services that still can't get it right quickly enough. We should all thank Warrick for telling a hard truth the government will not want to hear: how U.S. policies helped give birth to the so-called Islamic State.”
—Dana Priest, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter and author of Top Secret America
“Drawing on his unrivaled sources and access, Joby Warrick has written a profoundly important and groundbreaking book, one that reads like a novel, riveting from the first page to the last. If you want to know the story behind ISIS, and all of us should, this is the book you must read.”  
—Martha Raddatz, Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, ABC News, and author of The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family
“A page-turner and a flat-out great book. This is the inside account of how we ended up with the Islamic State, with one revelation after another. If you read one book on ISIS, this is it.”
—Robert Baer, author of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism

“Joby Warrick is an exceptional storyteller, and Black Flags is both illuminating and spellbinding. No book better explains the miscalculations, wrong turns, and bad luck that led to the rise of ISIS.”
—Rick Atkinson, author of The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

“[A] crisply written, chilling account … Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Warrick confidently weaves a cohesive narrative from an array of players—American officials, CIA officers, Jordanian royalty and security operatives, religious figures, and terrorists—producing an important geopolitical overview with the grisly punch of true-crime nonfiction … The author focuses on dramatic flashpoints and the roles of key players, creating an exciting tale with a rueful tone, emphasizing how the Iraq invasion's folly birthed ISIS and created many missed opportunities to stop al-Zarqawi quickly.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“Joby Warrick has written a penetrating and fascinating look at the birth and evolution of the world’s most violent terrorist network, ISIS, or ISIL. This is an eye-opening book … The author tells his story through rich details and revealing anecdotes that bring you into the violent world of Islamic extremism. At times, you feel as if you’re sitting in a tent in a remote region of Iraq, watching and listening to al-Zarqawi as he claws his way to the top of the terrorist chain … The writing is crisp, the reporting incredible, a combination of extensive digging and terrific use of sources.”
Buffalo News


About the Author

JOBY WARRICK has been a reporter for The Washington Post since 1996. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, for journalism and for his book Black Flags: The Rise of Isis. He is also the author of The Triple Agent.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (September 29, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385538227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385538220
  • ASIN: 0385538219
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (256 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kristi Gilleland TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author did an excellent job of making this book interesting to read. For me, it was an absolute page turner. The writing was as good as I could ever hope to read on a subject like this. It was well researched and authoritative. I had expected a book filled with information that I'd have to wade through. However, from the first page I was drawn in and found myself enjoying the book so much that I wanted to find time so I could just enjoy it and finish. I was completely delighted that it was so easy to read. The author just did a great job crafting the book around the lives of a few key players, and has their story wind its way around those connected to them, so that the book ends with how they have fared in the course of time.

But it IS full of information, especially about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and how he rose to be so influential in ISIL, and also Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Another central character is King Abdullah II of Jordan, a leader I really admire in the fight against the extremists. It was fun to read and learn more about him. The stories of all these men are told in a way that is so very human, with their multi-dimensional personalities shown through little vignettes and stories of their actions, big and small, good, and horrendous.

I feel like I have a much better understanding of some of the key players, as well as the ideology and goals of this very dangerous group. I know a lot of people want to play a big blame game with the group, but really there is more than enough of that to go around, and the book doesn't shy away from it, but I felt like it was ultimately a very fair telling of where ISIL came from, and how they remain a threat today.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love history books, and this one is about a very modern (and relevant) story, so I ordered it. I find it to be well written and researched, with a lot of detail and no judgement by the author.

The book details the rise of the specific brand of militant Islam that resulted in ISIS. The author uses personal stories and quotes to trace this organization over the last 20 years or so from an isolated person (al-Zarqawi), into a regional monster. I learned a lot from the telling, including the fact that the US inadvertently gave al-Zarqawi a rise to prominence, how the movement was overcome in Iraq by the late 2000s, and then how it was resurrected by the Syrian crisis to morph into the monstrosity known today. I did not realize that al-Zarqawi basically invented the butchery of barbaric bombings, or that the bombings were cleverly used to divide the Iraqi people into religious sects. And I did not know that his organization was defeated in central Iraq after his death, only to be brought back to life by the Syrian crisis. The details of the American effort to defeat al-Zarqawi in 2004-2006 were really great, and I came away impressed by Gen McChrystal. I was fascinated to find that even Bin Laden himself was afraid of al-Zarqawi's tactics. This book is chock full of amazing stuff!

But most of all I was surprised to read of the mistakes made by two different Administrations in dealing with Iraq (Bush) and Syria (Obama). None of this need have happened (according to compelling personal stories in the book) if officials had simply exercised better judgement in resolving affairs in the region. I won't share the conclusions of the book, from my view after reading this, ISIS can be defeated, but it won't easy or likely from direct US intervention.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
ISIS, The Global Terrorist Network

This Labor Day weekend, we are seeing the results of the civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS. Thousands and thousands of refugees are pouring out of Syria to the European countries. How has this happened, what was the role of the U.S., and who is ISIS? Understanding the history of this terrorist network may be one of our most important responsibilities.

The author, Joby Warrick, has written a book tracing the rise and evolution of ISIS, but more importantly told with detail and giving us a look at the history of the Middle East, and the characters involved. I read Warrick's last book, ' The Triple Agent, the Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated The CIA'. That was a terrific book filled with insight and inside sources within the CIA. This is also an eye-opening book for all of us who have difficulty sorting out Al-Qaeda vs. ISIS, the cast of characters, the politics involved within the Mideast countries, and how the U.S. played a part in all of this. After reading this book, I have a basic understanding about ISIS and the background history.

We meet King Abdullah of Jordan, newly appointed in 1999, who granted amnesty to political prisoners who were deemed as low risk. Unknown to him was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the prisoners, a terrorist from Zarqa, Jordan. While in prison, he became a leader of the Islamist movement in the Middle East. We are privy to the rise of terror, and to some insight into this man's mind and his philosophy. In 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq he was given instant fame by the Bush/Cheney administration as a link between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. This was entirely false, and gives us insight into the lack of real information and analysis of that administration.
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