Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Review: The ISIS Apocalypse by William McCants

The so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, has inspired young men and women all over the world to commit horrible atrocities in its name. By the thousands, they have flooded into the Islamic State's stronghold in Syria and Iraq and carried out attacks under its black banner in nearly every continent. How has the Islamic State surpassed al-Qaeda to become the most popular jihadist group on the planet? Its chilling mission is very specific: bring the immediate return of the Islamic empire and look ahead to the imminent end of days. These two powerful religious ideas, combined with a highly intelligent, meticulously organized membership, account for its popularity and shape its behavior. Its goal is not only to revive this Islamic empire but also usher in the End of Times--a concept that means ISIS anticipates a final battle that will restore the Muslim community to its medieval glory days. And they will not stop until they achieve their mission.
Based almost entirely on primary sources in Arabic-including exclusive al-Qaeda memos that have not been made public before-The ISIS Apocalypse explores how these two powerful ideas shaped the Islamic State's past and foreshadows its dark future, as well as seeks to explain the popularity of the Islamic State and its violent, terrifying behavior.

This is by far the best book, or resource material, really, that explains ISIS and its ideologies to outsiders whose knowledge comes solely from news articles.

In The ISIS Apocalypse, the author discusses the origins of ISIS, its ideologies, its history with al-Qaeda and analyzes why ISIS has had the successes it has and what chances that ISIS has of actually achieving its goals.

I love investigative articles, and this one was like a very long investigative article. I mean that in a good way. I knew bits and pieces about ISIS, and have been greatly appalled by their propaganda and tactics. That's why I've always wondered why people are actually joining up. I just couldn't believe that, given what I knew from my Muslim friends and world history and religions classes, that what ISIS was doing was actually justified in a religion of peace.

This book helped me to see the bigger picture. It puts ISIS and al-Qaeda's actions into context that, while still not something I think most non-Muslims or Muslims, for that matter, would be okay with, certainly explains why people are joining and why they are gaining ground.

Before this book, I already knew about the links between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. However, I had no idea that their relationship was so strained. Another thing that surprised me was the difference in their approach to establishing a caliphate. Al-Qaeda wanted to go for a hearts-and-mind approach, while the Islamic State was more of a... take-it-by-force kind of approach. To be honest, I think al-Qaeda had the better approach here. Al-Qaeda seemed like the mature older brother and ISIS was that brash younger brother who leaps before he looks. It was also actually kind of scary to see how sensible and level-headed Osama bin Laden was in regards to this. He appeared to be a brilliant strategist, politician and economist. He was probably far more dangerous than the American public believed he was.

Anyway, back to the Islamic State. I had no idea that Islamic prophesies played a very important role in their inception and beliefs, and that it's one of the reasons that they have so many recruits. This book also confirmed my belief that Syria might have been the turning point that allowed ISIS to rise the way it did. President Assad is an even bigger villain than I thought.

I found this book to be both informative and entertaining, which is very important in a non-fiction book. I was disgusted and angered many times by the atrocities I read about, but the book doesn't dwell too much on these events so they don't feel sensationalized.

I'm very interested in what the Islamic State or its followers have to say about some of the things brought up in this book because it does pose some serious questions about the future of ISIS. This is a definite must-read for journalists, politicians, military personnel, and anyone who is interested in learning more about ISIS's history and motivations.
Thanks to NetGalley and Palgrave MacMillan Trade for the e-ARC.


  1. It's very well-researched.
  2. You learn a lot about not only ISIS and al-Qaeda, but about Islam in general.
  3. It gives you a clearer picture of what's really going on in the Middle East. 


  1. After awhile, some of the names can be quite confusing for those who are more used to Western names, especially since some have very similar names. 


  1. You want to know how ISIS started.
  2. You are a journalist or in any profession that requires a basic understanding of ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations.
  3. You want to understand why ISIS does what it does.



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