Thoughtful and sensitive, Bergen’s book faces a nightmare scenario head-on.



A frightening survey of Islamic terrorists bred on American soil.

As a reporter, CNN national security analyst Bergen (Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad, 2012, etc.) won enormous respect for interviewing Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks. Now he describes a foggier threat to national security: terrorists born and raised in the U.S. He opens with Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an Illinois teenager who attempted to fly to Turkey in order to join the Islamic State group. Like most of the author’s subjects, Khan and his younger siblings seem like well-adjusted Americans, yet Khan dreamed of living in the Islamic State group’s “Islamic utopia.” Bergen recounts the familiar stories of John Walker Lindh and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but his most startling chapters focus on little-known jihadis like Zachary Chesser, who threatened the creators of South Park, and Carlos Bledsoe, who fired on U.S. servicemen. Throughout the book, the violence seems random and unpredictable. Some characters, like imam Anwar al-Awlaki, appear moderate and peaceful, but they harbor grim secrets: al-Awlaki hired sex workers, wrote militant manifestos, and worked with al-Qaida. A lesser author might have written an anti-immigrant rant, but Bergen approaches the problem of “domestic jihad” as a puzzle to be solved, carefully peeling back the complex layers of the Muslim world. “Of course, only a tiny minority of Muslims are willing to do violence in the name of Allah,” he writes, “and Muslims as a group are certainly no more violent than the adherents of any other religion.” Thorough research reveals how interwoven these conspirators are, and the clerics who inspire violence on the Internet seem nearly as dangerous as the actual perpetrators. Despite the bleak subject matter, Bergen remains optimistic. Terrorism is “a persistent low-level threat that will likely take many, many years before it withers and dies,” he writes, yet a “message of understanding, mutual respect, and open dialogue seems like a good way to move forward.”

Thoughtful and sensitive, Bergen’s book faces a nightmare scenario head-on.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3954-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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