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The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,180 ratings  ·  142 reviews
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 jihadi ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Macmillan
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Jacob He likely is aware of ISIS's ultra-radical nature, but is also aware that the main drivers and propagandist tools that ISIS and other terror groups…moreHe likely is aware of ISIS's ultra-radical nature, but is also aware that the main drivers and propagandist tools that ISIS and other terror groups employ are (accurate) portrayals of Western imperialism. Maybe it's not so simple as to simply stop dropping bombs and ISIS/terror groups will stop being a threat, but with increased political and economic autonomy over their own countries, surely groups with such insane doomsday ideology would not seem so attractive a prospect to people. Moreso with groups like al-Qaeda who have legitimate grievance against the West and don't conduct the same terror against people not associated with the West. Not to apologize for al-Qaeda—obviously, any act of terror is horrific—but I struggle to imagine living in a third-world country myself. My fate being entirely dependent on a power across the sea that cares nothing for me is something I have a hard time reckoning with. If I see bombs dropping, resources being stripped out from under me, and that same country supporting oppressive regimes right up until that oppressive regime decides to give me something, well, that very well might radicalize me as well. I feel like it would have the chance to radicalize anyone. The point is, increasing firepower at some point is going to have to stop. We are going to have to acknowledge that this will be a snowballing problem that will not be contained with more and more bloodshed. I think his position is simply that we must let it play out among the actors in the region, because our aggression creates only more and more enemies. Even I am uncomfortable with it, because it is frightening, but if you look at some of the final and most important battles leading to the decline of ISIS you'll notice that most of the troops were supplied by Iraq, Iran, and the Kurds. To think that we could at least step aside, just a little more—at least without haphazardly drone bombing—but especially without invading on flimsy pretexts, is not unrealistic. Provided we leave them alone and let their economies develop, they will be able to develop and have much less reason to form radical groups prone to violence.(less)

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Bill  Kerwin
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics

One of the surprising effects of reading this book was to make me nostalgic for the good old days of Bin Laden.

William McCants makes it clear that—compared to The Islamic State—al-Quaeda had an enlightened, humane view of jihad. Just like the U.S. in Vietnam (my comparison, not McCants') al-Quaeda was concerned with winning the “hearts and minds” of the occupied territories. It stressed the importance of public welfare as well as public order, and advocated merciful judges who would enforce Isla
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Impressive and well-informed history of the so-called Islamic State - describes the rise of its millenarian beliefs after the US invasion of Iraq; the use of hadiths (many times with dubious interpretation of prophecy to justify its claims); its schism with Al-Qaeda; its political ideology and use of imagery from the Abbasid caliphate; and the history of specific political struggles.

Nearly half the book is a list of citations, with a few primary documents added as well.
Joseph Spuckler
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State by William McCants is the history of growth the Islamic State movement. McCants is a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and director of its Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. He is also adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and has held various government and think tank positions related to Islam, the Middle East, and terrorism. From 2009 to 2011, McCant ...more
Anand Gopal
Nov 24, 2015 rated it liked it
This book stands out in the ISIS-hysteria genre because it relies extensively on primary sources, particularly on captured documents from al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, and others. The author demonstrates convincingly that the key difference between ISIS and al Qaeda central appears to be strategic, not ideological: AQ believes (or has come to believe) that hearts and minds must be won prior to construction of an Islamic state, whereas ISIS believes in establishing such a state by fiat and ...more
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A meticulously sourced history of the "Islamic State" from its beginnings during the Iraq War til today, taking a look at its origins, operations, as well as its apocalyptic motives and justifications. It is certainly a superior book to Hassan and Weiss's offering on the subject, as it appears admirably free of overt partisan motive. McCants is a great scholar of Arab Islam generally, he would've simply been described as an Arabist were it not for the GWOT, and seemingly every line of this book ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, middle-east
As William Faizi McCants notes in his introduction, making sense of ISIS propaganda "requires a guide proficient in Islamic theology and history, modern jihadism, clandestine bureaucracies and Arabic", all of which he is. This book is a worthy companion to a good narrative account (such as Warrick's "Black Flags"). It focuses on the foundations and philosophy rather than only events on the ground.

ISIS recycles the psychological warfare themes of early Muslim wars, from dark banners to the coming
Doreen Petersen
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: post-wwii
Received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I really, really liked this book. I learned so much I didn't know before. The author did a magnificient job laying out the material and information about ISIS. I would definitely recommend this book to all!
Steven Z.
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Since 2014 a number of interesting works have appeared that try to explain the background history of the rise of the Islamic State(ISIS) and why it has been successful to date. William McCants, the Director of the Project on U.S. relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution has added his new book, THE ISIS APOCALYPSE: THE HISTORY, STRATEGY AND DOOMSDAY VISION OF THE ISLAMIC STATE to that genre. What separates McCants monograph from the others is his emphasis on the role of Islam ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: levant, religion, islam, iraq
My review of this book is for the "advance uncorrected proof" that I won in a Goodreads giveaway.

This book is good, no doubt, and will offer a lot of behind-the-scenes info about the founding of the so-called Islamic State, how it relates to al-Qaeda and other groups, and lots of other juicy stuff. One big appeal of the book is the fact that it contains translations of many documents that were previously available only in Arabic, including those between leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other relat
Chad Kohalyk
This was an interesting short introduction to the history of the formation of ISIS. Much of the story of their motivation was covered in Graeme Wood's excellent article What ISIS Really Wants, but McCants sheds light on the formation of ISIS, its relation to Nusra and other AQ franchises, and also positions ISIS in the constellation of jihadist organizations.

It has been pointed out in other reviews that this book breezes over the local political environment (aka the US-backed leaders and US-lead
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
After recently reading books based in the middle east, about the war in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and hearing of all of the recent terror attacks all over the world --which ISIS claimed responsibility, I was interested in learning more about Muslim history in the world ... where each terror group came from and why they seem set on destroying humanity. I learned a lot--I had no idea there were so many different prophecies or that the Muslim history was so long and bloody. That some prophecies cont ...more
Kanishka Sirdesai
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A really good take on the advent and rise of the Islamic State aka ISIS. Scholarly in some parts but with the subject it's addressing, it's bound to be. Now waiting for the sequel chronicling the demise!
Feb 23, 2016 rated it liked it
William McCants’ history and analysis of Daesh highlights just how unique Daesh is among Islamic jihadist movements. Whereas Al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements sought to foster popular support among local populations before declaring a caliphate, McCants shows how Daesh disregarded this conventional thinking and opted for extreme brutality instead. McCants also stresses just how incredibly important apocalyptic prophecy is to Daesh, and he shows how this goal of fulfilling prophecy is driving ...more
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Much of the discussion about ISIS seems to be framed in terms of good and evil: we're the good guys, they're the bad guys, so we need to figure out what to do to destroy them. I relate to this characterization; it is certainly how I feel at an instinctual, emotional and moral level.Yet I don't think this will be productive in truly understanding the nature of the enemy, and it is only through such deep understanding that victory can be won in any meaningful sense.

McCants' book is a step in that
Chris Buckham
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Title: The ISIS Apocalypse
Author: William McCants
ISBN: 978-1-250-08090-5
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Year: 2015
Pages: 242
Photos/Maps: 0

The War on Terror has prompted the drafting of hundred’s of books covering all facets of the cause and personalities surrounding ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban etc; however, one area that has received little to no ‘accessible – to the layman’ interpretation has been a religious analysis of the driving doctrine behind the various groups. McCant’s book covers
Michael Mcadoo
Dec 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
An insightful study on an emerging threat to the region in which it grows and--as evidenced by recent events in Europe and perhaps in America--to the greater Western World.

The author blends his knowledge of middle eastern culture, Islamic theology, language, and diplomatic analysis, with well-referenced research and declassified Jihadist communications to present a thorough, although somewhat one-dimensional description of the prophetic genesis and apocalyptic goals of ISIS.

While understanding t
Doichin Cholakov
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The book follows the evolution of ISIS ideology and strategic thinking, providing rich historic and scriptural background. It does not dwell on gory details, extravagant theories or geopolitical musings. On the contrary - it takes a very somber and minimalistic approach, mostly excavating the digital dust generated by jihad - mails between jihadi leaders, social media posts by mujahed fan-boys, trendy books on insurgence and capturing and ruling territories, etc.
The essential debate (mostly amon
Prince William Public Library System
William McCants traces the genesis of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the jihadist factions that arose as affiliate groups in Africa, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, and Syria. The author examines how internal leadership tensions, lack of real communication lines, and conflicts over financing and levels of acceptable violence, in addition to American interventions, lead to the weakening of al-Qaeda. The book details how the failures of al-Qaeda, the rise of the Arab Spring, and the increased rese ...more
Dec 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Despite its slightly over-egged title, this is a straightforward, easy-to-read account of what IS is, how it came about, and what it hopes to do. I was looking for something that didn't take a left/right view on IS and this filled the bill. There is so much hyperbole surrounding IS - our own former PM relished using his self-coined epithet "the Daesh death cult" at every possible opportunity. But while many of our freedoms and much of our privacy is being lost as governments take cynical advanta ...more
Michael Adcock
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well informed and highly relevant. If you want to understand wtf is going on you need to read this. Certainly changed some of my well entrenched views on the topic. I never really brought into the highly divided Muslim world line, but after reading this I do understand how divided it is, and why. I also begrudgingly have changed my mind on blowing them up with overwhelming military firepower. That is exactly what they want, and will only exasperate the whole situation. An absolute dogs breakfast ...more
Matthew Trevithick
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
4+ stars as a primer book on what is known about IS, which I think most people would find incredibly useful, merging ancient Hadiths and Twitter (and more) to track the conversation inside the jihadist world about IS and other organizations. The addition of four appendices explaining / laying out his sources is also interesting. Tip up to 5 is the interview a colleague and I had with him about how he put this book (and other work) together, available here: ...more
Michelle Shephard
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
People often ask, "What does ISIS want?" Will McCants lays out their apocalyptic vision - highlighting all the hypocrisies along the way. ISIS is indeed following the Machiavellian dictum, "it is far safer to be feared than loved," and it's working to some degree. Will is a smart & qualified analyst - as he says, he will be your "guide proficient in Islamic theory and history, modern jihadism, clandestine bureaucracies, and Arabic."
Dale Pearl
Cant confirm this as an enjoyable read. I can say that it was an insightful one.
The Islamic State's goal is pure and simply. Cause western countries (The U.S., Great Britain, and most of Europe) to over reach militarily and exhaust themselves financially. Once broken down financially then the Islamic state will move in for the real kill.

Saba Imtiaz
A fairly simplistic overview of ISIS with far too much reliance on the discourse on social media and online forums - this is a book to read if you've never heard of the group, but doesn't provide any great understanding.
Ben Anderson
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
To be sure, the best book on ISIS so far, but left me frustrated. It's very good on the theological justifications of the ISIS leaders, but little else. The brief passages about everything else feel like hurried afterthoughts.
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
An excellent primer on ISIS - just in time for the election. If you are one of those people who think that the U.S. can solve problems in the Middle East by bombing them away, its time to educate yourself.
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Eye-opening! I have a better understanding of the history and structure of ISIS. Thank you for the opportunity to read for a fair review.
Rick Cheeseman
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
More required reading in an effort to understand, and great use of the term "fanboys"....
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State by William McCants

“The ISIS Apocalypse” is a very good account of how ISIS came to be and the beliefs behind their vision. William McCants Ph.D. masterfully educates the reader on the evolution of one the most radical organizations on our planet. This enlightening 256-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Raising the Black Flag, 2. Mahdi and Mismanagement, 3. Bannermen, 4. Resurrection and Tribulatio
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This book is scary. It gives a good background on who's who in ISIS and Al-Queda, but it's hard to keep it all straight as there are so many players. However, you do get an overall vision of the group, why their vision is what it is, what their plans are, what they've done so far, and how the USA has, at many times, incited the violence from this group. Having said that, the book also highlights all the in-fighting within the groups, tribes, and countries, despite following the same scripture/do ...more
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William McCants is a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and director of its Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. He is also adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and has held various government and think tank positions related to Islam, the Middle East, and terrorism.

From 2009 to 2011, McCants served as a U.S. State Department senior advise
“The Islamic State’s leaders proclaimed the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, called the caliphate. Prophecy was fulfilled, they said, and Judgment Day approached.” 1 likes
“What to Do From 2012 to 2014, the wait-and-see approach of the international community emboldened the Islamic State and filled its ranks, making it a real threat to vital U.S. interests in the Middle East.” 1 likes
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