Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” as Want to Read:
Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  13,219 ratings  ·  1,177 reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick reveals how the strain of militant Islam now raising its banner across Iraq and Syria spread from a remote Jordanian prison with the unwitting aid of American military intervention.

     When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition t
ebook, 368 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Doubleday
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Black Flags, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Michael Hughes Warrick is an award-winning journalist who has written about national security for the Washington Post for nearly two decades, and served on its inves…moreWarrick is an award-winning journalist who has written about national security for the Washington Post for nearly two decades, and served on its investigation unit. He shared a Pulitzer prize in 1996 for environmental reporting at the News and Observer (N.C.) and won the Overseas Press Club of America's 2003 award for reporting on weapons proliferation. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,219 ratings  ·  1,177 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
John Lamb
Dec 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book on ISIS, so I'm kind of an expert now. If you need me at your dinner parties for pedantic insight into the Middle East, hit me up. ...more
Editing my number of stars in light of Patrick Cockburn's The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, only discovered after the comment thread on this review. I cannot recall Warrick even mentioning Saudi or Pakistani involvement either in the ISIS movement beginning after the U.S. invasion of Iraq (on which he spent an enormous amount of our time), or after Zarqawi was killed in 2006. He said nothing significantly different from newspaper reporting in the U.S. the past 15 years, though ...more
Alok Mishra
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
The book is deceiving. The origins and the book's dubious agenda are very apparent. However, some of the information shared by Joby is really useful. Unfortunately, we cannot trust journalists too much these days! Not to be forgotten, journalistic instincts were saying Madam President even before the announcement... 😷 ...more
Jason Koivu
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
OH! ISIS! I thought they were saying Icees, as in...


Well, now that I'm up to speed on radical Islamic terrorism, who wants to invite me over to their bbq, so I can be the life of the party? Cuz nothing says FUN like bringing up politics and religion at a social gathering! Just look how enjoyable Facebook is these days.

All silliness aside, Black Flags is a solid way to understand how ISIS came to be. A good number of pages are also spent on Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, but the real focus is Abu Musab
If you are a general reader and want to read one book on the origin of ISIS, look no further.

In telling the story through individuals the book contrasts to others like ISIS: The State of Terror or Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect that are more thorough and focus more on politics and policies. Joby Warrick’s approach, focusing on the key personnel, holds your attention throughout. This book is heavy on the founder, Abu Musab Zarqawi and its beginnings
Steven Z.
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If one were to read one book to gain an understanding of how the Islamic State (ISIS) was able to conquer a land mass that is as big as Israel and Lebanon, it should be Joby Warrick’s new monograph, BLACK FLAGS: THE RISE OF ISIS. Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post writes in a clear style that allows the reader to gain insight and understanding of the many important points he makes. What separates Warrick’s effort from the myriad of works on ISIS that have appeared ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, explores the origins of ISIS. Beginning in the 1990’s he chronicles the rise of Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq and ends with the Syrian war and the rise of Baghdadi and ISIS. Warrick is a skilled writer making his account very readable and easy to digest. Most of us will remember the major events described. Warrick adds value by connecting them, filling in the gaps, giving us a continuous narrative. We see the stunning appearance of ISIS running rampan ...more
Mikey B.
This book describes the rise of ISIS. It is in three sequential parts. The first is the background of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was born in Jordan. At first he was just a common thug and not religious. He was arrested and in prison fell under the spell of Islam and became radicalized. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange, something that happens with regularity in the Middle East.

From there he journeyed to Iraq – this becomes the second part of the book. During the U.S. led invasion of I
Excellent history on the rise of ISIS and the US involvement in Iraq. Terrific narrator for the audiobook.

5 out of 5 stars.
Dec 03, 2016 rated it liked it
While I give it props for being written almost as political thriller, I, personally, look for information in my non fiction reads, while here those information could be easily packed on 150 pages. The rest is a dramatised vision of events in Middle East since 1999 till 2015.
I liked it, don't get me wrong but I would so much more prefer it was more analysis of political and social factors, rather than simply giving me the "rambo" narration of those events.
Excellent -- Warrick does not make excuses for the leaders and countries that made mistakes that helped to bring ISIS about as a power in the Middle East. A good introduction to some of the people and issues that continue to keep the Middle East unsettled. He also introduced me to some of the heroes who have and continue to try to combat the violence in the area.
Sep 30, 2015 rated it liked it
I expected more from this book, when I read it. It it bring anything new about Isis.
Lewis Weinstein
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A terrifying account of the development of ISIS from the botched invasion of Iraq.
A thoroughly depressing read for reasons that are all too obvious, but I wanted to improve my understanding of this loathsome organisation.

Despite the upsetting subject matter, this is an absolutely engrossing read, with extensive first hand testimony from former U.S. diplomats, CIA operatives, staff of the Jordanian intelligence service, and Sunni Iraqi tribal leaders who have alternately supported and fought the Islamists. It was depressing to read about how, prior to the Iraq invasion, the Bu
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, middle-east
I don't usually comment on books that have thousands of prior reviews but in this case I will make an exception. Obviously this is a popular and successful work, with months on the bestseller lists and a second Pulitzer prize for Joby Warrick, a Washington Post reporter. Soon to be made into an HBO mini-series it already reads like a movie screenplay at times.

The book is popular for good reason: it is very well written. It follows the career of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former thug from Jordan and f
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pultizer Prize for Nonfiction 2016. Warrick has written an excellent account of the rise of radical Islamic movements headed by charismatic leaders—from Osama bin Laden to Abu Musad al-Zarquwi and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Osama bin Ladin came from a wealthy family and created al-Qaeda to unify all Muslims (Sunni and Shiite) to fight against western modernism. Abu Musad al-Zarquwi’s movement was shunned by al-Qaeda for a long time. Al-Qaeda was concerned that Zarquwi’s hatred of the Shiite sect and ...more
Doubleday  Books
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I, admittedly, did not know much about ISIS before I cracked open BLACK FLAGS. Though I was nervous that most of the book would go completely over my head, I was pleasantly surprised that I too could dive into the world of current Middle Eastern politics with zeal. It is apparent from the start of the book that Joby Warrick is not only an award-winning journalist, but also an engaging and vivacious storyteller. Warrick traces the trajectory of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a political prisoner set free ...more
ISIS is the group that al-Qaeda denounces as extremist. It's not a fun or funny topic. However, I do appreciate this black flag:
ISIS dildo merch available at

Black Flags methodically lays out the background and rise of what we now know as ISIS, or the Islamic State. It's not because Islam is a flawed religion. It's not because Middle Eastern cultures are flawed. Much of the blame points back at American arrogance and thoughtlessness, in particular the decision to tak
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let’s be real here, I was pretty woefully ignorant about a lot of the information in this book. I understood the basic concept of the organizations and major players here, but that was about it. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State— how do they relate to each other? Do they even all relate?

For the rest of the review, I’ll refer to the group as ISIS for reasons discussed here and here.

This book is epically readable— like a
Black Flags is a series of personality sketches rather than an explanation for the emergence of Daesh. It is crafted on interviews rather than analysis. As most of the reviewers here have established, there isn't much of revelation in these pages just personal detail. An arc is established from Al-Zarquai through the 2003 Iraq invasion and the failure of the CPA. The exploitation of sectarian divide leads to civil war which is then exploited by Gulf State petrol-cash and Shiite vengeance. Matter ...more
Barb Middleton
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My extended essay students are writing papers on terrorism and I know little on the subject. This book gives excellent background knowledge on the rise of modern terrorism in the Middle East. When Saddam Hussein's reign ended in Iraq, it created unique opportunities for terrorists. Through various misfortunes and missteps by the Western governments, the beginning of modern terrorism took root in Iraq with the brilliant strategist and thug, leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who took advantage of oppor ...more
Brian Rosenblat
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(4.5/5.0) Fascinating book. Amazing how deep the author goes in tracing the rise of ISIS. Impressive, given the dark nature of the subject and what I'd imagine would be very hard to get intelligence. Painful to relive the blunders of U.S. foreign policy during this time.

Would definitely recommend.
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A difficult read, but very engaging despite the amount of information being given. Five stars because I feel like I learned a lot and I'm not sure how it could have been done better. I liked the way the author uses characters to drive the "story" forward and give different perspectives. It kept things human and easier to grasp.

My main take away was how frustrating the rise of ISIS is, though. Incredibly hard to see all the missteps and oversights that led to so much continuing violence, though
Rohit Enghakat
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star, non-fiction
The moment I saw this book on GR, I put it on my list. I was always intrigued by the growth of this terrorist organisation and its origins. This is a definitive and exhaustive account of the origins and rise of ISIS and its most famous leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and some background on his successor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The book also delves on the political scenario in the Middle East especially Jordan and its neighbouring countries, Syria and Iraq and how the ISIS laid its foundation in these
L. McCoy
Pretty good but definitely feels like a nonfiction book in it’s pace.
That being said it’s still interesting, informative and gives the information in a way that tells the reader everything in a nice order.

Niklas Pivic
Jul 29, 2016 rated it liked it
This is not a personally reflective book on how ISIS came to be, but more a factual one, as reported by a "western" journalist. With that in the bag, I think the book is notable for its critique directed towards the USA and other countries as well, and makes valid points.

Rami Khouri, noted journalist with deep insight into ISIS, calls them a Salafist takfiri extremist group. Salafist refers to a muslim who wants to go back to the old, literal way of Islam, takfiri refers to a Sunni way of pointi
David Quijano
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have had a good run with Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction books. Whenever I find myself not knowing what to read next, I browse their list of recent winners and see if anything strikes my interest. That is how I came across the book Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick. Like other books I have chosen from their list of winners, I ended up being simultaneously entertained and well-informed.

I was a bit surprised by the format and the material covered in this book. What I expected was
Mal Warwick
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
One thing is unmistakably clear nearly from the outset of this outstanding inquiry into the history of ISIS: the bombings, the beheadings, the execution of hundreds of people at a time — we brought it all on ourselves with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Black Flags, the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joby Warrick, may not be the final word on today’s leading terrorist scourge but it’s a great start at understanding how the so-called Islamic State came into being.

Heroes and villains in
Caidyn (he/him/his)
This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews.

This year, I've been educating myself a lot about politics and, really, terrorism. I mean, it's something that we should think about. Domestic and foreign when it impacts America. This book takes place within my lifetime, so I feel like I should know about how the current affairs got created. I thought this book was very succinct and a bit critical of America.

Mainly, this book is very easy and clear to read. Despite not being good at foreign
Nick Imrie
The most surprising thing about this book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, is how much it feels like fiction. It's like a thriller: the terrible rise of ISIS is tensely plotted. The characters are all well drawn and, like the omniscient narrator of a novel, Warrick is able to tell us exactly what they thought and felt at all the dramatic moments. At first one thinks, 'how could Warrick possibly know so much detail about the interior lives of Jordanian royalty, American spooks or Sy ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
  • Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad
  • Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East
  • Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
  • The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley
  • Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
  • The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War
  • The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising
  • The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
  • Shaheen Bagh: From a Protest to a Movement
  • The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
  • Neela Neela
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  • Surviving Chaos: How I Found Peace at A Beach Bar
  • Education for Character
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Joby Warrick (born August 4, 1960) is an American journalist who has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes. He began working for The Washington Post in 1996, writing about the Middle East, diplomacy and national security. He has also covered the intelligence community, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and the environment, and served as a member of the Post’s investigative unit.

Articles featuring this book

The last five years of world history have been nothing if not...eventful. When living in interesting times, there's nothing better for...
96 likes · 18 comments
“Bloodthirsty fanatics who regarded all Western inventions and practices as works of the devil, they saw themselves as divinely appointed to purify the region by slaughtering all who allied with foreigners or deviated from their narrow vision of Islam.” 6 likes
“In deciding to use the unsung Zarqawi as an excuse for launching a new front in the war against terrorism, the White House had managed to launch the career of one of the century’s great terrorists.” 4 likes
More quotes…