Get Caught Up on the Backstory of ISIS With This Reading List

If you want more background than you’re finding in news articles, here’s a reading list to understand the dynamics of the group behind the Paris Attacks, no matter what you call it.  

By Emily DonahueNovember 19, 2015 3:07 pm

What do you call that entity that wants to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq? They call themselves the Islamic State, though they don’t bear any hallmarks of statehood. One of the more puzzling things about the self-proclaimed Islamic State is what to call it. ISIS is what many have settled on, though Obama seems to prefer ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Secretary of State John Kerry goes with Daesh, what many in the Middle East call the group.

But if you want to dig into this matter or the underlying players here, it does seem people are going beyond the newspapers to get a better read on what’s going on with this group. Kirkus Reviews editor Clay Smith offers several books on the group’s background, starting with their name.

“It’s been striking to me by how many well-read friends of mine are so utterly confused,” Smith says. “Not even by what happened in Paris but what to call the enemy.”

BBC reporter Andrew Hosken’s book “Empire of Fear” describes the group’s evolution in nomenclature, including the six names it calls itself and the aliases of its shifting group of leaders.

“What this group has called themselves at different times says a lot about their aims,” Smith says.

Another reporter’s book – “Black Flags” – gets more into the personalities of the leaders, like the charismatic Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. troops in 2006, and his professorial successor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– How “Looming Tower,” written by a Texan, falls into this history, widely known as one of the best books written about Al Qaeda

– The importance of learning about the region and the players involved, including their underlying philosophies and the connection between Al Qaeda and ISIS

– Why books on the subject, rather than just articles, are essential to clear up confusion about the region