The most recommended books about the war on terror

Who picked these books? Meet our 19 experts.

19 authors created a book list connected to the war on terror, and here are their favorite war on terror books.
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Book cover of The Bin Laden Papers: How the Abbottabad Raid Revealed the Truth about al-Qaeda, Its Leader and His Family

John A. Nagl

From John's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Professor Warfighter International Relations Combat Veteran

John's 3 favorite reads in 2023

John A. Nagl Why did John love this book?

The bombshell revelation of Nelly Lahoud’s work is that Al-Qaeda lost its international reach after being evicted from Afghanistan in late 2001. 

Reading her book The Bin Laden Papers makes it difficult not to conclude that the war on terrorism was largely misguided and that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave new life to an international jihadi movement that was on the ropes—if not on the mat.

The contribution Dr. Lahoud’s work makes to understanding our enemy is invaluable, particularly if it helps prevent a future American overreaction that results in thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars misspent in pursuit of an enemy who has already been defeated.

By Nelly Lahoud,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bin Laden Papers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An inside look at al-Qaeda from 9/11 to the death of its founder-told through the words of Bin Laden and his closest circle

As seen on 60 Minutes

"A comprehensive, meticulously constructed and eye-opening look at bin Laden as husband, father and leader-in-hiding. . . . An engaging and persuasive read."-Karen J. Greenberg, Washington Post

"Never less than gripping. . . . [Offers] an extraordinary insight into the inner workings of al-Qaeda, both before and after 9/11, and lays bare the terrorist organisation's closely guarded plans, ambitions and frustrations."-Saul David, Sunday Telegraph

Usama Bin Laden's greatest fear was not capture…


Book cover of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror

Andreas Killen Author Of Nervous Systems: Brain Science in the Early Cold War

From my list on the history of torture.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by this topic ever since the first newspaper stories exposing American involvement in torture began to appear in the early years of the so-called War on Terror. This fascination has persisted up to the present, as it remains clear – given recent accounts of Ron DeSantis’ time at Guantanamo – that this story refuses to die. Equally fascinating to me have been accounts revealing the extent to which this story can be traced back to the origins of the Cold War, to the birth of the National Security State, and to the alliance between that state and the professions (psychology and behavioral science) that spawned “enhanced interrogation.”

Andreas' book list on the history of torture

Andreas Killen Why did Andreas love this book?

One of the first accounts to connect the dots between the torture scandal that arose out the war on terror and the beginnings of the Cold War, when the United States first devised the interrogation techniques that became codified in the CIA’s interrogation manual KUBARK (1963), which provided the playbook for the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

By Alfred W McCoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Question of Torture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An indispensable and riveting account" of the CIA's development and use of torture, from the cold war to Abu Ghraib and beyond (Naomi Klein, The Nation)

In this revelatory account of the CIA's fifty-year effort to develop new forms of torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy locates the deep roots of recent scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo in a long-standing, covert program of interrogation. A Question of Torture investigates the CIA's practice of "sensory deprivation" and "self-inflicted pain," in which techniques including isolation, hooding, hours of standing, and manipulation of time assault the victim's senses and destroy the basis of…


Book cover of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror

Mark Juergensmeyer Author Of Terror in the Mind of God

From my list on religious violence.

Who am I?

Though religious violence is an odd obsession for a nice guy like me, the topic was forced on me. Having lived for years in the Indian Punjab, I was struck by the uprising of Sikhs in the 1980s. I wanted to know why, and what religion had to do with it. These could have been my own students. It is easy to understand why bad people do bad things, but why do good people—often with religious visions of peace—employ such savage acts of violence? This is the question that has propelled me through a half-dozen books, including the recent When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends. 

Mark's book list on religious violence

Mark Juergensmeyer Why did Mark love this book?

A popular author of books on Islam and Christianity, Aslan in this book expounds on the idea of cosmic war that I have discussed in Terror in the Mind of God, and more recently as the central subject of my God at War: A Meditation on Religion and Violence. Aslan correctly asserts that struggles that are animated by visions of cosmic war are not easily defeated through conventional means. He cites the “war on terror” proclaimed by President George W. Bush as an ill-conceived effort to fight one concept of cosmic war with another and concludes that the best way to fight a cosmic war is to refuse to fight like one. 

By Reza Aslan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Win a Cosmic War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Why do they hate us? An entire cottage industry has arisen to answer this question. But what no one has really figured out is, who exactly are they? Is it al-Qaeda? Islamic nationalists? The whole Muslim world?

*HOW TO WIN A COSMIC WAR lays out, for the first time, a comprehensive definition of the movement behind and surrounding al-Qaeda and the like, a global ideology properly termed Jihadism.

*Contrasting twenty-first-century religious extremism across Christianity, Judaism and Islam with its historical antecedents, Aslan demonstrates that while modern Jihadis may have legitimate social grievances - the suffering of the Palestinians, American support…


Book cover of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

Evelyn Alsultany Author Of Broken: The Failed Promise of Muslim Inclusion

From my list on Islamophobia and the War on Terror.

Who am I?

I grew up in New York City in the 1980s as an Arab Latina American Muslim, which shaped my interest in who is considered American. Back then, there was no language to talk about my experience of marginalization as Arab or Muslim. That changed after 9/11 and the War on Terror. A decade after that, the term “Islamophobia” entered the US lexicon, leading to social recognition of this form of discrimination, and many important debates about what constitutes Islamophobia. I made my career exploring how Arabs and Muslims figure into US racial politics, and am currently a professor of US Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California.

Evelyn's book list on Islamophobia and the War on Terror

Evelyn Alsultany Why did Evelyn love this book?

This is the kind of book I wish government officials would read to devise better policies.

Kundnani challenges what we think we know about terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists. After 9/11, many terrorism experts devised theories to explain terrorism and figure out ways to prevent it, particularly “radicalization.” Kundnani takes these theories to task.

By identifying root causes in cultural-psychological predispositions, they fail to address political root causes. As a result, Kundnani argues, such theories justify restrictions on civil liberties for Muslims and mosque surveillance, fueling Islamophobia.

By Arun Kundnani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Muslims Are Coming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The new front in the War on Terror is the "homegrown enemy," domestic terrorists who have become the focus of sprawling counterterrorism structures of policing and surveillance in the United States and across Europe. Domestic surveillance has mushroomed - at least 100,000 Muslims in America have been secretly under scrutiny. British police compiled a secret suspect list of more than 8,000 al-Qaeda "sympathizers," and in another operation included almost 300 children fifteen and under among the potential extremists investigated. MI5 doubled in size in just five years. Based on several years of research and reportage, in locations as disparate as…


Book cover of A Military History of Australia

Peter Stanley Author Of Bad Characters

From my list on Australian military history.

Who am I?

I am a Research Professor in history at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I now mostly write on the military history of British India history but for 27 years I worked at the Australian War Memorial, Australia’s national military museum, where I became Principal Historian. Much of my career was devoted to Australian military history and more than half of my 40 or so books are in that field. That puts me in a good position to comment upon what I think are the five best books in the field of Australian military history (my own excepted, of course). 

Peter's book list on Australian military history

Peter Stanley Why did Peter love this book?

My late colleague at UNSW Canberra, Jeff Grey, wrote this important book at the age of just 31. The product of a military family, Jeff blossomed from a specialist in Commonwealth operations in the Korean war into the author of a confident, opinionated (but impressively well researched) general history that went through three editions before Jeff’s untimely death in 2016. Jeff deserves credit for seeing that despite the resurgence in interest in Australia’s military history over the 1980s, no one had spotted the need for a comprehensive book that showed us how the bits went together. Thirty years on, no one has bettered it.

By Jeffrey Grey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Military History of Australia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Military History of Australia provides a detailed chronological narrative of Australia's wars across more than two hundred years, set in the contexts of defence and strategic policy, the development of society and the impact of war and military service on Australia and Australians. It discusses the development of the armed forces as institutions and examines the relationship between governments and military policy. This book is a revised and updated edition of one of the most acclaimed overviews of Australian military history available. It is the only comprehensive, single-volume treatment of the role and development of Australia's military and their…


Book cover of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

Robert Patrick Lewis Author Of Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

From my list on non-fiction on US special operations at war.

Who am I?

I’m a former Green Beret and combat veteran of OIF (Iraq), OEF (Afghanistan), and OEF-TS (North Africa). My first unit within Special Forces is the oldest within SF, and as such, I had the opportunity to work alongside some legends amongst men, people who were there in the early days of Special Operations. After leaving Special Forces I have written three published Special Operations-focused books, both fiction and non-fiction, which has led to a life of studying everything there is to know about Special Operations, the intelligence behind wars, and the history of both.

Robert's book list on non-fiction on US special operations at war

Robert Patrick Lewis Why did Robert love this book?

Books that tell the story of Special Operations soldiers fighting in the Global War on Terror typically focus all of their efforts on adrenaline, explosions, the men, and the teams. While those are all critical elements and essential to the stories, most of them leave out one of the most crucial factors to keeping Special Operations troops in the fight.

In Special Forces, we had many sayings, but one of the most important was, if momma ain’t happy, Joe ain’t happy.” 

All active duty soldiers engaged in war, even we Special Operators, depend on our families to keep us going. These may be the details required to keep the household running, keeping the family happy, healthy & fed (as nearly all Special Operators are extremely family-oriented), but also to be the rocks that we can fall back on when needed, the support to keep us pushing forward, and…

By Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked American Sniper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle tells the story of his legendary career, from 1999-2009, during which time he recorded the most confirmed sniper kills (officially a record 155, though the real number is even much higher) in the history of the United States military, any branch, from 1776 to present. Nicknamed The Legend by his fellow SEALS, Kyle's service in Iraq and Afghanistan earned him seven medals for bravery, including two Silver Stars. With the pacing of thriller, "American Sniper" vividly recounts Chief Kyle's experiences at key battles, including the March on Baghdad (beginning of Iraq War), Fallujah, Ramadi,…


Book cover of The Terror Conspiracy: Deception, 9/11 & the Loss of Liberty

DC Alden Author Of The Angola Deception

From my list on coverups and conspiracies.

Who am I?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and from an early age I was drawn to military, political, and science fiction thrillers because they explored a world of black operations, ruthless cabals, and clandestine government programmes. Later, I discovered that such a world exists, one where the military-industrial complex exerts enormous power and influence, a world of secretive global agendas, of dark actors controlling corrupt politicians, and cold-blooded military contractors, their allegiances no longer tied to any national flag but to mega-wealth cabals, offshore accounts, and vast pension funds. A world of shadows, where the light rarely shines, and the truth remains hidden. A truth often stranger than fiction.

DC's book list on coverups and conspiracies

DC Alden Why did DC love this book?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Satam al-Suqami, a hijacker aboard American Airlines Flight 11, died when the aircraft slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Miraculously, his passport survived the devastating impact and landed intact on the street several blocks from the World Trade Centre. The black boxes from both Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, built to withstand air crashes, did not survive.

This is one of many incredible facts to emerge in the aftermath of the world’s deadliest terror attack, and New York Times best-selling journalist Jim Marrs does an exceptional job of exposing many of the inconsistencies in the official narrative that led to the ‘War on Terror’ and, as Marrs argues, the quiet war on liberty and freedom. A must-read for those who suspect that there was more to that terrible day than meets the eye.

By Jim Marrs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Terror Conspiracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jim Marrs presents the official government pronouncement on 9/11 as an obvious conspiracy. The only question is whose conspiracy it was. According to the government, the conspiracy involved about nineteen suicidal Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists, their hearts full of hatred for American freedom and democracy, who hijacked four airliners, crashing two into the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon, near Washington, DC. The fourth airliner reportedly crashed in western Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to overcome the hijackers. To add insult to injury, this whole incredible Mission Impossible operation, which defeated a…


Book cover of Zero Footprint: The True Story of a Private Military Contractor's Covert Assignments in Syria, Libya, and the World's Most Dangerous Places

Robert Patrick Lewis Author Of Love Me When I'm Gone: The True Story of Life, Love, and Loss for a Green Beret in Post-9/11 War.

From my list on non-fiction on US special operations at war.

Who am I?

I’m a former Green Beret and combat veteran of OIF (Iraq), OEF (Afghanistan), and OEF-TS (North Africa). My first unit within Special Forces is the oldest within SF, and as such, I had the opportunity to work alongside some legends amongst men, people who were there in the early days of Special Operations. After leaving Special Forces I have written three published Special Operations-focused books, both fiction and non-fiction, which has led to a life of studying everything there is to know about Special Operations, the intelligence behind wars, and the history of both.

Robert's book list on non-fiction on US special operations at war

Robert Patrick Lewis Why did Robert love this book?

Many Americans who follow geopolitics, the military, or our nation’s involvement in the Global War on Terror know that Private Military Contractors (PMCs) have become a way in which much of these covert and clandestine wars are fought. Even those who know that PMCs exist don’t know much about the types of missions they do, the types of people who staff these outfits, and the places that they’ve been in modern military history.

Zero Footprint chronicles the exploits of one British citizen on his path from a member of the heralded British Tier 1 unit The Special Air Service (SAS). The book follows his life from what he thought was a career-ending injury that led to his being on the frontlines of every major engagement in the clandestine Global War on Terror. This guy was even in Benghazi the night of the famed “13 hours” attack, and this book gives…

By Simon Chase, Ralph Pezzullo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zero Footprint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This national bestseller is a dramatic insider account of the world of private military contracting.

Armored cars, burner phones, top-notch weaponry and top-secret missions -- this is the life of today's private military contractor. Like author Simon Chase, many PMCs were once the world's top military operatives, and since retiring from outfits like US Navy SEAL TEAM Six and the UK's Special Boat Service, they have devoted their lives to executing sensitive and hazardous missions overseas.

Working at the request of U.S. and British government entities as well as for private clients, he takes on jobs that require "zero footprint,"…


Book cover of A Global Racial Enemy: Muslims and 21st-Century Racism

Evelyn Alsultany Author Of Broken: The Failed Promise of Muslim Inclusion

From my list on Islamophobia and the War on Terror.

Who am I?

I grew up in New York City in the 1980s as an Arab Latina American Muslim, which shaped my interest in who is considered American. Back then, there was no language to talk about my experience of marginalization as Arab or Muslim. That changed after 9/11 and the War on Terror. A decade after that, the term “Islamophobia” entered the US lexicon, leading to social recognition of this form of discrimination, and many important debates about what constitutes Islamophobia. I made my career exploring how Arabs and Muslims figure into US racial politics, and am currently a professor of US Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California.

Evelyn's book list on Islamophobia and the War on Terror

Evelyn Alsultany Why did Evelyn love this book?

I write about Islamophobia in the US but often wonder how it manifests in other countries. I now know where to go for answers.

This book examines Muslim racialization in four countries – the US, the UK, India, and China. It takes readers through the history of Islamophobia in each country, examining the role of media in stereotyping and Othering Muslims. Importantly, the book also explains how anti-Muslim racism has figured in recent ethnonationalist movements and counterterrorism policies.

By Saher Selod, Inaash Islam, Steve Garner

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Global Racial Enemy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Prejudice against Muslims has a long and complex history, shaped over many centuries. In recent decades, discrimination, violence, and human rights abuses against Muslims have taken a significant turn, with rising reports and discussions of Islamophobia across the globe. However, as the authors of A Global Racial Enemy argue, much of the conversation has missed the key features of this increasingly insidious phenomenon.

This original book puts race at the center of the analysis, exposing the global racialization of Muslims. With special attention paid to the United States, China, India, and the United Kingdom, the authors examine both the unique…


Book cover of Obama's Wars

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

From my list on how partisan politics is destroying American foreign policy.

Who am I?

I have spent the majority of my 25-year career working across the Middle East and Africa. From 2004-2006, I was one of a small group of American diplomats posted to Libya following the 2003 US deal with Gaddafi. During Libya's 2011 revolution, I returned to Libya as a private citizen to help build and became a witness to the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi. I am particularly interested in the impact of domestic political warfare on US foreign policy and national security. My work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Salon, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, the Financial Times, and Forbes, among others.

Ethan's book list on how partisan politics is destroying American foreign policy

Ethan Chorin Why did Ethan love this book?

Bob Woodward spares no president his unvarnished critique.

I found the most interesting part of the book not about Obama, per se, but the circumstances that led to Senator Hillary Clinton’s appointment as his Secretary of State, despite her known and strong disagreements with him on foreign policy.

In one part, Woodward relates a conversation between Clinton and a senior campaign advisor, in which she expresses deep concern that by accepting the position she might someday be caught between loyalty to the President and a hard place.

Fast forward to the 2012 Benghazi attack, which Republicans used to scuttle her 2016 Presidential bid, and in turn, allowed Donald Trump to dismantle much of Obama’s hoped-for legacy.

By Bob Woodward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Obama's Wars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with key administration officials, their deputies, and other first-hand sources, Woodward takes listeners deep into the national security state and shows how Obama debates, decides, and balances the enormous pressures facing the modern president. As always, Woodward also bases his work on extensive documentation, including internal memos, letters, detailed chronologies, and meeting notes that reveal the behind-the-scenes realities of the Obama era. Obama has learned that he is not commander-in-chief of the economy. Many of his high-profile domestic reforms - healthcare, education, and energy - were largely turned over to Congress. But the president has…