Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-08-27
- Reviewer: Staff
As the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and many high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Yemen has long held a powerful appeal for jihadis: its remote and unforgiving terrain, weak central government, and shifting tribal rivalries make it more like outlaw-friendly Afghanistan than any other Arab country. Johnsen, a former Yemen-based Fulbright fellow, has produced the first comprehensive history of the al-Qaeda movement there: an engrossing account of the operations, personalities, and motivations that have caused the United States such headaches. Drawing upon both American sources and documents captured from insurgents, he offers a sophisticated look at complex phenomena, even though his knowledge of al-Qaeda's inner workings tends to be limited and speculative. Although the background of tribal politics and Wahhabi religious institutions that made Yemen a terrorist nerve center is largely eschewed in favor of the details of drone attacks and suicide bombings, Johnsen exposes the frequent missteps of both the insurgents and American authorities, including errors that caused the CIA to waste years tracking down con men and fraudsters. The story ends ambiguously. Today, the movement's leadership is in disarray, but in the chaos of Yemen's civil war, al-Qaeda fighters have established hegemony over significant regions of the country, potentially ready to pose further problems. Agent: Rick Broadhead at, Rick Broadhead & Associates. (Nov.)