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The ISIS Apocalypse

The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State

William McCants


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ISBN10: 1250112648
ISBN13: 9781250112644

Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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The Islamic State is one of the most lethal and successful jihadist groups in modern history, surpassing even al-Qaeda. The shrewd leaders of the Islamic State combined two of the most powerful yet contradictory ideas in Islam—the return of the Islamic Empire and the end of the world—into a mission and a message that shapes its strategy and inspires its army of zealous fighters. They have defied conventional thinking about how to wage wars and win recruits. Even if the Islamic State is defeated, jihadist terrorism will never be the same.

Based almost entirely on primary sources in Arabic—including ancient religious texts and secret al-Qaeda and Islamic State letters that few have seen—William McCants's The ISIS Apocalypse explores how religious fervor, strategic calculation, and doomsday prophecy shaped the Islamic State's past and foreshadow its dark future.


Praise for The ISIS Apocalypse

“Excellent."—Aatish Taseer, The New York Times

"An excellent account of how ISIS came into being . . . As to the future, McCants wonders if ISIS’s grotesque brutality will prove its undoing. Not necessarily. Up to a point, he argues, brutality works."The Economist

"The story [of Zarqawi's rise] is well told by William McCants in his excellent new book, The Isis Apocalypse."—David Ignatius, The Atlantic

“Every policymaker and any concerned citizen who wants to understand the rise of ISIS should read this insightful and essential book by one of our greatest scholars of Islamist movements.”—Lawrence Wright, author, THIRTEEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David and LOOMING TOWER: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

“It's hard to imagine anything more alien or revolting than the brutality of the Islamic State. Yet Will McCants's The ISIS Apocalypse is lucid, thoughtful and illuminating on the group, its history, ideology and personalities. McCants understands every nuance of the religious concepts that drive the ISIS leadership, and he does a masterful job of explicating them and laying out the group's strategy. This is much the best work yet on the Islamic State.”—Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism (2009-2012)

“No one knows more about ISIS's doomsday theology than Will McCants. McCants listens to the group with uncommon care and subtlety, and policymakers need to read this book to understand ISIS's origins and plans.”—Graeme Wood, Edward R. Murrow Fellow, The Council on Foreign Relations Contributing editor, The Atlantic Lecturer in political science, Yale University

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


As I finished writing this book early last year, I had a stylistic decision to make. What tense would I use to describe the Islamic State’s capabilities and intentions? The State’s enemies had not yet...

About the author

William McCants

William McCants directs the project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. He is adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and a former U.S. State Department senior adviser for countering violent extremism. McCants has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

David McCants

William McCants

Official Links

Jihadica: Documenting the Global Jihad

William McCants at Foreign Affairs

William McCants at the Brookings Institute