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Engineers of Jihad:
The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education
Diego Gambetta & Steffen Hertog

One of Foreign Affairs' Best Books on the Middle East (Terrorism & Counterterrorism) 2016

Hardcover | 2016 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691145174
208 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 44 line illus. 16 tables.
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The violent actions of a few extremists can alter the course of history, yet there persists a yawning gap between the potential impact of these individuals and what we understand about them. In Engineers of Jihad, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog uncover two unexpected facts, which they imaginatively leverage to narrow that gap: they find that a disproportionate share of Islamist radicals come from an engineering background, and that Islamist and right-wing extremism have more in common than either does with left-wing extremism, in which engineers are absent while social scientists and humanities students are prominent.

Searching for an explanation, they tackle four general questions about extremism: Under which socioeconomic conditions do people join extremist groups? Does the profile of extremists reflect how they self-select into extremism or how groups recruit them? Does ideology matter in sorting who joins which group? Lastly, is there a mindset susceptible to certain types of extremism?

Using rigorous methods and several new datasets, they explain the link between educational discipline and type of radicalism by looking at two key factors: the social mobility (or lack thereof) for engineers in the Muslim world, and a particular mindset seeking order and hierarchy that is found more frequently among engineers. Engineers' presence in some extremist groups and not others, the authors argue, is a proxy for individual traits that may account for the much larger question of selective recruitment to radical activism.

Opening up markedly new perspectives on the motivations of political violence, Engineers of Jihad yields unexpected answers about the nature and emergence of extremism.

Diego Gambetta is professor of social theory at the European University Institute, Florence, and official fellow of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford. His books include The Sicilian Mafia and Codes of the Underworld (Princeton). Steffen Hertog is associate professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats.


"This is an important study. . . . The wealth of statistical data they bring to bear provides what was once a hypothesis with solid empirical grounding."--Malise Ruthven, Financial Times

"[A]n interesting and important book. . . . Definitely recommended."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"That's really good work, and they deserve credit for that observation. . . . It is thrilling and intriguing as a theoretical issue."--Jeffrey I. Victoroff, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Wonderful."--Jacob N. Shapiro, Princeton University, Chronicle of Higher Education

"[They] really help us refine our understanding of what the risk factors are."--Jessica Stern, Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Data-driven and carefully constructed."--John Waterbury, Foreign Affairs

"Intriguing. . . . There's a clear need to try and understand the motivation for this breed of terrorism that Gambetta and Hertog address in a thorough way that avoids alarmism."--Dominic Lenton, Engineering & Technology

"Opening up markedly new perspectives on the motivations of political violence, Engineers of Jihad yields unexpected answers about the nature and emergence of extremism."--Islam and Muslim Societies

"This relatively small book breaks significant new ground and should generate many more significant studies in this area. It should prove to be an important waystation on the path to better understanding not only of violent Islamism but of other political and politico-religious phenomena. It deserves a wide readership among those seriously interested in these subjects."--William Shepard, Journal of Global Analysis

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