The world is blowing up. Every day a new blaze seems to ignite: the implosion of Iraq and Syria; the East-West standoff in Ukraine and schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria. In a riveting account that weaves history with fast-moving reportage and insider accounts, Sarah Chayes identifies the unexpected link: corruption. Since the late 1990s, corruption has reached such an extent that some governments resemble glorified criminal gangs. These kleptocrats drive indignant populations to extremes-from revolution to militant puritanical religion. Chayes plunges readers into some of the most venal environments on earth and examines what emerges: Afghans returning to the Taliban, Egyptians overthrowing the Mubarak government (but also redesigning Al-Qaeda), and Nigerians embracing both radical evangelical Christianity and Boko Haram. In many such places, rigid moral codes are put forth as an antidote to the collapse of public integrity. The pattern pervades history. Through archival research, Chayes reveals that canonical political thinkers such as John Locke and Machiavelli, as well as Nizam al-Mulk, all named corruption as a threat to the realm.
In a argument connecting the Protestant Reformation to the Arab Spring, Thieves of State presents a powerful new way to understand global extremism. And it makes a compelling case that we must confront corruption: it is a cause-not a result-of global instability.
Winner of Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2015.
An award-winning former NPR correspondent, foreign policy expert, and entrepreneur with ten years' experience in Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment and the author of The Punishment of Virtue. She lives in Washington, DC.