The shortest, and the one that gives the clearest and simplest account of events in Iraq and Syria leading up to the present nightmare, is by Patrick Cockburn, whose reports on the Middle East for the Independent have won him almost universal respect among specialists. He certainly deserves high marks for spotting the importance of Isis earlier than most. In fact, his book was first published, as The Jihadis Return, a year ago. But it so quickly established itself as essential reading on the subject that Verso republished it as The Rise of Islamic State in February, with a new afterword.

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