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The Insurgents
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New York Times Best-Seller

Pulitzer Prize Finalist


The Insurgents is the inside story of the small group of soldier-scholars, led by General David Petraeus, who plotted to revolutionize one of the largest, oldest, and most hidebound institutions—the United States military. Their aim was to build a new Army that could fight the new kind of war in the post–Cold War age: not massive wars on vast battlefields, but "small wars" in cities and villages, against insurgents and terrorists. These would be wars not only of battles but of "nation building," often not of necessity but of choice.

Based on secret documents, private emails, and interviews with more than one hundred key characters, including Petraeus, the tale unfolds against the backdrop of the wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the main insurgency is the one mounted at home by ambitious, selfconsciously intellectual officers—Petraeus, John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, and others—many of them classmates or colleagues in West Point's Social Sciences Department who rose through the ranks, seized with an idea of how to fight these wars better. Amid the crisis, they forged a community (some of them called it a cabal or mafia) and adapted their enemies' techniques to overhaul the culture and institutions of their own Army.

Fred Kaplan describes how these men and women maneuvered the idea through the bureaucracy and made it official policy. This is a story of power, politics, ideas, and personalities—and how they converged to reshape the twenty-f irstcentury American military. But it is also a cautionary tale about how creative doctrine can harden into dogma, how smart strategists—today's "best and brightest"—can win the battles at home but not the wars abroad. Petraeus and his fellow insurgents made the US military more adaptive to the conflicts of the modern era, but they also created the tools—and made it more tempting—for political leaders to wade into wars that they would be wise to avoid.

Priase for The Insurgents

Front-Page of The New York Times Book Review:
"Thrilling reading… A fascinating history… The Insurgents proceeds like a whodunit… An authoritative, gripping and somewhat terrifying account of how the American military approached two major wars in the combustible Islamic world… There is no one better equipped to tell the story than Fred Kaplan, a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter… He brings genuine expertise to his fine storytelling." (Thanassis Cambanis)

"One of the very best books ever written about the American military in the era of small wars... Fred Kaplan brings a formidable talent for writing intellectual history." — Thomas Powers, The New York Review of Books

"Riveting...essential reading... Kaplan's meticulous account of the ways Petraeus found to bring together and nurture the counterinsurgency 'cabal' might profitably be read by anyone interested in bringing change to a giant bureaucracy." — John Barry, The Daily Beast

"Serious and insightful... The Insurgents seems destined to be one of the more significant looks at how the US pursued the war in Iraq, and at the complex mind of the general in charge when the tide turned." — Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

"Excellent... An intellectual thriller." — Joe Klein, Time

"Tremendously clear and informative… A richly detailed narrative…with authority, intelligence, and verve… Anyone who reads The Insurgents will be better prepared to understand what America has done right and wrong with its military over the past generation… [Its] clarity and drama should extend its audience far beyond the normal defense-policy crowd." — James Fallows, The American Prospect

"A very readable, thoroughly reported account of how, in American military circles, 'counterinsurgency' became a policy instead of a dirty word." — Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Fred Kaplan has written a dazzling, compulsively readable book. Let's start with the fact that it is so well written, a quality so often lacking in books describing counterinsurgency. Let's also throw in the facts that it is both deeply researched and also devoid of cheerleading for the military or indeed any other kind of political bias. This book will join a small shelf of the most important accounts of the wars America has fought and will likely continue to fight in the twenty-first century."
Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad

"Fred Kaplan, one of the best military journalists we have, tells the compelling story of how a cadre of officers and civilians tried to rescue victory from defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan by putting the theory of counterinsurgency into practice, revolutionizing the US Army from within. His narrative is vivid and revelatory, dramatizing a crucial piece of recent history that we shouldn't allow ourselves to forget, however painful the memory."
George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

"Fred Kaplan is one of the best in the business, a top-notch journalist and military analyst with serious intellectual chops and a killer pen. His new book, The Insurgents, tells the story of the rise and fall of the COINdinistas from Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, and it's not only a great read—it's a major contribution to one of the most important strategic debates of our time."
Gideon Rose, editor, Foreign Affairs, and author of How Wars End

"A fascinating and powerful work by America's wisest national-security reporter about an epic battle: the Army's search for a way to win the wars of the twenty-first century. If you love your country, if you care about its soldiers, if you wonder about the wisdom of their commanders, read this book now."
Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI

"Kaplan has a gift for bringing to life what might otherwise seem like arcane strategic debates by linking them to the personalities and biographies of the main participants, and he vividly captures the drama of Petraeus' struggle against a Pentagon establishment." — Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

"Excellent... Poignant and timely... A good read, rich in texture and never less than wise." — Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy

"Compelling" — Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker

"A meticulously researched picture... Withering critique… Rich detail… He untangles the web of [Petraeus's] professional connections much the same way an intelligence analyst might track down the associates of an al-Qaeda cell." — Laura Colarusso, The Washington Monthly

"A must-read for military and national security professionals... Prodigious detail...earthy information about the human foibles of the participants." — Gary Anderson, Washington Times

"Best Pick for Winter 2012-13 Reading," — Doyle McManus, PBS' The Week

Top of List of What to Read in 2013, Foreign Policy

"A fascinating tale…entertaining…fast-moving, insider account…of how the 'insurgents'—savvy officers with big brains and advanced degrees in history and the social sciences—came to develop a new counterinsurgency doctrine, push the careers of their friends, form alliances across the government, influence the development of the surge in Iraq, and generally succeed against the wishes of many in Congress, the Joint Chiefs and the previous theater commanders." — Joseph J. Collins, Armed Forces Journal

"A dramatic and also damning analysis... An absorbing and informative account." — William W. Finan, Jr., Current History

"A compelling story combined with thoughtful analysis of the development, application and limitations of a new model of applying American military power." — Kirkus Review

"An illuminating and frequently infuriating examination of how the US views warfare. Measured and meticulous, Kaplan's account is informative, detail-laden, and tempered by sharp analysis." — Publishers Weekly

"Fascinating... One of the most interesting books I've read in the past seven years about the US in Iraq and counterinsurgency... It is also one of the rare books that links personal histories, political maneuvers inside the national-security apparatus, and strategy on the ground." — Stephane Taillat, Alliance Geostrategique (French)

Finalist, 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction

Winner, 2013 Washington Institute Silver Book Prize

Finalist, New York Public Library's 2014 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism

One of 3 Best Military Books of 2013 — Foreign Affairs

One of the 15 Best Non-Fiction War Books of All Time — Michael Inman, Curator, "Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind," New York Public Library.