Book Review on Understanding Terrorism by Gus Martin


The author of Understanding Terrorism, Gus Martin, has tried to make terrorism as comprehensible as possible. He has addressed many issues relating to terrorism by dividing into four major parts. He first looks at terrorism as a concept, then terr1orists, terrorist trade and future trends of terrorism. The author begins with an introduction to the topic and ends with a well-written summary of what he has discussed in the book. He uses vivid illustration throughout the book and these are in form of case studies, charts, graphs, shaded boxes and pictures. At the end of the book, the author gives a list of resources, which one can use for further research into the topic.

Part I

The first part of the book addresses the basics about terrorism. The author delves into the history of terrorism and gives a variety of definitions of the word terrorism. He also gives a vivid explanation of the political development in terms of right, middle and left leaning. This description offers a strong foundation to the latter chapters in the book and can help one understand the dynamics of domestic studies. Seemingly, throughout this chapter, Gus Martin distances himself from all the definitions that he offers and does not align himself to a particular stand. In his conclusion he analyzes the major causes of acts of terrorism and this sets a good basis for understanding the latter chapters such as terrorist and the trade tools1.

Part II

The second part of the book addresses two forms of terror-terror from above and from below. The terror from above comprises terrorism activities that are sponsored by the states. The terror, which emerges from grassroots and is sponsored by dissident terrorists. The author views state terrorism as a result of policy statements from uninvolved states. Dissident terrorists on the other hand work independently without any sponsorship or aid in terms of logistics from states1.

Other than state and dissident terrorists, Gus Martin also addresses ideological and religious terrorists who operate domestically and internationally. He goes further and distinguishes between left wing and right wing terrorists. The leftist terrorists are those that target buildings and structures while avoiding human targets at any cost. On the other hand, right leaning terrorist activities is directly aimed towards human targets. Gus Martin also brings to our knowledge a new breed of emerging terrorists whom he refers to as gender selective terrorists. This group is known for targeting a specific gender in their terrorist activities. Additionally Gus Martin examines the different methods used by terrorists in executing their attacks. He also tries to explain the motives that have continued to fuel terrorist activities throughout the world1.

Part III

The third chapter of this book addresses the tools of trade used in terrorism. The tools of trade comprise weaponry and methods used in carrying out attacks. Media is viewed as a major tool for terrorism because terrorists utilize it in a tactful manner. It is through the media that the terrorist groups promote and spread their religious views and ideologies. At other times, the terrorists use the media to draw the attention of the rest of the world to perceived injustices accomplished against their own. The author brings out clearly the issue of media manipulation and cautions the public not to downplay injustice claims but weigh intentions of terrorist acts1.

Part IV

Being the last part of the book, Gus Martin addresses the issues of how to detect and eliminate terrorism activities. He also examines some of the terrorist activities that may feature in future as well as how they can be eliminated. A good amount of this section is dedicated to addressing the terrorist activities that have been directed at the United. Martin is of the opinion that it is important to understand the logistics that were involved in planning such terrorist attacks against US as it can help avert terrorism in future. He also believes that terrorism can be curbed by the proper use of available technology. Accordingly, he states that with advanced technology it is easier to identify people who have previously been linked to terrorist attacks1.

Gus Martin uses several illustrations to draw out the difference between leftist, rightists and domestic terrorists. He clearly brings out the difference between domestic terrorist groups operations and those of their international counterparts. In conclusion, he examines options available to international community in the fight against terrorism. He emphasizes on the importance of information and gathering intelligence in this fight. Information gathered through intelligence should be shared across borders so as to help paralyze terrorist acts. Gus Martin concludes by stating that for the future world to be free of terrorist activities the world should unite in a common fight against the vice1.


The major weakness of the book is its size. It is voluminous and would be of little use to a student who just wants to skim through it for a brief overview of terrorism as a topic. The author would have reduced the volume to a manageable size by omitting some graphic representations, which are less relevant to the book. The book is also filled with a lot of reference material that may be confusing to readers who are novices in the area of terrorism.


Gus Martin addressed terrorism in an exemplary manner. The book is very comprehensive in its coverage of terrorism and will be particularly resourceful for scholars who want to delve deeper into the subject. Every chapter has additional resources that readers can gain from immensely as this can direct them to other reads on the same. Even though the illustrations make the book voluminous, they also help one to understand the subject better. I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it for serious avid readers, who desire to learn more about terrorism around the world.


Gus Martin, Understanding terrorism: challenges, perspectives, and issues, 2006, New York, NY: SAGE.