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Thieves of State

Why Corruption Threatens Global Security


Sarah Chayes (Author)

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A former adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff explains how government’s oldest problem is its greatest destabilising force.

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.


“For anyone confused by how the world ended up in such a state, I would strongly recommend Sarah Chayes's book. It provides a fascinating way of looking at the turmoil, and a series of policy proposals that could upend how we confront it.” — The Telegraph


Winner — Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2015

Related to this Book

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Anti-Corruption Summit: London 2016

Sarah Chayes will be a panellist at the landmark international anti-corruption summit in London.