At The Browser, he discussed five books on Islamic militancy with Daisy Banks, including:
The Secret AgentRead about Burke's other picks at The Browser.
by Joseph Conrad
I’m intrigued by your next choice, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, which is actually set in London and is about a spy.
Basically, anything you want to know about how terrorism works you can find in this book. It is not necessarily about who is behind terrorism because in this book it is a shadowy foreign state that wants an agent provocateur in London to explode Greenwich Observatory to make a point.
But the broad picture that Conrad paints of how ideologies work, of how people get drawn into violence and how amateurish it can so often be, is true of much of terrorism worldwide. It goes wrong in The Secret Agent, by the way, and the wrong person ends up getting killed.
And thankfully, militants are often very amateurish as well. So this book strikes me as a deeply useful reminder of what this kind of religious or political activism is about. I would just like to mention a brilliant line in the book when Conrad is talking about violence and he says, “the way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds”.
The Secret Agent also appears among Iain Sinclair's five novels on the spirit and history of London, Dan Vyleta's top ten books in second languages, Jessica Stern's five best books on who terrorists are, Adam Thorpe's top ten satires, and on John Mullan's list of ten of the best professors in literature.