The violent actions of a few extremists can alter the course of history, yet there persists a yawning gap between the potential impact of these individuals and what we understand about them. In Engineers of Jihad, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog uncover two unexpected facts, which they imaginatively leverage to narrow that gap: they find that a disproportionate share of Islamist radicals come from an engineering background, and that Islamist and right-wing extremism have more in common than either does with left-wing extremism, in which engineers are absent while social scientists and humanities students are prominent.
Searching for an explanation, they tackle four general questions about extremism: Under which socioeconomic conditions do people join extremist groups? Does the profile of extremists reflect how they self-select into extremism or how groups recruit them? Does ideology matter in sorting who joins which group? Lastly, is there a mindset susceptible to certain types of extremism?