I believe Thieves of State is a must-read for anyone concerned about promoting peace and civility in communities, nations, and the world. Sarah Chayes compellingly discusses how the corrupt practices of governments and authorities spawn violent reactionary movements that undermine the security and stability of societies. Chayes’s voice is strong and confident, her prose is taut, fact-rich, and colorful, sometimes passionate but never indulgent. The book is intelligent and well-researched and refreshingly accessible, with a strong narrative current to draw the reader along. More than that, this is an important book, one with the potential to alter the discussion and–one may hope–the U. S. government’s approach to diplomacy and national security issues.
Chayes, a former NPR correspondent, lived in Afghanistan for a decade; a trained historian, she is not only a thoughtful, penetrating observer, but a talented story teller, and many of her stories are disturbing. Imagine, for example, living in a country where the conduct of simple business–obtaining a license, paying a utility bill–requires you to first bribe a bureaucrat or series of functionaries simply to accomplish your objective. Injustices unremedied, with no channel for redress, sow the frustration and desperation that may ultimately erupt in violence. Although Chayes cites examples of national corruption (Egypt, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Nigeria) and the responses it provokes, a reader may also consider what happens at the individual or local level when a person’s or community’s sense of fairness is continually, unapologetically offended. Reading this book has changed the way I see the world and my role in it as an unwitting contributor to its miseries, or more hopefully, to its peace.