The smile of the human bomb: an upcoming #CornellPress title

In 2017, nearly six thousand people were killed in suicide attacks across the world. And only a few weeks ago, featured in the morning news, were the reports on a bombing that killed dozens in Pakistan, together with a wave of suicide attacks that took place in southern Syria. Bombs, violence, and suicide attacks seem to transcend the boundaries of geography and time; while the frequency of these episodes remains unchanged. But what have we learned about this ugly side of humanity? And in the aftermath, how can we better grasp these expressions of violence? Is it even possible to stand in a terrorist’s shoes?

In The Smile of the Human Bomb, Gideon Aran dissects the moral logic of the suicide terrorist. Looking into the events that led to the dramatic toll of deaths in 2017, the book is a firsthand examination of the bomb site in the last moments before the explosion, at the moment of the explosion, and during the first few minutes after the explosion. Aran uncovers the suicide bomber’s final preparations before embarking on the suicide mission: the border crossing, the journey toward the designated target, penetration into the site, and the behavior of both sides within it. The book sheds light on the truth of the human bomb.

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Photo by Thomas Griesbeck

Aran’s gritty and often disturbing account comes from joining and watching the devout Jewish volunteers who gather the scorched fragments of the dead after terrorist attacks, interrogation protocols, interviews with Palestinian armed resistance members and retired Israeli counterterrorism agents, questioning of failed suicide terrorists in jail, and conversations with the acquaintances of human bombs.

The Smile of the Human Bomb provides new insights on the Middle East conflict, political violence, radicalism, victimhood, ritual, and death and unveils a suicide terrorism scene far different from what is conventionally pictured. In the end, Aran discovers, the suicide terrorist is an unremarkable figure, and the circumstances of his or her recruitment and operation are prosaic and often accidental. The smiling human bomb is neither larger than life nor a monster, but an actor on a human scale. And suicide terrorism is a drama in which clichés and chance events play their role.

As we continue to witness suicide attacks throughout the world, this upcoming #CornellPress title challenges all conventional approaches to the issue, and is a must-read for all of those trying to understand what lies behind terrorists’ motives, and what is unravelling in their minds at the moment of executing such violent and complex acts.

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About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is excited about the new wonderful books being published and looking forward to promoting more upcoming fall/winter #CornellPress releases.

The smile of the human bomb: an upcoming #CornellPress title

Archives in Bosnia in Minutes and Hours

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The town of Kulen Vakuf, site of mass killings in 1941

By Max Bergholz, author of Violence as a Generative Force: Identity, Nationalism, and Memory in a Balkan Community.

Max Bergholz is on tour in 2017. Find upcoming events.


“You have fifteen minutes to look around. After that I’m going for coffee with my colleagues, and besides, God save me if someone found out I let a foreigner down here!” These words—spoken to me on a September afternoon in 2006 by an archivist in Bosnia-Herzegovina—marked the moment my book began.

I was in one of the archive’s basement storage depots. Many of the light bulbs were burned out, while a handful of others flickered. The impatient archivist handed me a flashlight, and pointed me down a dark set of shelves. “I think what you’re looking for might be down there,” she yelled just before exiting the depot. I stood in silence for a moment, and then switched on the flashlight. After ten minutes of straining to read the handwriting on filthy, uncatalogued stacks of blue folders, my eyes froze on these words: “Sites of Mass Executions.” Continue reading “Archives in Bosnia in Minutes and Hours”

Archives in Bosnia in Minutes and Hours