Review by Stephen Lee Naish

James Harkin, Hunting Season: James Foley, ISIS, and the Kidnapping Campaign That Started a War (Hachette Books, 2015), pp. 256.

The execution of James Foley in August 2014 by The Islamic State (ISIS), was a shocking event, even for our modern times. A medieval method of killing was brought in to the 21st century via the channels of online video and shared throughout the world in a matter of minutes via social media outlets. It’s brutality was striking, as was the professional production values of the video. Whilst In the past, the most sophisticated video was often grainy footage equaled with fuzzy sound of a cell leader droning on, here was a scene that was sharply edited, with crystal clear sound, and a contained a direct message (in English) of defiance and threat to the West. Before the video was issued ISIS had barely made a lead headline in the UK, and it’s threat to the West was considered low.  Suddenly the group were getting full exposure, and their gains of occupied land in Iraq and Syria only brought home the serious of the situation.


Journalist, James Harkin’s book, Hunting Season: James Foley, ISIS, and the Kidnapping Campaign That Started a War (Hachette Books) recounts the time leading up to James Foley’s kidnapping, the mysterious aftermath in which almost nobody knew where he was or who was holding him, and the tragic circumstances of his death. As well as James Foley being the main focus of the book, it also pulls focus on the other journalists and contractors who have been held captive by ISIS; Steven Sotloff, Austin Tice, and James Cantile. What Harkin exposes is a lucrative, and complex kidnapping network that not only includes ISIS, but many more players, such as the Free Syrian Army, and the Syrian Government themselves. Despite the tragic events that surround the entire subject of the book, one can’t help but be drawn into the web of intrigue that surround the whereabouts, and eventual fates, of these journalists. There is a sense of Gonzo-like reckless to the group that nonetheless never makes the reader doubt the serious intent in which they took their mission to bring the truth of the brutality of conflict to the wider public. As this conflict has progressed into another war with international players, and as ISIS affiliates have taken their grievances to other parts of the world with acts of brutal terrorism, Harkin’s book acts as a solid testament to journalisms courage to get a story no matter the cost.

Review Score: 4 out of 5.1.

Stephen Lee Naish‘s writing explores film, politics, and popular culture and the places where they converge. His essays have appeared in numerous journals and periodicals, including the arts and culture magazines Gadfly, The Quietus, Empty Mirror, Everyday Analysis and Scholardarity. He is the author of the essay collection U.ESS.AY: Politics and Humanity in American Film (Zer0 Books) and the forthcoming book Create or Die: Essays on the Artistry of Dennis Hopper (Amsterdam University Press). He lives in Kingston, Ontario with his wife Jamie and their son Hayden.


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