One of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder, Jessica Stern is a Member of the Hoover Task Force on National Security and Law at Stanford University. From 1994-95, she served as Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, where she was responsible for national security policy toward Russia and the former Soviet states and for policies to reduce the threat of nuclear smuggling and terrorism. Stern earlier worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In 1998-99, she was the superterrorism Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and in 1995-96, she was a national Fellow at Hoover Institution at Stanford University. She is the author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror (Ecco), an intimate and astonishingly frank examination of her own rape at 15, the life of her rapist, and how both shaped her life and work, which was featured in the New York Times. She's also the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Terror in the Name of God, The Ultimate Terrorists (Harvard University Press), and of numerous articles on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. A sought after expert by the media, Stern has appeared on NBC's Today Show, CNN, 60 Minutes, The CBS Early Show, FOX News Channel, NPR's Morning Edition, and All Things Considered.
Stern has interviewed some of the most feared terrorists around the globe - in Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, and Pakistan. She has taught at CIA University, and continues to consult with US government agencies about her work on terrorism. She is presently part of a team that trains police officers to recognize terrorists. She is also an expert on trauma, based on her own experience.
On a fall night in Concord, a quiet Massachusetts suburb, in 1973, Stern was 15. She and her sister were at home doing their homework after ballet class when a serial rapist entered their house and sexually assaulted the girls for over an hour. When he left them alone, they tried to call for help, but he had cut the phone line. They walked to Friendly's to call their babysitter from a payphone. She did not believe the girls until she saw them. Their mother was dead, and their father was on a business trip to Europe with his new wife from which he did not return for three days after hearing the news. The girls wrote their statements for the police in their best cursive hand.
Following the example of her father, who was a Holocaust survivor, Stern denied the pain of her experience. She kept striving to be good. Her academic and writing career took off at a supersonic speed, but her personal life stalled. She miscarried 12 times, and her marriage dissolved once she finally gave birth to a son. Until a friend's request forced her to sit down with her police file in 2006, she had disassociated from most of the details of the attack and its aftermath.
But, when she did review the file, something clicked in the mind of this world-class social scientist. She had to know the truth and could deny her feelings no longer. She began an investigation, with the help of a devoted police lieutenant and her new husband, to find the truth about her rapist, the town of Concord, her own family, and her own mind. The results are astonishing.
In her own words, "Nabokov once said, 'Life is pain,' a riff on the Buddhist notion that to live is to crave and to crave is to feel pain. To live in this world involves pain. Had I not been catapulted, in that one hour, half way to death, and therefore closer to enlightenment? In death we no longer feel human cravings, no longer feel human pain. I was now half way there. I was prepared to be quiet. I have been quiet, and I have listened all my life. But now, I will finally speak."
Stern received a bachelor's degree from Barnard College in chemistry, a Master of Science degree from MIT, and a doctorate in public policy from Harvard. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Praise for Denial:
"This month's must-read nonfiction: terrorism expert Jessica Stern's Denial: A Memoir of Terror which opens the decades-old file of a crime committed against Stern as a teen, launching her on a gutsy investigation into the ways in which trauma is perpetuated."
"Denial is one of the most important books I have read in a decade... [a] cogent meditation on the links between sexual sadism, humiliation, and political terrorism. This is a groundbreaking book, in terms of how it shows that personal experience - especially the 'shameful' personal experience of having been victim of a sex crime - can be used to illuminate the most urgent questions of our time... Brave, life-changing, and gripping as a thriller, Denial should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand terrorism and anyone who has survived a trauma of any kind - indeed, this should be read by anyone seeking to understand the nature of evil. A tour de force."
-- Naomi Wolf
"[A] stunningly brave book."
"Jessica Stern has always had the gift of disappearing into the lives and minds of terrorists. In this book, she faces the greater challenge of her own. The layers of abuse she has encountered, her tender matter-of-factness, her refusal of self-pity in favor of insatiable curiosity - these are some of her gifts born of trauma. This book will allow people into parts of themselves they did not have access to, or even knew they had. Parts full of rage, of terror, of pride in their own detachment. It will allow their hearts to begin to break. For anyone who has lived at proximity to violence, it is one of the most necessary accounts of our time."
-- Eliza Griswold, journalist and author of Wideawake Field
"Jessica Stern's harrowing memoir of a girl who trauma has taught to distrust herself and who learns to live with the idea of her helplessness - a girl who once turned away from what she could not understand or accept - examines the violence at the heart of things, with an appeal to compassion and forgiveness, rather than a condemnation of the destructive impulses that haunt each of us."
-- Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut
"A memorable, powerful and deeply courageous book, Denial is also a riveting read. Stern brings a unique combination of insight, empathy, and acumen to bear in helping us to understand the perpetrators of violence. With devastating honesty she explores the impact of trauma on victims and those close to them, and the costs of denial for both."
-- Louise Richardson, author of What Terrorists Want
"Jessica Stern has written a remarkable book, unlike any that I've read. This deeply personal and often painful reflection documents the costs of personal, familial, and community silence as well as the liberating effects of truthful testimony."
-- Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and author of Multiple Intelligences
"In this skillfully wrought, powerful study, a terrorism expert, national security adviser, and lecturer at Harvard, returns to a definitive episode of terror in her own early life and traces its grim, damaging ramifications... Stern's work is a strong, clear-eyed, elucidating study of the profound reverberations of trauma."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Wonderfully compassionate, absorbing reading for anyone."
-- Booklist (starred review)
Praise for Terror in the Name of God:
"No scholar has done more than Jessica Stern to make the phenomenon of terrorism comprehensible. In Terror in the Name of God, she tells us the story of her journey in search of the deep roots of terrorist psychology. . . She presents a frightening and deeply instructive picture of the ways in which religion can serve to legitimize acts of violence."
-- Micheal Ignatieff, Carr Professor of Human Rights Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
"Stern's important book, devoid of sentimentality or sensationalism, brings the reader face-to-face with the realities of global terror and the danger it presents to our way of life. This is essential reading."
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
"One of the most interesting books you'll ever read on terrorism... an incredibly intriguing widow into the minds of those who use God to justify violence against others."
-- Boston Globe
"Anybody who thinks Eric Robert Rudolph has nothing in common with Osama bin Laden needs to spend some time with Terror in the Name of God. An emphatic case for understanding terrorists in order to defeat them."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Stern's firsthand encounters bring a valuable and much-needed perspective to the problem of religious violence."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Her close-up portraits allow readers to glimpse the fierce alienation and the festering grudges that drive desperate men (and a few women) to embrace violent theologies promising earthly paradise and heavenly salvation to all those who join their merciless crusades. Timely and compelling."
"I love this fascinating, informative, and courageous book. Jessica Stern addresses issues essential for understanding how politics and religion fuse in terrorist activity."
-- Elaine Pagels
"All Americans now recognize the terrorist threat. Jessica Stern, a leading expert, adds much to our understanding in this readable book about the relationship between personal conviction and terror, providing a long look into the thinking of actual terrorists around the globe."
-- John Deutch, former Director of Central Intelligence
"Many scholars have developed theories about the motivations of terrorists, particularly religious ones, in today's world. Jessica Stern, however, has gone to the root source and interviewed terrorists from many countries and faiths as to why their religion leads them to do what they do. The result is a penetrating, illuminating, and profoundly important account of their many motives, 'from grievance to greed,' and how organizations appealing to these motives become successful. Her analysis is indispensible to our understanding contemporary terrorist threats to the civilized world."
-- Sam Huntington, Professor of Government, Harvard University
"Why do global terrorists frequently see themselves as instruments of divine wrath? Jessica Stern's personal encounters with Al Qaeda operatives, anti-abortionist killers, jihadi militants and suicide-bombers give us a rare and revealing insight into worlds that shadow our own, but seem radically alien to us. Face to face with some of the most dangerous religious militants of our times, Stern looks evil in the eye and demands explanations for the dire consequences of their beliefs and actions. Her fine narrative, free of sentimentality or sensationalism, provides the most honest picture of the dangers we face, and the ways in which we can combat the deep causes of global terror. This is a reasoned plea for policy initiatives to be tempered by cultural understanding and ethical reflection. Stern's unflinching moral courage refuses to let militarism or cynicism have the last word. You will not be able to put down this book, except to applaud."
-- Homi K. Bhabha, Rothenberg Professor of English Literature, Harvard University