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On Corruption in America
-- And What Is at Stake
Thieves of State
Why Corruption Threatens
Global Security


The Punishment of Virtue
Inside Afghanistan
After the Taliban 
Literary agent: Kathleen Anderson (
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Now in bookstores...



After more than a decade working to understand kleptocracy overseas, and the disaster it spawns where it takes hold, I knew: it was time to train my lens on my own country.  This book is the result (and yes, it’s the same book, US and UK versions).  “Unflinching,” Knopf calls it.  “Blistering,” says Hurst.  


And indeed: it’s one thing to cop to the abstract idea that America is dominated by the same type of networks that run notoriously corrupt developing countries – in which public and private sectors, makers and super-rich takers and regulators, are woven together, with out-and-out-criminals.  But it was painful to roll up my sleeves and grapple with that reality.  

As I found in other countries, it is a reality that lies at the root of most of our crises: from repeated banking and stock market meltdowns and the unemployment and homelessness and desperation that result, to the disproportionately high toll of COVID sickness and death in this country, as well as the systematic mistreatment of black people and native nations and other subordinated groups.  

This book, like my others, goes beyond and beneath the usual chronicle of events.  You’ll also spend time with the mythical (and real) King Midas, of the golden touch, with Jesus, and with Joe Kennedy and other 19th and early 20th century kleptocrats, as well as the anarchists and farmers who fought them.  You'll see how the post-1980 pattern mirrors the pattern back then.  And you’ll consider with me what we can do to stop this scourge before it destroys our country and the land and principles it stands on

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UK edition
...or your favorite independent bookseller
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Both right and left revile “the swamp,” but Sarah Chayes is the first to provide a gripping and lucid—to say nothing of brave—account of how sophisticated self-dealing networks of every stripe are rigging the rules and poisoning our politics. If you want to save America, this might just be the most important book to read now.

Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains

Few people know the methods and strategies of the corrupt like Sarah Chayes. After combating corruption in the developing world, she now takes aim at the United States, where conflicts of interest, bribery and collusion are not an anomaly but a commonplace reality. Every person concerned about corruption should read this book.


Frederik Obermaier, investigative journalist and co-author of The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Famous Hide Their Money

Winner of the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
"I can’t imagine a more important book for our time."
―Sebastian Junger
"Chayes brilliantly illuminates a topic no one wants to talk about -- but we must."
—Admiral (ret.) Mike Mullen, 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
“This is a revolutionary book”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, The New America Foundation

The world is blowing up. Every day a new blaze seems to ignite: the bloody implosion of Iraq and Syria; the East-West standoff in Ukraine; abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria. Is there some thread tying these frightening international security crises together? In a riveting account that weaves history with fast-moving reportage and insider accounts from the Afghanistan war, Sarah Chayes identifies the unexpected link: corruption.

Since the late 1990s, corruption has reached such an extent that some governments resemble glorified criminal gangs, bent solely on their own enrichment. These kleptocrats drive indignant populations to extremes―ranging from revolution to militant puritanical religion. Chayes plunges readers into some of the most venal environments on earth and examines what emerges: Afghans returning to the Taliban, Egyptians overthrowing the Mubarak government (but also redesigning Al-Qaeda), and Nigerians embracing both radical evangelical Christianity and the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. In many such places, rigid moral codes are put forth as an antidote to the collapse of public integrity.


The pattern, moreover, pervades history. Through deep archival research, Chayes reveals that canonical political thinkers such as John Locke and Machiavelli, as well as the great medieval Islamic statesman Nizam al-Mulk, all named corruption as a threat to the realm. In a thrilling argument connecting the Protestant Reformation to the Arab Spring, Thieves of State presents a powerful new way to understand global extremism. And it makes a compelling case that we must confront corruption, for it is a cause―not a result―of global instability.

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As a former star reporter for NPR, Sarah Chayes developed a devoted listenership for her on-site reports on conflicts around the world. In The Punishment of Virtue, she reveals the misguided U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the wake of the defeat of the Taliban, which severely undermined the effort to build democracy allowed corrupt tribal warlords back into positions of power and the Taliban to re-infiltrate the country. This is an eyeopening chronicle that highlights the often infuriating realities of a vital front in the war on terror, exposing deeper, fundamental problems with current U.S. strategy.