The Atlantic's March Issue: 'What ISIS Really Wants'

Graeme Wood on what must be understood about the group's ideology in order to stop it.

The March 2015 issue of The Atlantic is now available online—with key pieces summarized and provided below:

Cover Story: “What ISIS Really Wants”

As Congress debates the president’s request to authorize military force against the Islamic State, contributing editor Graeme Wood has one of the clearest and deeply reported looks at the ideology of isis. To understand—and combat—this group, he says, we have to take seriously its intensely apocalyptic belief that it is a harbinger of the end of the world. After speaking with isis recruiters and supporters in London and Australia, and pouring over the group's readily available propaganda, Wood argues that we’ve made significant strategic errors by applying the logic of al-Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it, and undertaking a “well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature.” He writes: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic … The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Features and Essay:

“Among the Hillary Haters”: After a motley group of conspiracy theorists peppered the Clinton White House with accusations of drug smuggling, stealing White House furniture, and even murder, the new guard of “Hillary haters” has a singular goal: to ensure that another Clinton never calls the Oval Office her own. From the now struggling American Spectator to the highly organized America Rising, forces are racing against the clock to carve a caricature of Hillary Clinton ahead of her likely presidential bid. National correspondent Hanna Rosin asks: Can a new, professionalized generation of scandalmongers uncover more dirt on the Clintons—without triggering a backlash?

“Should You Bring Your Unborn Baby to Work?”: Worried about his wife’s late-night work hours when pregnant with their second child, the science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff went on a quest to understand the consequences of prenatal stress on the long-term health of babies. Fetal-origins research examines how what happens to your mother during pregnancy can affect your vulnerability to any number of lifelong disorders, from asthma to obesity to psychiatric problems. And studies have shown that extreme immune-system responses in pregnant women—whether to famine, major infections, or, yes, stress—can affect fetal development? How should today’s stretched-to-the-brink parents respond?

Essay: “The Hero Europe Needed”: Václav Havel, a Czechoslavakian playwright, defied imprisonment to become the president of a free country. Now, a quarter century after the Velvet Revolution, his legacy is in disarray. Michael Ignatieff examines how Havel’s life illuminates a dissident generation’s dreams and the revenge that history has taken on them.

From Dispatches:

Public Opinion: “Be Not Afraid”: When President Obama tells Americans to stop worrying, he’s accused of fecklessness. But he has a point: we have never been safer. Jonathan Rauch argues that Americans, who are “hardwired to overreact,” should ultimately be grateful to the president for the very behavior that is so often the subject of criticism. Writes Rauch: “Historians will thank him, even if we don’t, for his steadfastness in the face of unprecedented safety.”

Sketch: “The Bluest Republican”: Newly minted Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is a political rarity: a Republican with a solid Democratic fan base in a staunchly liberal state. Staff writer Molly Ball spent time with Baker to find out what it is about the Commonwealth’s politics that breeds bipartisanship in a political era featuring anything but. And while Baker may draw some obvious parallels to former Governor Mitt Romney, Ball notes that there are a number of distinct differences between the two. Maybe the most important: you will not be seeing Baker in Iowa anytime soon.

Business: “The Miracle of Minneapolis”: The dissolution of the American dream isn’t just a feeling; it’s an empirical observation, and Millennials are living it. Senior editor Derek Thompson reveals a bright spot in this sea of bleakness: Minneapolis. Among residents under 35, the Midwestern hub ranks in the top 10 for highest college-graduation rates, highest employment rate, highest median earnings, and lowest poverty rate. Thompson explores the ingredients of the “Minneapolis miracle,” and whether the recipe for success can be exported to other cities.

Shifts: Technology: “Block That Sperm!”: Contraceptives seem to have advanced less in 50 years than cellphones have in five, with the pharmaceutical industry’s support for new forms of birth control tepid at best. And yet, improved birth control could be life-changing. From remote-controlled implants, to testosterone gel, to—at long last!—a pill for men, staff writer Olga Khazan explores the future of contraceptives.

Wordplay: “Mind the Gap”: A battle of semantics is ensuing as more British publications woo American readers, and media outlets must cater to diverse readership on both sides of the Atlantic. Culture editor Sophie Gilbert explores the strange, sometimes baffling, ways that two versions of English are mixing.

Study of Studies: “The Science of Superstition”: Whether it’s a lucky rabbit’s foot or higher power, no one, it seems, is immune to magical thinking. Matthew Hutson reveals how superstition is a side effect of normal, socially adaptive thinking.

Chartist: “Mystery Killers”: For living in the era of big data, Jeremy Smith writes, we know astonishingly little about why people die. Only a fraction of the 50 million global deaths each year have the actual cause reported—and that’s a major obstacle to improving public health.

From the Culture File:

The Omnivore: “Endless Love”: In whatever contemporary form it takes, the love song, and fear of it, has been a historical constant. James Parker reflects on a new book suggesting that the love song has always been among the most revolutionary of musical forms.

Television: “Why the British Are Better at Satire”: Washington is rife with material for satire, yet the fictional Frances Underwood and Selina Meyer seem more primed for soap opera than for political mockery. Christopher Orr explores why American satire seems to be lacking the cynical spirit that its British counterparts have perfected.

Books: “The Secret History of the Underground Railroad”: For most people, the Underground Railroad is still a mystery: conjuring images, writes Adam Goodheart, of “trapdoors, flickering lanterns, and moonlit pathways through the woods.” Goodheart reviews a new book from the historian Eric Foner, who finally explains how it really worked.

Books: “Rust Never Sleeps”: America is losing its fight against an insidious enemy, deteriorating from the inside out. Tim Hefferman reviews a new book by Jonathan Waldman exploring the corrosive world of rust and how shortfalls in management and innovation are wreaking havoc on the country’s infrastructure.

It’s all about the sell. This month’s Big Question asks: “What is the Best Advertising Campaign of All Time?” Heavy-hitters from across the business and advertising world weigh in, naming Morton Salt’s “When It Rains It Pours,” Nike’s “Just Do It,” LBJ’s “Daisy,” and Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” among the contenders.

These articles and more are featured in the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic, available today, February 17, 2015, on and The Atlantic’s mobile app, and on newsstands later this week.