The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century

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The rise and rise of the Bin Laden family is one of the great stories of the twentieth century; its repercussions have already deeply marked the twenty-first. Until now, however, it is a story that has never been fully told, as the Bin Ladens have successfully fended off attempts to understand the family circles from which Osama sprang. In this the family has been abetted by the kingdom it calls home, Saudi Arabia, one of the most closed societies on earth.

Steve Coll’s The Bin ...

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The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century

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Overview

The rise and rise of the Bin Laden family is one of the great stories of the twentieth century; its repercussions have already deeply marked the twenty-first. Until now, however, it is a story that has never been fully told, as the Bin Ladens have successfully fended off attempts to understand the family circles from which Osama sprang. In this the family has been abetted by the kingdom it calls home, Saudi Arabia, one of the most closed societies on earth.

Steve Coll’s The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century is the groundbreaking history of a family and its fortune. It chronicles a young illiterate Yemeni bricklayer, Mohamed Bin Laden, who went to the new, oil-rich country of Saudi Arabia and quickly became a vital figure in its development, building great mosques and highways and making himself and many of his children millionaires. It is also a story of the Saudi royal family, whom the Bin Ladens served loyally and without whose capricious favor they would have been nothing. And it is a story of tensions and contradictions in a country founded on extreme religious purity, which then became awash in oil money and dazzled by the temptations of the West. In only two generations the Bin Ladens moved from a famine- stricken desert canyon to luxury jets, yachts, and private compounds around the world, even going into business with Hollywood celebrities. These religious and cultural gyrations resulted in everything from enthusiasm for America—exemplified by Osama’s free-living pilot brother Salem—to an overwhelming determination to destroy it.

The Bin Ladens is a meticulously researched, colorful, shocking, entertaining, and disturbing narrative of global integration and its limitations. It encapsulates the unsettling contradictions of globalization in the story of a single family who has used money, mobility, and technology to dramatically varied ends.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Steve Coll's 2004 Ghost Wars won its author his second Pulitzer Prize and set the standard for books on al Qaeda. The Bin Ladens, his first work since that masterpiece, is a portrait of an extended family, a dynasty founded by an illiterate bricklayer who died in a plane crash caused by his American pilot. (Indeed, Coll shows that the Bin Laden chronicles have been marked repeatedly by airplane disasters.) These Arabian building pioneers carelessly straddled two incompatible cultures; partying and globetrotting even as family members bankrolled extreme religious fundamentalists. With the same dazzling reportorial precision that marked Ghost Wars, the former Washington Post associate editor documents the Bin Ladens' narrow and brittle involvement with their "western friends."
Michiko Kakutani
Steve Coll's riveting new book not only gives us the most psychologically detailed portrait of the brutal 9/11 mastermind yet, but in telling the epic story of Osama bin Laden's extended family, it also reveals the crucial role that his relatives and their relationship with the royal house of Saud played in shaping his thinking, his ambitions, his technological expertise and his tactics…It is a book that possesses the novelistic energy of a rags-to-riches family epic, following its sprawling cast of characters as they travel from Mecca and Medina to Las Vegas and Disney World, and yet, at the same time, it is a book that, in tracing the connections between the public and the private, the political and the personal, stands as a substantive bookend to Mr. Coll's Pulitzer-Prize-winning 2004 book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the C.I.A., Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to Sept. 10, 2001.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The bin Ladens are famous for spawning the world's foremost terrorist and building one of the Middle East's foremost corporate dynasties. Pulitzer Prize-winner Coll (Ghost Wars) delivers a sprawling history of the multifaceted clan, paying special attention to its two most emblematic members. Patriarch Mohamed's eldest son, Salem, was a caricature of the self-indulgent plutocrat: a flamboyant jet-setter dependent on the Saudi monarchy, obsessed with all things motorized (he died crashing his plane after a day's joy-riding atop motorcycle and dune-buggy) and forever tormenting his entourage with off-key karaoke. Coll presents quite a contrast with an unusually nuanced profile of Salem's half-brother Osama, a shy, austere, devout man who nonetheless shares Salem's egomania. Other bin Ladens crowd Coll's narrative with the eye-glazing details of their murky business deals, messy divorces and ill-advised perfume lines and pop CDs. Beneath the clutter one discerns an engrossing portrait of a family torn between tradition and modernity, conformism and self-actualization, and desperately in search of its soul. (April 1)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date books in English to tell the rags-to-riches story of the Arabian Peninsula's house of Bin Laden. In a fascinating read, Coll (former managing editor, the Washington Post), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, provides a detailed account of the Bin Ladens and their myriad business enterprises. Coll traces the history of Mohammed Bin Laden, a young illiterate Yemeni bricklayer who went to the newly established country of Saudi Arabia and became a key figure in building the country's infrastructural projects, including roads and mosques. In the process, the scion of the Bin Laden family became a multimillionaire and transformed his entrepreneurial skills into establishing numerous business ventures that tied him to the world's rich and famous. The Bin Laden family's symbiotic relationship with the Saudi royal family served as a critical factor in bolstering the Bin Laden fortunes and shielding the family from its adversaries. The author's portrayal of the Bin Ladens is greatly readable while also sophisticated in its complexities. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]
—Nader Entessar

Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling, fascinating account of America's declared No. 1 enemy, his far-flung family and the astonishing number of influential Americans who live within that family's orbit. Salem Bin Laden loved American pop music and films. For many years he kept a kind of "rolling intercontinental party" that would be interrupted only when he called up one of his fleet of jets and ran off to do business, whether meeting with Brooke Shields in Hollywood or the king of Saudi Arabia at home or in some foreign venue. So writes New Yorker staff writer and two-time Pulitzer winner Coll (Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, 2004, etc.), who finds Salem involved in countless other ventures around the world, from telecommunications to construction to arms-dealing (at least enough of the last to get tangled up in the Iran-Contra Affair). In addition, Salem's siblings owned real estate across America, from apartment complexes to an airport; funded presidential races, favoring the GOP; and enjoyed friendships with British royalty and the American elite. "In both a literal and a cultural sense," Coll observes, "the Bin Laden family owned an impressive share of the America upon which Osama declared war." Even so, the relationship was shaded and complex. The uber-patriarch of the family was a Yemeni who worked doggedly to build a fortune in Saudi Arabia. He then branched into Palestine, only to be displaced by the victorious Israeli government at the time of the 1967 war, which surely contributed to then-ten-year-old Osama's later views. Mohamed Bin Laden returned from East Jerusalem to find himself in a strained relationship withthe Saudi royal family, perhaps because he was glacially slow to deliver on huge public-works contracts. This, too, may have led to his offspring's views, and it cannot have helped that Salem died in a plane crash in America, just as Mohamed died in a plane crash caused by an American pilot. "Bush's ill-considered use of the word ‘Crusade' to describe America's response to September 11" couldn't have helped either. The makings of a villain, shaped in many ways by the culture he came to revile. Urgent and important reading. Agent: Melanie Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594201646
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 688
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Coll

Steve Coll is most recently the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bin Ladens. He is the president of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute headquartered in Washington, D.C., and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Previously heworked for twenty years at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990. He is the author of six other books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Ghost Wars.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2011

    Excellent portrait of a complex family

    This book adds an important and unique angle to the traditional reading list about the "war on terror" and 9/11. A highly recommended and fair portrait of a surprisingly secular Saudi family and the formative years of Osama, the exiled and evil "black sheep" among them.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    This is an exhaustive study of the Bin Ladens

    As the 20th century begins, the Bin Laden saga does as well. The book examines the rise and fall of this prominent family beginning with the line of Ali. Mohammed and Abdullah are the early focus. At first, it reads almost like a fairytale as their very survival seems to depend on magical moments or accidents of fate. Since much of the history is handed down orally, it is really hard to separate fact from fiction, sometimes. The Bin Laden family fell into the good graces of the King by sheer force of events, unplanned and unchoreographed. When Abdulaziz wanted help to build shelters for his ever growing fleet of cars, the Americans and the British refused. Had they accepted, perhaps Mohammed Bin Laden would not have stepped up to fill in the construction gap which eventually brought him prominence and fortune. Perhaps the clan would have deteriorated into oblivion instead of infamy. Mohammed Bin Laden was either a business genius or the hapless recipient of accidents of fate. I think he was very clever and inserted himself into situations which provided him the advantage he needed with the royal family. Even if he was unprepared and not up to the task presented to him, he accepted it. He took the risk, carved out deals which projected him into the spotlight, married strategically and made influential alliances. Sometime in 1958, his 14 year old bride, Alia, gave birth to Osama Bin Laden. Salem, Osama's brother, rose to power after the death of Mohammed, in a plane crash. He was more fun loving and as the brother in power, managed to endear himself to many of the Saudi princes in power and to King Fahd. Although, he too liked to play a lot, he was pious and professed to do everything for Allah.. He had ruder manners and behavior, loved the party life, the night life and also took many wives and had many children. I was struck by a comment made by Carmen, wife of Yeslam, ½ brother to Salem. She noted that when the brothers came together, you never knew when they would turn from carousing to being very pious. One minute you would think they were westernized but then small things made you realize that they were not. She said they cannot cut the bond that is embedded in them. She said her own husband cannot cut the bond that is his early childhood. Osama became a radicalized member of the Muslim Brotherhood at around the age of 15 because of the influence of his teacher, Ahmed Badeeb, who was active in the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization believing in Sharia law and violence. Osama was a quiet and well behaved young man, easily swayed by the teacher. Osama was more religious than most and even believed in ancient traditions and modes of dress. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is part of the culture and even in more moderate households, it is a major theme of life. Someone in every home believes in Islam and there is always a Koran evident. The Brotherhood messages were filled with political dissent and preached teaching and proselytizing. Obama was a devout and obedient follower. As a young man, he disliked America and its policies toward Jews and Christians which he felt certain was a policy intent on destroying Islam. He believed wholeheartedly in Jihad. Osama's connections with the Brotherhood mentors is kismet and coupled with his influential connections, make it possible for his love/hate relationship with the United States to begin. His declaration of war against America provides the reason to plot its destruction in the name of All

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  • Posted July 27, 2010

    Excellent- Detailed look @ Saudi History and Muslim Values and Society

    Where did this family come from to gain such great power in the Saudi Kingdom. This book traces the rise of the House of Saud as well as the family Ben Ladin. A must audio book for anyone who needs to know the nature of power struggle between arabia and the west.

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  • Posted February 2, 2010

    One of, if not, the best book written about the Bin Laden's..

    Just finished reading....have to say this book is packed with culture insight.

    The author keeps things well balanced and seems to avoid mixing opinons in with his research.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2008

    A reviewer

    I am reading The Bin Ladens and enjoying it very much. The reading is interesting and very informative. HOWEVER, where in the world are the maps that desperately need to accompany a book such as this? The maps are an integral part of one's understanding of the events taking place. Most people can't find Yemen, much less the Hadhramawi section of Yemen. The book, 'Three Cups of Tea' which is on the top best seller list has an excellent map which shows where everyting takes place. Next time, or in a subsequent edition, please add maps to this book making it more interesting and informative. This lack really should put the rating even less than my '4'. Dee Phelps

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