The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

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Overview

A sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright’s remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.

The Looming Tower achieves an unprecedented level ...

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The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

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Overview

A sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright’s remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.

The Looming Tower achieves an unprecedented level of intimacy and insight by telling the story through the interweaving lives of four men: the two leaders of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri; the FBI’s counterterrorism chief, John O’Neill; and the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

As these lives unfold, we see revealed: the crosscurrents of modern Islam that helped to radicalize Zawahiri and bin Laden . . . the birth of al-Qaeda and its unsteady development into an organization capable of the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole . . . O’Neill’s heroic efforts to track al-Qaeda before 9/11, and his tragic death in the World Trade towers . . . Prince Turki’s transformation from bin Laden’s ally to his enemy . . . the failures of the FBI, CIA, and NSA to share intelligence that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

The Looming Tower broadens and deepens our knowledge of these signal events by taking us behind the scenes. Here is Sayyid Qutb, founder of the modern Islamist movement, lonely and despairing as he meets Western culture up close in 1940s America; the privileged childhoods of bin Laden and Zawahiri; family life in the al-Qaeda compounds of Sudan and Afghanistan; O’Neill’s high-wire act in balancing his all-consuming career with his equally entangling personal life--he was living with three women, each of them unaware of the others’ existence--and the nitty-gritty of turf battles among U.S. intelligence agencies.

Brilliantly conceived and written, The Looming Tower draws all elements of the story into a galvanizing narrative that adds immeasurably to our understanding of how we arrived at September 11, 2001. The richness of its new information, and the depth of its perceptions, can help us deal more wisely and effectively with the continuing terrorist threat.

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
For most Americans, al Qaeda began to exist on September 11, 2001. Since then, we've been frantically piecing together shards of information about this secretive extremist movement. But connecting the dots isn't always easy. Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower translates data into meaning by tracing the rise of the group through the lives of four men: two terrorists and two men who tracked them. Wright explores the complex relationship of the bin Laden family and Saudi Arabia's royal family. Perhaps even more significantly, he reveals the agency insularity that almost certainly prevented the thwarting of the 9/11 plot.
Bruce Hoffman
Although there have been many biographies of bin Laden -- two of the best of them written by Peter L. Bergen and Michael Scheuer -- surprisingly little attention has been devoted to Zawahiri, an Egyptian jihadist. Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for the New Yorker who wrote a memorable profile of Zawahiri four years ago, magisterially redresses this imbalance in The Looming Tower.Wright tells the compelling story here of a symbiotic relationship between bin Laden and Zawahiri: Their respective strengths complemented each other and created a sum far greater than its parts. The two men's shared strategic vision of a global jihad transformed al-Qaeda into an organization that can punch far above its weight.
— The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
Though the broad outlines of his story have been recounted many, many times before, Mr. Wright fleshes out the narrative with myriad new details and a keen ability to situate the events he describes in a larger cultural and political context. And by focusing on the lives and careers of several key players on the “road to 9/11” — namely, Mr. bin Laden; his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri; the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal; and the F.B.I.’s former counterterrorism chief, John O’Neill — he has succeeded in writing a narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel, an account that indelibly illustrates how the political and the personal, the public and the private were often inextricably intertwined.
— The New York Times
Dexter Filkins
… what a riveting tale Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book. The Looming Tower is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve, and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. It’s an education, too — though you’d never know it — a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today. The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden F.B.I. agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone. The Looming Tower is a thriller. And it’s a tragedy, too.
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Wright, a New Yorker writer, brings exhaustive research and delightful prose to one of the best books yet on the history of terrorism. He begins with the observation that, despite an impressive record of terror and assassination, post-WWarII, Islamic militants failed to establish theocracies in any Arab country. Many helped Afghanistan resist the Russian invasion of 1979 before their unemployed warriors stepped up efforts at home. Al-Qaeda, formed in Afghanistan in 1988 and led by Osama bin Laden, pursued a different agenda, blaming America for Islam's problems. Less wealthy than believed, bin Laden's talents lay in organization and PR, Wright asserts. Ten years later, bin Laden blew up U.S. embassies in Africa and the destroyer Cole, opening the floodgates of money and recruits. Wright's step-by-step description of these attacks reveals that planning terror is a sloppy business, leaving a trail of clues that, in the case of 9/11, raised many suspicions among individuals in the FBI, CIA and NSA. Wright shows that 9/11 could have been prevented if those agencies had worked together. As a fugitive, bin Ladin's days as a terror mastermind may be past, but his success has spawned swarms of imitators. This is an important, gripping and profoundly disheartening book. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - KLIATT Review
This disturbing book (a Pulitzer Prize winner) is undoubtedly the best place to get a real understanding of just what led an Arabian hate group to carry out its cruel attack on the Twin Towers, and how it managed to accomplish such a disaster. In the days following Al Qaeda's spectacular coup, the FBI and CIA quickly unraveled just how the attack was carried out, but much of the public still wonders why, and just what it was supposed to accomplish: to humiliate the nation in some way? To kick off a Moslem jihad against the Western world? Or was it simply to kill as many Americans as possible, just because they were Americans? Author Lawrence Wright, a professional writer with experience in the Middle East, has assembled a remarkably detailed reconstruction of the events leading up to the attack, going back to the older Islamic intellectuals and dissidents who first inspired a youthful Bin Laden. The narrative leads us through the days in which his group jelled in Afghanistan and carried out its long series of predecessor attacks against the US: bombing its embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole, and other atrocities that properly ought to have alerted the US to the existence of an implacable enemy group. Instead, the lack of a proper response only confirmed the plotters' most extreme conclusion: that America had become too wealthy and too decadent to really care. Wright's biggest contribution is to ferret out the key personalities in the conspiracy and to explain their mindset. He does the same for various American agencies and individuals who were involved in tracking Al-Qaeda even before the attacks in New York. This is a distinct service to readerswho have become overwhelmed by subsequent events. A glossary of the principal characters is a most useful feature of the book, as is a series of extensive notes. Scholarly apparatus aside, the narrative reads like an action book and will definitely appeal to interested YAs. Age Range: Ages 15 to adult. REVIEWER: Raymond Puffer, Ph.D. (Vol. 42, No. 1)
Library Journal
Wright (fellow, Ctr. on Law & Security, NYU Sch. of Law; Twins) goes back—way back—to 1948 to dissect the personal influences and political radicalization that would lead to al Qaeda's attack on America. Delving into the tangled roots of Egyptian political dissenters, he carefully draws out the biographical background of Osama bin Laden's number two man, Dr. Ayman-al-Zawahir, who was notable for being implicated in the plot to assassinate Anware Sadat and later became a key figure in Islamist groups as he allied with bin Laden. The matter-of-fact story of the founding of al Qaeda is almost an afterthought as Wright's narrative follows bin Laden in his business and terrorist ventures from Saudi Arabia to Sudan to Afghanistan. A chilling counterpoint to the story of this growing organization is what little attention was paid to the trickle of information that made its way to Western intelligence agencies. While illustrating the CIA and FBI responses, or lack thereof, to the emerging threat of Islamist terrorism, Wright attempts to tie in an important law-enforcement figure, John O'Neill. At one time a counterterrorism agent for the FBI who deeply understood the global nature of bin Laden's threat, O'Neill ironically perished on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. The thrust of O'Neill's story, however, does not merge well with the rest of the book (for a closer look at O'Neill, see Murray Weiss's The Man Who Warned America). However, Wright's research is exemplary, including dozens of primary-source interviews and first-person perspectives, and he provides welcome insight into the time line leading up to 9/11. Recommended for large libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/06.]-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Svc. Inst. Lib., Champaign Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A comprehensive and compelling account of the events preceding and causing 9/11, with a tight focus on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and on the men who were pursuing him before the attacks. Wright, a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of titles dealing with subjects as divergent as "recovered memory" (Remembering Satan, 1994) and Manuel Noriega (God's Favorite, 2000), has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11. (He does deal briefly-and horrifyingly-with the attack itself.) Wright argues that the 1948 arrival of Sayyid Qutb in New York City was pivotal. Qutb saw a vast battle between Islam and the West and was disgusted by the decadence in the New World. His disciples would one day be myriad. The author shows the psychological effects on radical Islamists of the 1967 six-day war, examines the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the assassination of Sadat, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, the Soviet struggles in Afghanistan, the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the suicide attack against the USS Cole, and other ominous, sanguinary events. But at the center is the story of Osama bin Laden. Wright carefully charts bin Laden's upbringing and gradual metamorphosis into the world's most notorious terrorist. (In a long note at the end, Wright acknowledges the difficulties of being certain of his facts in some cases.) The author profiles, as well, the redoubtable and complex FBI agent John O'Neill, who pursued bin Laden ferociously and then retired to become chief of security at the WTC, where he died on 9/11. Wright shows with devastating clarity that the CIA's reluctance to share itsintelligence was a principal reason the FBI did not apprehend the hijackers beforehand. Bin Laden reportedly wept with joy when the planes hit their targets. Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day. First printing of 40,000
From the Publisher
"Wright's interview-fueled, character-driven approach captures...the complexity of individual actors...as well as the fluid internal dynamics of the often covert terrorist organization.... A perceptive and intense page-turner." ---Booklist Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375414862
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/8/2006
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 362,436
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.49 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Wright
Lawrence Wright graduated from Tulane University and spent two years teaching at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law. The author of five works of nonfiction--City Children, Country Summer; In the New World; Saints and Sinners; Remembering Satan; and Twins--he has also written a novel, God’s Favorite, and was cowriter of the movie The Siege. He and his wife are longtime residents of Austin, Texas.

Biography

Lawrence Wright is an author and screenwriter, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

He is a graduate of Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the American University in Cairo, where he taught English and received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 1969. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1971, Wright began his writing career at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he went to work for Southern Voices, a publication of the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, Georgia, and began to freelance for various national magazines. In 1980, Wright returned to Texas to work for Texas Monthly. He also became a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In December, 1992, he joined the staff of The New Yorker.

Wright has published six books: City Children, Country Summer (Scribner, 1979), In the New World: Growing Up with America, 1960-1984 (Knopf, 1988), Saints & Sinners (Knopf, 1993), Remembering Satan (Knopf, 1994), Twins: Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Identity (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997; Wiley & Sons, 1998), and God's Favorite (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

His history of Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, was published by Knopf in August 2006. A portion of that book, "The Man Behind Bin Laden," was published in The New Yorker and won the 2002 Overseas Press Club's Ed Cunningham Award for best magazine reporting. He has also won the National Magazine Award for Reporting as well as the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism.

Wright is the co-writer (with Ed Zwick and Menno Meyjes) of The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Annette Bening, which appeared in November 1998. He also wrote the script of the Showtime movie, Noriega: God's Favorite, directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Bob Hoskins, which aired in April 2000. Currently he is working on a script for MGM about John O'Neill, the former head of the FBI's office of counterterrorism in New York, who died on 9/11.

Wright is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves as the keyboard player in the Austin-based blues band, Who Do.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

Good To Know

"I play the keyboards in an Austin blues band, WhoDo," Wright told us in our interview. "I've found that playing music with friends is about the most fun a grownup can have. I didn't take up the piano until I was thirty-eight and a half because I wanted to play 'Great Balls of Fire' on my fortieth birthday. I guess the point is that it's never too late to acquire a new passion."
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    1. Hometown:
      Austin, Texas
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 2, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    1. Education:
      B.A., Tulane University, 1969; M.A. (Applied Linguistics), American University in Cairo, 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

The Martyr

In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. “Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?” he wondered. “Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?” It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveler had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now.

The stern bachelor was slight and dark, with a high, sloping forehead and a paintbrush moustache somewhat narrower than the width of his nose. His eyes betrayed an imperious and easily slighted nature. He always evoked an air of formality, favoring dark three-piece suits despite the searing Egyptian sun. For a man who held his dignity so close, the prospect of returning to the classroom at the age of forty-two may have seemed demeaning. And yet, as a child from a mud-walled village in Upper Egypt, he had already surpassed the modest goal he had set for himself of becoming a respectable member of the civil service. His literary and social criticism had made him one of his country’s most popular writers. It had also earned the fury of King Farouk, Egypt’s dissolute monarch, who had signed an order for his arrest. Powerful and sympathetic friends hastily arranged his departure.

At the time, Qutb (his name is pronounced kuh-tub) held a comfortable post as a supervisor in the Ministry of Education. Politically, he was a fervent Egyptian nationalist and anti-communist, a stance that placed him in the mainstream of the vast bureaucratic middle class. The ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind; indeed, he would later say that he was not even a very religious man before he began this journey, although he had memorized the Quran by the age of ten, and his writing had recently taken a turn toward more conservative themes. Like many of his compatriots, he was radicalized by the British occupation and contemptuous of the jaded King Farouk’s complicity. Egypt was racked by anti-British protests and seditious political factions bent on running the foreign troops out of the country—and perhaps the king as well. What made this unimposing, midlevel government clerk particularly dangerous was his blunt and potent commentary. He had never gotten to the front rank of the contemporary Arab literary scene, a fact that galled him throughout his career; and yet from the government’s point of view, he was becoming an annoyingly important enemy.

He was Western in so many ways—his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies. He had read, in translation, the works of Darwin and Einstein, Byron and Shelley, and had immersed himself in French literature, especially Victor Hugo. Even before his journey, however, he worried about the advance of an all-engulfing Western civilization. Despite his erudition, he saw the West as a single cultural entity. The distinctions between capitalism and Marxism, Christianity and Judaism, fascism and democracy were insignificant by comparison with the single great divide in Qutb’s mind: Islam and the East on the one side, and the Christian West on the other.

America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that had characterized Europe’s relations with the Arab world. America, at the end of the Second World War, straddled the political chasm between the colonizers and the colonized. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine America as the anticolonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. America’s power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notions of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes. And because America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable relationship with the rest of the world. Arabs, like most other peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country claimed to stand for.

And so, Qutb, like many Arabs, felt shocked and betrayed by the support that the U.S. government had given to the Zionist cause after the war. Even as Qutb was sailing out of Alexandria’s harbor, Egypt, along with five other Arab armies, was in the final stages of losing the war that established Israel as a Jewish state within the Arab world.  The Arabs were stunned, not only by the determination and skill of  the Israeli fighters but by the incompetence of their own troops and the disastrous decisions of their leaders. The shame of that experience would shape the Arab intellectual universe more profoundly than any other event in modern history. “I hate those Westerners and despise them!” Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of a hundred thousand Jewish refugees into Palestine. “All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch, and finally the Americans, who have been trusted by many.”

The man in the stateroom had known romantic love, but mainly the pain of it. He had written a thinly disguised account of a failed relationship in a novel; after that, he turned his back on marriage. He said that he had been unable to find a suitable bride from the “dishonorable” women who allowed themselves to be seen in public, a stance that left him alone and unconsoled in middle age. He still enjoyed women—he was close to his three sisters—but sexuality threatened him, and he had withdrawn into a shell of disapproval, seeing sex as the main enemy of salvation.

The dearest relationship he had ever enjoyed was that with his mother, Fatima, an illiterate but pious woman, who had sent her precocious son to Cairo to study. His father died in 1933, when Qutb was twenty-seven. For the next three years he taught in various provincial posts until he was transferred to Helwan, a prosperous suburb of Cairo, and he brought the rest of his family to live with him there. His intensely conservative mother never entirely settled in; she was always on guard against the creeping foreign influences that were far more apparent in Helwan than in the little village she came from. These influences must have been evident in her sophisticated son as well.

As he prayed in his stateroom, Sayyid Qutb was still uncertain of his own identity. Should he be “normal” or “special”? Should he resist temptations or indulge them? Should he hang on tightly to his Islamic beliefs or cast them aside for the materialism and sinfulness of the West? Like all pilgrims, he was making two journeys: one outward, into the larger world, and another inward, into his own soul. “I have decided to be a true Muslim!” he resolved. But almost immediately he second-guessed himself. “Am I being truthful or was that just a whim?”

His deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and “half-naked.” She asked him in English, “Is it okay for me to be your guest tonight?”

Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed.

“A single bed can hold two people,” she said.

Appalled, he closed the door in her face. “I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realized that she was drunk,” he recalled. “I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals.”

This is the man, then—decent, proud, tormented, self-righteous, and resentful—whose lonely genius would unsettle Islam, threaten regimes across the Muslim world, and beckon to a generation of rootless young Arabs who were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and would find it in jihad.

Qutb arrived in New York Harbor in the middle of the most prosperous holiday season the country had ever known. In the postwar boom, everybody was making money—Idaho potato farmers, Detroit automakers, Wall Street bankers—and all this wealth spurred confidence in the capitalist model, which had been so brutally tested during the recent Depression. Unemployment seemed practically un-American; officially, the rate of joblessness was under 4 percent, and practically speaking, anyone who wanted a job could get one. Half of the world’s total wealth was now in American hands.

The contrast with Cairo must have been especially bitter as Qutb wandered through the New York City streets, festively lit with holiday lights, the luxurious shop windows laden with appliances that he had only heard about—television sets, washing machines—technological miracles spilling out of every department store in stupefying abundance. Brand-new office towers and apartments were shouldering into the gaps in the Manhattan skyline between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Downtown and in the outer boroughs, vast projects were under way to house the immigrant masses.

It was fitting, in such a buoyant and confident environment, unprecedented in its mix of cultures, that the visible symbol of a changed world order was arising: the new United Nations complex overlooking the East River. The United Nations was the most powerful expression of the determined internationalism that was the legacy of the war, and yet the city itself already embodied the dreams of universal harmony far more powerfully than did any single idea or institution. The world was pouring into New York because that was where the power was, and the money, and the transforming cultural energy. Nearly a million Russians were in the city, half a million Irish, and an equal number of Germans—not to mention the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Poles, and the largely uncounted and often illegal Chinese laborers who had also found refuge in the welcoming city. The black population of the city had grown by 50 percent in only eight years, to 700,000, and they were refugees as well, from the racism of the American South. Fully a fourth of the 8 million New Yorkers were Jewish, many of whom had fled the latest European catastrophe. Hebrew letters covered the signs for the shops and factories on the Lower East Side, and Yiddish was commonly heard on the streets. That would have been a challenge for the middle-aged Egyptian who hated the Jews but, until he left his country, had never met one. For many New Yorkers, perhaps for most of them, political and economic oppression was a part of their heritage, and the city had given them sanctuary, a place to earn a living, to raise a family, to begin again. Because of that, the great emotion that fueled the exuberant city was hopefulness, whereas Cairo was one of the capitals of despair.

At the same time, New York was miserable—overfull, grouchy, competitive, frivolous, picketed with No Vacancy signs. Snoring alcoholics blocked the doorways. Pimps and pickpockets prowled the midtown squares in the ghoulish neon glow of burlesque houses. In the Bowery, flophouses offered cots for twenty cents a night. The gloomy side streets were crisscrossed with clotheslines. Gangs of snarling delinquents roamed the margins like wild dogs. For a man whose English was rudimentary, the city posed unfamiliar hazards, and Qutb’s natural reticence made communication all the more difficult. He was desperately homesick. “Here in this strange place, this huge workshop they call ‘the new world,’ I feel as though my spirit, thoughts, and body live in loneliness,” he wrote to a friend in Cairo. “What I need most here is someone to talk to,” he wrote another friend, “to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars—a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul.” Two days after Qutb arrived in America, he and an Egyptian acquaintance checked into a hotel. “The black elevator operator liked us because we were closer to his color,” Qutb reported. The operator offered to help the travelers find “entertainment.” “He mentioned examples of this ‘entertainment,’ which included perversions. He also told us what happens in some of these rooms, which may have pairs of boys or girls. They asked him to bring them some bottles of Coca-Cola, and didn’t even change their positions when he entered! ‘Don’t they feel ashamed?’ we asked. He was surprised. ‘Why? They are just enjoying themselves, satisfying their particular desires.’ ”

This experience, among many others, confirmed Qutb’s view that sexual mixing led inevitably to perversion. America itself had just been shaken by a lengthy scholarly report titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues at the University of Indiana. Their eight-hundred-page treatise, filled with startling statistics and droll commentary, shattered the country’s leftover Victorian prudishness like a brick through a stained-glass window. Kinsey reported that 37 percent of the American men he sampled had experienced homosexual activity to the point of orgasm, nearly half had engaged in extramarital sex, and 69 percent had paid for sex with prostitutes. The mirror that Kinsey held up to America showed a country that was frantically lustful but also confused, ashamed, incompetent, and astoundingly ignorant. Despite the evidence of the diversity and frequency of sexual activity, this was a time in America when sexual matters were practically never discussed, not even by doctors. One Kinsey researcher interviewed a thousand childless American couples who had no idea why they failed to conceive, even though the wives were virgins.

Qutb was familiar with the Kinsey Report, and referenced it in his later writings to illustrate his view of Americans as little different from beasts—“a reckless, deluded herd that only knows lust and money.” A staggering rate of divorce was to be expected in such a society, since “Every time a husband or wife notices a new sparkling personality, they lunge for it as if it were a new fashion in the world of desires.” The turbulent overtones of his own internal struggles can be heard in his diatribe: “A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid, but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”

The end of the world war had brought America victory but not security. Many Americans felt that they had defeated one totalitarian enemy only to encounter another far stronger and more insidious than European fascism. “Communism is creeping inexorably into these  destitute lands,” the young evangelist Billy Graham warned, “into war-torn China, into restless South America, and unless the Christian religion rescues these nations from the clutch of the unbelieving, America will stand alone and isolated in the world.”

Excerpted from The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright Copyright © 2006 by Lawrence Wright. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1 The martyr 7
2 The sporting club 32
3 The fonder 60
4 Change 84
5 The miracles 99
6 The base 121
7 Return of the hero 145
8 Paradise 163
9 The silicon valley 176
10 Paradise lost 187
11 The prince of darkness 202
12 The boy spies 213
13 Hijira 224
14 Going operational 237
15 Bread and water 245
16 "Now it begins" 262
17 The new millennium 287
18 Boom 301
19 The big wedding 333
20 Revelations 362
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 90 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 27, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    The Looming Tower: Al-Quaeda and the Road to 9/11

    Somebody, in the praise for this book found on the back cover, and I can not remember who it was, said this book ought to be required reading for every American. I completely agree with that statement. This is by far one of the best and most interesting Non-Fiction reads I have gotten my hands on in a very long time. And given the last few years, this is knowledge that would serve every one of us when thinking over the issues of the Middle East.<BR/><BR/>Unfolding almost like a novel, Wright takes us back to the 1940¿s and gets us acquainted with Qutb, the man often said to be the father of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. And with extensive research and precise detail, he does on to unfold a very comprehensive, incredibly detailed and surprisingly understandable history of Al-Quaeda, Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri.<BR/><BR/>Suddenly, a lot of the names that were brought up on the news all this time, gain some sort of root. Events that are often referenced now make sense, everything is put into perspective in a what that finally gives the reader a sense of understanding for a topic that is not only complex and intricate but it is based on an entirely different culture that needs to be understood in order to begin to see where men like those that make up Al-Qaeda come from.<BR/><BR/>Without ruining the book by pointing the finger and placing blame, Wright simply tells the facts and does his best to give the reader an picture that will make it easier to understand a number of foreign concepts that come into play.<BR/><BR/>And added into the mix, the author also adds in a few chapters dealing with men in the FBI and CIA that played crucial roles, particularly John O¿Neill who could have perhaps been the one person to prevent the calamities of 9/11.<BR/><BR/>Narrated in chronological order, this read is eye opening, suspenseful, detailed and at times both frightening and sickening. It takes you from the infancy of Al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden, it tells of the creations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jihad and Al-Qaeda and the eventual unification that became the deadly terrorist organization we know today.<BR/><BR/>Full of revelatory moments, I can not push this book enough. If you are at all interested in learning more about the subject, look no further, this book is the best start you could get!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2009

    Insight into Terrorism

    Somewhat of a slow read but very intellectually stimulating and provides a detailed story of how Al Qaeda was formed and how we got to 9/11.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    An Eye Opener on the Terrorist Challenges we face as a nation

    Lawrence Wright delivers an excellent work in this book presenting key figures and events explaining the modern day development of terrorism against Western nations. The deeper into the book you go, the more challenges you begin to understand in fighting an enemy who hates you because you do not believe and live as they do. I had read the 9/11 Commission Report and gleaned new insight on "how could the 9/11 tragedy occur?", but Wright's book was very thorough in revealing the path to the tragedy as the title indicates. Every American should read through this book to know what challenges our country will continue to face in the years ahead and to appreciate the need for a Homeland Security Department.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2007

    Get MAD

    It was a little confusing as to the Middle Eastern names.Mainly because most Americans are not familiar with them, including me. But...as you read about who knew what & when & whether or not anything was done about it, then you get MAD. The CIA, FBI, & NSA should be ashamed of themselves.I think everyone should read this.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2009

    The Looming Tower: What Good Journalism Is All About

    Lawrence Wright invested time and effort to get at the antecedents of a terrorist's development. We all would like to know what are the cultural forces that produce religious extremists. Mr Wright traces early leaders, writings, historical events that influenced those associated with al Queda. He reduces some of the mystery surrounding these people to the extent that we wish the CIA and FBI were as astute.

    I have read and re-read the 911 Commssion Report and many other shorter pieces by journalists. The Looming Tower is definitive.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2009

    Knowlede begats movement

    During my reading of the "The Looming Towers," Lawrence Wright continually presented intellectual stimuli. A page turner for sure. With my increased knowledge from the author's indepth research, I want movement to stop this evil machination ruled by despotism.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Extraordinary Explanation of Terrorists

    Extraordinary and riveting. This book explains the development of Al-Qaeda in a readable, researched, historical story that changes your perspectives about the development of Al-Qaeda and our Government's response. Everyone should read this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    A primer on radical Islamism

    This is an incredible work which won a Pulitzer. It commences in 1948 at the movement's beginings and takes the reader to the present. It is an extraordinary story and writing. You'll be revulsed at how our CIA had info about the highjackers which they wouldn't share with our FBI. I had no idea how poorly our intelligence agencies protected us. This book is replete with information and provides references supporting it. I marvel at the scope of this author's work. It is truly an unforgetable book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    Well researched and balanced views.

    Scarier than any fictional work, to include The Exorcist!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2007

    Outstanding

    great book. reads really easy not like a boring history book at all. i read ghost wars and liked it but it was painful to read at times. this book is more of a page turner and helped me know more about the situation.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2007

    A reviewer

    If you only read one book that traces the roots of militant and radical Islam, to include summarized bios of key figures of al-Qaeda, this is it. I consider myself a terrorism buff and this is by far the best book that explains how Islamic fundementalists evolved into the radical force that it is today and how bid Laden and his associates created al-Qaeda and their activities leading up to 9/11. In addition the author reveals how involved the various government agenicies were in tracking bin Laden and how an 'information sharing wall' and interagency rivalries likely allowed the 9/11 plot to proceed undetected...enough. Meaning.....each agency had key and alarming information that if shared with each other most likely would have stopped 9/11. This book is a HUGE must read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    Excellent work

    I was putting off this book because I thought it would be too technical and boring. I was amazed how wrong I was about this book. I have really enjoyed reading this book. Lawrence Wright did an excellent job tracking down people who had personal insight in the growth of Al Qaeda and those who tried to bring them down prior to 9/11. I have been reading about Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations for a while now and I found this to be one of the most informative books on the subject with an interesting story to keep me interested from beginning to end. I would highly recommend this book for someone trying to gain understanding and insight to why Al Qaeda was formed and why it took so long for the USA to figure out that a lot of other attacks were Al Qaeda operatives. It gave insight to how the federal government agencies do not share information that has cost so many Amercian lives. Make time to read it. I cannot help but wonder what else Al Qaeda has planned that the federal government knows but is not sharing with those in charge to make it stop.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2010

    The Looming Tower

    I had to read this book for my World Politics and Organization class last semester. At first I wasn't thrilled about reading more information about 9/11. However, this book was different. It gives you so much information that many people would never know about leading up to the events of 9/11. I would recommend this book to any who had an interest in Islamic culture or who is interested in 9/11.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2007

    Steady Diet of Hate

    Once I started I couldn't put it down. It is a gripping tail of how 1 man can slowly and steadily start a revolution. Rally the poor and feed them a steady diet of hate for anyone different then they. The Quran was changed to meet their needs or worked around. No free will thinking allowed, how sad. What I found most disturbing was the US Governmant agencies not cooperating with each other with 9/11 the deadly result. Should be required reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2007

    A reviewer

    Religious zealotry, poverty, repression and cheap weapons are critical elements for any terrorist group, but in the hands of a charismatic leader they can foment a formidable movement. That¿s how millionaire Osama bin Laden revived an archaic form of Islam to confront contemporary Muslims, modernity and Western culture. Lawrence Wright richly describes the people and events, including mismanaged U.S. intelligence information, which led to numerous attacks on U.S. interests ¿ culminating, of course, in the destruction of the World Trade Center. This disturbing book explaining the prospects of a long-term jihad has all the elements of a crime thriller, except it is real. We consider this essential reading for anyone interested in terrorism, current events and how the forces of radical terrorism hope to shape the decades ahead.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2007

    Highly recommend

    This book grabs one's interest by first deliving back decades before Osama bin Laden was even born. It is here the author reveals important historical events which paved the way for al-Qaeda's hatred towards the West. My only complaint is that the author often displays details in a hazy manner. However, given the natural mystique of al-Qaeda, it may be seen as understandable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2007

    Very informative and knowledgeable read

    A indepth look at how this terror organization got it's political views from the Muslim Brotherhood of Eygpt. This book gives the average American a better understanding of why they hate us so much and why we should continue to do EVERYTHING in our power to put an end to these sub-human scabs of man. I hope we never let up on tracking and killing all of those involved in this type of idealogy. Maybe we should fight fire with fire. Eye for an eye.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2006

    al-Qaeda 101

    This is a book both Liberals and Conservatives can enjoy. That is because author Lawrence Wright has meticulously avoided placing blame on either political party or any specific administration. However, that is not to say he does not lay blame. His aim was to explain the facts and the history engulfing al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attack. He does so in such an interesting and enjoyable manner that the only reason one might set down The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is simply because of its sheer bulk. This 470-paged hardback begins with an often referred to map of the Middle East and ends with footnotes stretching over forty pages, an eight page lay-out featuring the 'Principal Characters', a nine page bibliography, a half-dozen page list of interviews the author conducted, a six page 'Acknowledgment and Notes and Sources' section with the book wrapping up with the usual number of 'Index' pages. The body of the The Looming Tower covers some 383 pages, not including the sixteen pages of excellent black and white photographs, backed up by almost 100 pages of footnotes and such, evidences a book obviously well-researched. Have no fear anti-footnote fans, because author Wright, other than placing the rare smaller-font footnote sentences on the page itself, there are none of the superscripted '1', '2', '3', to drive you batty while reading. All the notes are in the final pages and it is up to the reader to remember to occasionally flip back and read only those of interest. The book delves into the history of Islam, Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda. It ventures into Afghanistan, the Taliban, the Sudan and even elucidates exactly why Germany is a haven for international terrorists. It reveals how closely tied the bin Laden family was to the ruling family of Saud with Mohammed bin Ladin (Osama's father) once having loaned the government money to pay the bills. (Conspiracy fans note that in March of 1994 Osama bin Laden's Saudi Arabian citizenship was revoked and he was forced to personally hand-over his Saudi passport.) The book explains the Quran as it was written and how 'fundamentalist' Muslims such as Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden and others have perverted and rewritten it for their own nefarious and murderous purposes. It defines the meaning and the source of such unknown-to-Americans words as jahiliyya, muttawa, Sharia, and the Mahdi. It documents that Osama did little actual fighting in Afghanistan and how most Arab radicals who traveled there to battle were told to go home by the leaders of the Afghan Northern Alliance. But most of all, the book leaves little doubt of the fact that between the NSA, the CIA and the FBI, enough was known that the 9/11 Tragedy might have been averted. However due to inter-agency rivalries, towering egos fueled by too much testosterone, and a vaguely written federal law, thousands of individuals perished and billions of dollars were consumed. If you cannot decide on which book to read in order to educate yourself about al-Qaeda, the foundations of the 9/11 tragedy, the War on Terror and basic Muslim beliefs, I can assure you this is the one.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Good book

    It's a good read and I found it very interesting. It gives allot of back story about Al-Qaeda and that horrible day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Good book.

    It was hard to get in to the book, but it got bettet later. Great book to read to have a bettet undestanding of what,how, and why we fight.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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