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."
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
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.
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.]
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
"A fascinating panorama . . . about a man and his family [and] the powerful impact they have made on our times."
-The Washington Post
"Riveting . . . the most psychologically detailed portrait of the brutal 9/11 mastermind yet."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Stunningly researched and grippingly told . . . [The Bin Ladens] ought to be read by anyone who really wants to understand the origins of the current crisis."
-Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times