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.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.60(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 2, 1947
Place of Birth:Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Education:B.A., Tulane University, 1969; M.A. (Applied Linguistics), American University in Cairo, 1971
Read an Excerpt
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.”
Table of Contents
The Martyr 9
The Sporting Club 38
The Founder 69
The Miracles 114
The Base 139
Return of the Hero 165
The Silicon Valley 200
Paradise Lost 213
The Prince of Darkness 230
The Boy Spies 242
Going Operational 260
Bread and Water 278
"Now It Begins" 297
The New Millennium 325
The Big Wedding 376
Principal Characters 423
Author Interviews 501
Acknowledgments and Notes on Sources 509
What People are Saying About This
"Lawrence Wright provides a graceful and remarkably intimate set of portraits of the people who brought us 9/11. It is a tale of extravagant zealotry and incessant bumbling that would be merely absurd if the consequences were not so grisly."
"Lawrence Wright's integrity and diligence as a reporter shine through every page of this riveting narrative."
---Robert A. Caro
"A towering achievement. One of the best and more important books of recent years. Lawrence Wright has dug deep into and written well a story every American should know. A masterful combination of reporting and writing."
Larry Wright’s account of the militant jihadist movement from its beginnings in Egypt in the mid-20th century to its strongest blow against the West on 9-11 is deeply reported, beautifully written and authoritative. The Looming Tower is peopled by wonderfully drawn and extraordinary characters from Sayid Qutb, the Egyptian jihadist theoretician, to John O’Neil the hardcharging FBI agent who understood the al Qaeda threat early on. I found it to be intensely readable and a deeply satisfying book."
-----Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know and Holy War, Inc. "Comprehensive and compelling...Wright has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11...Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day."
---starred Kirkus review
"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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scarier than any fictional work, to include The Exorcist!
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!
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.
This book should be required reading before anyone is allowed to vote in a national election in any Western country. Get past the first few chapters that are reminiscent of dry history text books you had to slog through in your undergraduate days... it's worth it. It's eye-opening, in fact, life altering. I will never again engage in a terrorism discussion with someone who hasn't read this book. There is simply no beginning point for a conversation if they haven't read this incredibly well-researched and well-documented historical masterpiece.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is an awesome book that puts 9/11 in a more personal light. It made members of both Al-Qaeda and the FBI more accessible. Wright makes the story of 9/11 read like a novel. It is gripping and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to better understand the Islamic movements as well as bureaucratic miscues that led to that tragic day.
Excellent book on history of Osama bin Laden, the origins of al-Qaeda, and events leading to 9/11 attacks. Wright provides important details without dragging down the narrative with too many governmental and military acronyms. The book's focus switches between actions of American agencies investigating terrorism and those of al-Qaeda operatives.
A well-researched journey of Al Qaeda, from the industrial beginnings of the Bin Laden clan to the fanatical religiosity that found an audience in Afghanistan.
This book is astounding. A must-read for anyone interested in the background of Osama Bin Ladin and/or the rise of of Al-Qaeda. It also shows in intimate details the role of the U.S. government's intelligence agencies before and after 9/11. The book is written almost like a novel in the sense that you feel you are reading a story with lots of rich details and perspectives of the various people that make an appearance. I don't read a lot of nonfiction and I had to read this for a history class, but I was fascinated by the information and details that gave such amazing insight into the complicated problems that are caused by ideas, ideology, outside interference, and the people that get caught up in those things. The book is kind of written in two parts-the first half being the rise of Al-Qaeda, and then the second following the U.S. intelligence community. You don't have to read the whole part of either to get a good sense of how complicated the lives and events surrounding both sides are. Another good thing is that you don't even really feel the presence of the author in his writing-he does a fantastic job of allowing the events and facts tell the story rather than inserting himself into the arguments or perspectives. I was so immersed I kept forgetting to even think that Mr. Wright did an amazing job finding out all this stuff and wondering how he did it. It's a long book-but even if you just pick it up and read a few choice chapters, you'll see what I mean.
Listening to Fresh Air on NPR a few weeks ago, I was lucky to have caught Terry Gross interview Lawrence Wright about the HBO documentary based on his interviews with jihadis and mujaheddin he undertook in order to write "Looming Tower". Struck by the duplicity he had to overcome as an interviewer--of his emotions tied to the subject, of the difficulties in dealing with deceptive individuals--I figured this was must-read material and I wasn't disappointed.Wright begins the story of jihad with the Egyptian father of jihad, Sayyid Qutb, whose writings form the basis of many arguments leveled against a secular civilization and strives for a fundamental Islamic society. Following the thread born by the brutal repression of the Egyptian fundamentalists, Wright takes us up to the point where al-Qaeda realizes its (literal) dreams to attack American ideals by destroying the WTC and dragging the country into the quagmire of Afghanistan. It was an enlightening story that's terribly haunting by casting light on the repeated errors made by the CIA, which shielded information that could have diverted the attacks.
An account of the development of Al Qaeda that reads like a novel. Wonderfully detailed, well researched, and written in a highly factual tone, The Looming Tower is equally enlightening and frightening. It is the best account I have read yet of Al Qaeda's roots. Wright provides some reasonable insight into the lure of Al Qaeda and provides excellent portraits of its main players. When I finished this book I was far more worried about Islamic extremsists than when started... If there is a weakness in the book, it is in the handling of the CIA/FBI covering of counterterrorism of pre 9/11 - this is handled much better in Ghost Wars, and in what was done seemed like an aside from the main story.
The most detailed book I have seen that focuses on the developments and ideology that created Al - Qaeda. The book begins by describing the life of Sayyid Qutb, and how is ideology helped shape the beliefs of many involced in 9/11. The book then describes the criss-crossing lifes of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin-laden and their groups, Al-Jihad and Al-Qaeda. Although the book does cover the US mistakes during the lead up to 9/11 (especially focusing on the fact the CIA refused to share information with the FBI), the book mostly focuses on the two Islamic Militants. It goes in to great detail about their lives in there respective countries,and what drew both of them to radical Islam and to each other.What I found so amazing about the book is its ability to make Bin Laden actually look human (albeit a horrible human). Wright portrays Bin Laden as a man that truly believes in his cause, without defending the actions.