The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Vintage)
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National Book Award Finalist

A Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year

A gripping narrative that spans five decades, The Looming Tower explains in unprecedented detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Lawrence Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John OˇŻNeill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Packed with new information and a deep historical perspective, The Looming Tower is the definitive history of the long road to September 11.

Customer Reviews:

  • Good intro to the topic
    Good intro into a more detailed study of radical Islamism. No overt bias. Virtually no discussion of the events leading up to the actual 9/11 attacks -- but a good overview of the rise of al Queda.

    The book really makes al Queda and al Jihad seem like a bunch of incompetent nincompoops. One finishes it thinking they got "lucky" on 9/11 and wondering: how could America seriously feel threatened by this band of misfits? Perhaps that is a valuable lesson to be taken from this book, or perhaps the author is guilty of softselling the danger of this organization....more info
  • Non-fiction Thriller

    This is a very well done, can't put it down type thriller that covers the inception and birth of Al-Queda up to the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Wright traces the movements of many key figures in the terrorism movement in great detail, including Osama bin Laden. Which leads naturally to the question, why can't we catch him?

    As this book documents it is not from a lack of trying. The SOB has been awfully lucky. But Wright also points out that the lack of coordination between our intelligence agencies, FBI, CIA, etc. has allowed bin Laden to slip through several loopholes. Wright also makes the case that without bin Laden, there is no 9/11. While acknowledging that the broad historic forces in the region may have inevitably led to some terrorist activity, the strategic vision and organizational expertise for a co ordinated attack on the United States came from bin Laden.

    ...more info
  • Great Overview
    I found this to be a great book to start understanding not only Al-Qaeda and 9/11, but the implications of US foreign policy and the blowback it creates. This is one of the first books I recommend to people who have not dug into the matter as it opens up many doors to areas of further study. Like an earlier reviewer said, its coverage of more recent events, like 9/11, is rather flimsy and unsubstantial. However, I attribute this to the events' proximity, rather than a lack of scholarship. ...more info
  • 9/11: A vital and highly readable explanation of what it all means
    Trying to make sense of momentous events in our history, like those of September 11th 2001, can seem like standing too close to a very large painting. As the years pass we step away and some of the confusion of shapes and colours slowly starts to take focus. Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer Prize winning book is not the first but quite surely the finest attempt to try and provide some depth and understanding to that blur of incomprehensibility.
    This is not a book that lingers on the detailed plans or plotting of the 9/11 hijackers or indeed the horrors of the actual day. Those events are covered elsewhere both in book and on celluloid. Instead The Looming Tower takes us on a 60 year journey and paints with a much wider brush the origins and motivations of Al- Qaeda. However this is more than a history book. Wright entwines together the contrasting and diverse lives of the ubiquitous Osama Bin Laden and the unheralded FBI agent John O'Neill as the narrative unfolds towards the inevitable conclusion. Instead it reads like a page turning thriller.
    I learnt much and my mind was opened in unexpected ways. The deep roots of the Islamic fundamentalist tradition in Egypt, the antipathy of the movement to secular Islamists like Nasser and Sadat and the oil transformation of Saudi Arabia which helped create an alternative radical movement within the kingdom are all explored. The irrelevance of Iraq to the main game of the war on terror is made obvious; this is not a book you would find on George W's bedside table. But the best parts of the book are those which deal with Osama Bin Laden himself and his extended family. The familiarity of his name and the countless Bin Laden type jokes have numbed our ability to understand who he is and where he came from.
    John O'Neill, the FBI agent, is the perfect foil for Bin Laden. This womanising charmer of Irish catholic traditions, so full of inconsistencies and flaws, at times almost single handedly represented the growing concerns about Al - Qaeda operations. How deeply ironic that he should die in the World Trade Center buildings just 1 month after taking up his new post as head of security. The breathtaking incompetency (as well as plain bad luck) of the US security organisations is revealed. Their failure to act together because of petty jealousies and human flaws is the subplot to the larger story.
    The book is well illustrated with maps, photographs and a helpful glossary of characters (which I discovered all too late at the end). The latter is most helpful because the Islamic names can be confusing and difficult to remember. Possibly Wright's greatest achievement is to remain fair and unbiased. As an award winning journalist with the New Yorker he is interested in facts not in grinding an axe.
    I strongly recommend this book to anybody who wants to begin to understand the world in which we find ourselves post 9/11.
    ...more info
  • Great Overview
    I found this to be a great book to start understanding not only Al-Qaeda and 9/11, but the implications of US foreign policy and the blowback it creates. This is one of the first books I recommend to people who have not dug into the matter as it opens up many doors to areas of further study. Like an earlier reviewer said, its coverage of more recent events, like 9/11, is rather flimsy and unsubstantial. However, I attribute this to the events' proximity, rather than a lack of scholarship. ...more info
  • The Looming Tower .......and The Wall.
    The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is appropriately titled. If I had to recommend a first book for one who wants to gain insight into the formation of the world's most sinister terrorist organization and the events leading to September 11, 2001, this is the book. Lawrence Wright is concise, to the point and does not allow the book's tentacles to wander too far away from the main subject, Al-Qaeda, in an attempt to cover the fundamentals. Mr. Wright also covers "The Wall" very well. The Wall was the operational restrictions mainly between the FBI and the CIA exposed during the 911 Commission. The Wall discouraged mutual cooperation between the CIA and the FBI in investigating the very terrorists that would wreak havoc in America on that fateful date. The book focuses on many individuals involved in the investigation of Al-Qaeda, especially the late FBI Special Agent John O'Neill's battles with "The Wall", US Ambassador-to-Yemen Barbara Bodine, and Al-Qaeda in general. John O'Neill is a true American hero and this book explains why. Mr. Wright also ties the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and the September 11, 2001 attacks in a simple package. Sometimes the book lacks substance but that can be directly attributed to a lack of information or suspect resources associated with Al-Qaeda which to date remains a shadowy terrorist organization. Great book....more info
  • Outstanding, a must read for every American and peace loving human
    As cliche as this sounds, this book is a "must read" for anyone who values peace, freedom, love, and America. All the good points on this book have already been said, I just wanted to give it my 5 stars!...more info
  • The Looming Tower
    This is a must read for every American who needs to understand the history of Al-Qaida and its present threat!
    I bought several to pass along!...more info
  • The Definitive Account of The Genesis of Al Qaeda
    It is easy to see how the author won the Pulitzer for this book. It is the definitive account of Al Qaeda's genesis leading up to 9/11. The book is both detailed but also concise and extremely readable. The author has a talent to make these events of non-fiction read like the best thriller novel. For those that want to understand our enemy and how we got to 9/11, this is essential reading. Highly recommended. ...more info
  • The best book on the subject - period
    I have read perhaps 20 books or more on 9/11, Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and thier origins. This books captures it all. Read this book if you want to understand Al Qaeda and the sheer evil the US is confronting. ...more info
  • A must read to better understand our times.
    An excellent book regarding Al-Qaeda and its leaders. Here you will find what the goals are and what the funding ideas behind this organization, what the cultural background and what the deep, profund origins of this terrorist nihilist organization are. Many interesting and dramatic pages regard the unacceptable and irresponsible ideological and burocratic barriers that kept CIA and FBI from identifying and isolating the terrorists while they were in the US territory before 9/11. The personal stories of strong characters with steel personalities such as John o'neill and Mike Schauer are also told. Above all the most striking and appalling feature that comes out is how, once again in history, some influencial individuals distorted the original religious message and warped to a point that it became a message of death, suicide, suffering in name of a delirious and insane goal. A must read to understand our present. ...more info
  • The Looming Tower
    I started this book on a flight from Boston to LA. I could not put it down. Superb story of the start of the terrorist movement....more info
  • should be required reading
    Read this book after seeing the author on a CBS program regarding 911. I found that his telling of the of what led up to the tragic event of 911 balanced and well researched. This should be required reading for everyone as it gives insight into the psyche of the politics/religious influences in the Arab world. Many thanks to Mr. Wright for his book. ...more info
  • The Looming Tower
    Can't say enough good things about this book. I learned more about the subject via the book than in all the previous reading and study I had done. A well deserved Pulitzer!...more info
  • Essential Reading for the informed
    1. This is a semi-dry book, but an important / landmark book; required reading for all those who wish to be part of the increasingly small but well informed electorate.

    2. Buy it, read it, and deal with the realities of the 21rst century. ...more info
  • Informative; Necessary
    While I hesitate to write much on a book that has been so thoroughly and well-reviewed, I would like to add a few points. The Looming Tower is eminently readable and informative. The "truthers" notwithstanding, the Looming Tower is destined to be the definitive text for some years to come. As scholars continue to deconstruct the events that lead to 9-11, this book will be the starting point.

    With countless first hand accounts, Wright brings a wealth of personal perspectives to a story that is fairly well known; or it it? After reading several books on Bin-Laden and the formation of Al-Quaeda, I was surprised to see the depth of ineptitude of the Afgan Arabs and the bitter infighting of the various factions of radical Islam. The myth of the omnipotent Bin Laden is well exposed as is the assumption that the Saudi jihadihsts were instrumental in the defeat of the Soviets in Afganistan. The salient theme of Al-Qaeda is not their efficiency or planning, but a history of incompetence capped by one highly successful, murderous event.

    This is popular history as it should be written. Highly readable and credible....more info
  • A terrific history lesson
    I wanted to learn more about Al Qaeda and, after careful research, I decided this was the book that could best teach me. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

    It often read like a novel, but did not spare any of the minute details that gave me a better understanding of how we went from point A to points B through Z. ...more info
  • Audio Version A Little Weak, but Easier to Digest
    I bought the 14-CD unabridged set. I felt that the performance was slightly short of the quality needed to tell this story. Having said that, it's an exhaustingly detailed and lengthy report of the entire arc of how terror got from then to now - so getting it perfect would have been expensive.
    The benefit of the book, or recording in my case, is that it makes the motivations and internal battles within Muslim terror sects seem less vague. It's not very hard to understand.
    Basically a wacko gets an idea and another wack-job listens to him and now we've got a club of idiots who believe a bunch of mixed up stuff that no one else in Islam ever believed.
    Bin Ladin devotees try to convince us they'd be fine carrying on without him. I disgree with this puffery. Bin Ladin is very important to current Islamic terrorists. They'd lose a lot of mojo without him.
    ...more info
  • This book will get under your skin
    I once asked a professor what he thought about DeLillo's book Falling Man, and his response was that, "It just isn't what America needs right now."

    At the time, I remember being exasperated by such a political response from a professor of liberal arts, but after reading this book, I can see what he meant. The Looming Tower is what America needs right now.

    What struck me first when I opened it was how quickly I was able to read through it. Non-fiction books are often daunting, boring, heavy-handed, or badly written, but this book is proof that those don't have to be flaws of the genre.

    Take a look in the back of the book at the number of books Wright went through in research, and how many people he interviewed, and you'll get a feel for why this book feels so real. Every character is portrayed in details that are fascinating and enthralling. You will probably find yourself confused at first by how sympathetically the characters in bin Laden's network are portrayed, or how darkly we see the American FBI agent John O'Niell; but the strength of this book isn't just that it's as interesting as any postmodernist novel, it's also how even-handedly the characters are reconstructed.

    No decision seems to be made by the author--obviously, some people may be upset by that. But the author is not condemning anybody; that's not his job. He steps back, and gives us the information that allows us to feel like we can reproach the actors as we see fit; we may also find that the weaknesses of these sometimes uncomfortably real people are ones that we share. Our own flaws are at stake in any good piece of writing, and this book is absolutely that....more info
  • a detailed history of Al Qaeda
    This narrative traces the beginnings of modern Islamic terrorism from the idealogy of Eygptian Sayyid Qutb in the middle of the 20th century to the culmination of many of his ideas in the construction of terrorist cells and eventually the events of September 11, 2001.

    Much of the book follows the characters of Qutb, Zawahari, Bin Laden and friends from their childhoods. Less time is spent on the USA's pre-9/11 counterterrorism tactics which is seen through the lens of the FBI's John O'Niel.

    Many will read this book hoping to find the answer as to "Why do they hate us and want to kill us?". The answer is simple and complex and we would do well to look at it without the rhetoric of "they hate us because of our freedom" (though it may be true in some indirect sense). They do hate us because of our freedom - for example our sexual freedom which we often export to the nations that we intrude upon imperialistically. It is a paradox for the modern day multiculturalist - so insistent on, for example, women's rights or abortion access, but also so careful not to offend Muslims and respect Islamic culture.

    Readers will be frustrated at how little the CIA (and less so the FBI, I gather) did to apprehend the known Al Qaeda members in the USA who perpetrated the attacks. We knew they were here and we knew they were dangerous.

    Many state that killing Bin Laden will be of little use in curbing terrorism since others will fill his shoes. I believe The Looming Tower paints a different picture. Islamic terrorism is not a very coherent institution and infighting occurs constantly much to the West's benefit. Bin Laden is a uniting figure who's absence could plunge Islamin terrorists back into rival factions.

    Some gripes:
    -Near the end, there is a silly comparison between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists without terms being defined.
    -The book stops very abruptly on 9/11 though I suppose that is to be expected from the title
    -I would have liked to see more analysis on the number of Islamic terrorists and how typical Muslims view them
    -I would have liked to see more effort in relaying the American perspective of terrorism ante-9/11. And more analysis on why we failed to stop it....more info
  • A plot cooked up by cavemen with computers
    This is one of the best books I've read on this vital subject, namely Islamic fundaMENTALism and the war against the West. It is meticulously researched and it reads like a novel. If you meet any windbags who tell you the Islamists are angry because of poverty or because the Yanks and the Brits are naughty in Iraq, just hit them over the head with this book. Hard. Then do it again, because if they are that thick it'll take a while for commonsense and real information to sink in. Call it shock therapy.

    Well, as it turns out, the 9/11 mass murders could have been averted if the murderer-plotters had not been frequently assisted by beaurocratic infighting bewteen the FBI and the CIA. The foot dragging and smoke blowing was mainly coming from the CIA.

    How did the whole muck heap of hatred come about in the first place? Various Arab-Islamic thinkers with identity problems stemming from their encouters with the West and modernity. Mainly Eqyptians. Bin Laden and his oil money help it along the road.

    When you read this book you realise that indeed the West is the best, and it's mankind's only hope for the future. ...more info
  • In a word: Fascinating
    It is a rare work of nonfiction that is so riveting and engrossing that - if you'll excuse the cliche - I can't put down. But The Looming Tower is just such a book. After all that has been spoken and written about Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and September 11, I was absolutely amazed at the wealth of information I learned from this book.

    Lawrence Wright did an amazingly thorough job of researching his subject, as evidenced by the huge list toward the end of the book of people he interviewed. Readers are taken on a whirlwind tour of the history of Al Qaeda and the people and events that led to the September 11 attacks. I was also pleased that the author avoided any kind of ideological or political bent, sticking instead to the facts. The closest he ever comes to assigning blame is his indictment of the CIA and its refusal to share information with the FBI and other investigatory bodies. I do think it would have been helpful if the book had explored in greater detail how - if at all - decisions by the executive branch affected various decisions over the years, but I suppose that could be a book unto itself.

    So in short, this is an absolutely outstanding book. It will not only challenge some of your preconceived notions about the topic, but will also certainly provide you with a much deeper understanding of where Al Qaeda came from and how it operates. You will not regret reading it....more info
  • A Monumental, but Flawed Work
    First of all, this book makes it clear that 9/11 had many roots that stem from many factors, all of which combined to create the perfect storm that we know as 9/11. However, most of the activities that directly led up to the even occurred during the Clinton Administration. I think Wright tried to protect the reputations of such key people as Sandy Berger, George Tenet, Madeline Albright, Louis Freeh and others -- mainly by omitting or scarcely mentioning them -- leaders who must bear responsibility for success or failure. Instead, Wright goes after the lesser officials -- the guys on the ground, the expendable professionals. And it's clear that he's a big fan of Richard Clarke, who probably provided him with a great deal of the inside baseball in which Clarke is hardly a disinterested party. Therefore Clarke comes out good in this book, despite his attempts to shift blame from his shoulders on others. Wright also seems to favor the FBI, probably because one of the main characters of this book is uber-FBI agent and philanderer John O'Neil. I imagine the CIA didn't help its own cause due to its institutionalized and deep-seated secrecy that probably thwarted its ability to effectively tell its side of the story.

    All that said, however, there is no taking away from the fact that this book is a monumental chronology of the rise of jihadist terrorism and and almost Keystone Kops bureaucracy battles between the FBI and the CIA that unwillingly abetted 9/11. If Wright is to be believed -- and I think he should be -- 9/11 could have easily been prevented had the CIA and FBI coordinated better. There were enough warnings but those warnings weren't often shared because each group had a separate agenda --the CIA wanting to recruit spies; the FBI seeking to put them in jail. Also, the book paints a picture of Osama Bin Laden that is revealing. We see that he is not invincible. Instead, he is largely flawed and vulnerable. To my mind, he's a dangerous but unstable mental case who just got lucky. He's still dangerous, but not invincible. Another message is that the U.S. is quite capable of protecting itself against the terrorists if it can correct the infighting among the intelligence/law enforcement instituions. All in all, this is a book for our times and screams to be on bookshelves all over America. The murders and psycopaths are coming back. Will we be ready for them? This book may help you answer that question. ...more info
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Insanity
    Mr. Wright has done an outstanding job of connecting the dots from the first hints of Islamic terrorism to the catastrophic events of 9/11. The book is very readable and gives a clear understanding of this small group of disenfranchised, Middle-Eastern religious windbags and why they were allowed to fester. Also it fleshes out how the bureaucratic infighting between, primarily, the CIA and FBI helped Al-Qaeda to succeed in the terrorists' attacks. The book '102 Minutes' by Jim Dwyer & Kevin Flynn compliments Mr. Wrights book by explaining the bureaucratic snafus and political pettiness that contributed to many of the unnecessary deaths in the Twin Towers. Illuminating, frustrating and places the events and key individuals in proper perspective. Please do yourself a favor and read it....more info
  • Largely non-biased and informative
    Great book with great background. However somewhat questionable on the validity on information considering his lack of intelligence experience (or a clearance for that matter). But gives the the reader the most comprehensive view of Bin Laden's inner circle and personal mindset....more info
  • THE book to read if you ever want to know why 9/11 happened
    I like to read a lot. I owned the hard copy version of The Looming Tower and because I have well over 500 other books on my shelves, hadn't gotten around to reading it. Then I downloaded the iPod audiobook version which ended up grasping me totally. Finally I bought a Kindle and The Looming Tower now resides there as well.

    The book is an incredible story of 9/11 and those who made, and let it happen as well as those who tried as hard as they could to prevent it. One of the latter was an FBI agent who is as complex a character as full of flaws as a human can be but if there is a hero in this book, it's him -warts and all. He was killed on 9/11 trying to save people in the WTC.

    Why is this book so good? Because it really delves into the mind set of those who made it happen from bin Laden and his henchmen, to a certifiable "nut case", a Sayyid Qutb whose repressed sexuality and heavens knows what else drove him to father the current version of Islamic fundamentalism. It's easy to realize what sort of sociopaths are drawn to this belief system, but America has its own nut case fundamental religious zealots be they Jewish or Protestant. They range from harmless "speaking in tongues" types and rattle snake handlers to "W", who is as motivated by religious fundamentalism as is bin Laden.

    "W" has at least permitted and encouraged wiretapping and torture to deal with the violent brand of Arab crazies who wish a lot worse than 9/11 on us. It may seem out of line to those shuddering in horror at our loss of liberty, but so far there are no more 9/11s in the USA.

    I was born in 1938 and remember WW2 [barely] but know enough history to know that when you are at war, you should spare no effort in totally destroying the enemy as we did in WW2 with the Japanese and Germans.

    After spending 20 years in the military, I only became more convinced that war should occur only if you mean business. Bringing "democracy" to Iraq is a sick joke. "W" should have watched Lawrence of Arabia and maybe he might have gotten a clue of the inevitable morass that awaited those stuck in the tar of Iraq. In WW2 we weren't worried about locking up presumably innocent Japanese, or censorship of all letters from our soldiers. All this under a president who many Americans considered the political equivalent of Stalin, or the equivalent of a socialist's greatest hope. Today the liberals are still worrying about the loss of freedoms, but freedoms can return AFTER the war. Whether they will is another story. The fault with our current miasma of political manure lies with us citizens. What we see in Congress, not to mention the executive and judicial branches merely reflect America's citizens own lack of care, education and hedonism.

    But I digress. The Looming Tower is an incredible "morality tale" and Greek tragedy wrapped up in one. Hubris abounds, those idiots responsible for the debacle are named, although it is apparent that none suffered career reversals for their poor performance with the exception of the two people who saw it coming and couldn't stop it - FBI agent O'Neill and Richard Clarke. Clarke was smeared by Bush gunsels from Limbaugh to other White House staff thugs who fear the truth as a vampire fears sunlight. Condoleza Rice is shown as witless and also very much responsible for 9/11 because when presented with reality she couldn't think clearly or was driven by political expediency to the wrong decision - i.e. ignoring the threat.

    The book is NOT a hatchet job on anybody. You get to see all the characters responsible on both sides and there is little to no judgmental criticism. As Det. Friday used to say on Dragnet, for those of you ancient enough to remember him, "Just the facts, M'am. Just the facts."

    Much as I hate to swallow my atavistic tendencies to dismiss the likes of bin Laden and his cronies as crazy "rag heads", you will understand the character attributes that made his hellish plans come to fruition, and they certainly did not start with 9/11. I can only wish we had the likes of him to conduct our own war on the terrorists, although fortunately Cheney comes close.

    Read this book. You can only grow wiser and sadder from the experience....more info
  • Outstanding, a must read for every American and peace loving human
    As cliche as this sounds, this book is a "must read" for anyone who values peace, freedom, love, and America. All the good points on this book have already been said, I just wanted to give it my 5 stars!...more info
  • The Looming Tower
    I started this book on a flight from Boston to LA. I could not put it down. Superb story of the start of the terrorist movement....more info
  • An Excellent Primer on Al-Qaeda's Birth and Growth
    The Looming Tower does a superb examination of the 9/11 attacks and their attackers. The author did extensive research for this history of terrorism, describing its morph from anti-Communist/Left-wing agenda (as atheists, the Communists and the Left-Wing were a huge abomination to the militant Muslims) in Afghanistan to the present day. He details how the group led by Osama bin Laden, called Al-Qaeda, was formed in that country along with their ideology blaming America. As a modestly wealthy member of a prominent Saudi construction family, bin Laden lived a Spartan life and created a responsive and insular organization with a strong sense of publicity. The list of terrorist attacks include East Africa embassy attacks, the USS Cole and more. Like war, counterterrorism is not a scientific activity with 100% assurance of results. It's inexact at best and we see that the FBI, CIA and other agencies are pursuing an uneven and cloudy trail. One of the most dangerous aspects of bin Laden's efforts are the seeds that he tossed into the wind to create a considerable, unconnected (and therefore untraceable) waves of terrorist imitators.

    Michael Mandaville, Author: "Citizen Soldier Handbook: 101 Ways for Every American to Fight Terrorism"
    ...more info
  • a towering success
    Absolutely the best book on the subject!
    As gripping as a Sayers mystery and as well
    written as a Hemingway short story. Not just
    good information but a good read....more info