|The Looming Tower
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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 O’Neill 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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
- An essential book on Al Qaeda
Probably one of the best books out there on the run-up to 9/11, starting from the 1950s middle east. More of a history book than a current events book. Solid research (on a difficult topic to research) and no bull. Focus is on Al Qaeda; other books cover terrorism a little more broadly. After reading this book, I was amazed that this poorly organized group that did little in the Afghan war of the 1980s (as the author explains thoroughly) managed to pull off one of the biggest terrorist attacks in world history. Highly, highly recommended....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
- 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
- The Inside Story of al-Qaeda -- a Must-Read
Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" tells the story of the rise of al-Qaeda and some of the early U.S. government attempts to thwart al-Qaeda. This is an interesting, well-researched, and well-written book, although it does not tell the whole story.
Wright begins his story with some of the early Egyptian Islamists who formed the Muslim Brotherhood. Their writings and actions formed the foundation for al-Qaeda. Then he tells the story of Osama bin Laden - first his father's rise to wealth and influence in Saudi Arabia, then the personal story of Osama bin Laden, his work in Pakistan, his time in Sudan, his adoption of extreme Islami and founding of a terrorist network, and finally his fleeing to Afghanistan under the Taliban. Wright tells not only the public story of these men but also their private lives - who they married, their children, their relationships with their wives, and other interesting details that are little-known to most. Finally, Wright tells the story of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, especially those run by John O'Neill, who was driven by his belief that al-Qaeda would strike the U.S., but whose personal life read like a soap opera.
Wright's story is very well-researched. He traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and interviewed over 500 people for this book. However, despite all of this research, Wright does not quite tell the whole story of al-Qaeda and the path to the 9/11 attacks. Some of these holes are in his own story; for example, Wright makes it a point to stress that Osama bin Laden was broke when he fled Sudan and that the time in Afghanistan with the Taliban was a frugal one, but he never explains how al-Qaeda was able to find the funding for 9/11 or for al-Qaeda's continued existence. He also tells of the early rise of the Taliban but never finishes the story of how they secured power in Afghanistan.
But this is an important and informative book that sheds light on America's enemy. Wright also illuminates some of the inter-agency problems and barriers that hampered the U.S. government's ability to foil terrorism before 9/11. Because Wright does not quite tell the whole story, readers of "The Looming Tower" should also read Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001" for more background on Afghanistan and Terry McDermott's "Perfect Soldiers : The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It" for the personal stories of the 9/11 hijackers.
- Must Read
Compelling account of the road to 9/11; a must read for anyone who wants to understand the events leading up to that awful day, the mindset of the perpertrators and the lapses in our security that allowed it. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it....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.
- Deserving of its Pulitzer
Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower" is richly deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Wright takes the tortuous history of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahari, separate and then together, and weaves that into a compelling, informative narrative that is juxtaposed against the efforts of FBI agent John O'Neill, a fascinating, complex character. That O'Neill would be in the middle of the chase efforts over the years - many times, along with Dick Clarke, the sole voice in the wilderness - then wind up posting at the World Trade Center as its Director of Security only weeks before 9/11 is something that would feel contrived in the hokiest of novels. But it really did happen.
An important thread - of many - in the book is the excellent job Wright does at showing how lack of cooperation between various US organizations (notably, the FBI and CIA) doomed efforts to find and stop the plot. A few days prior to 9/11, a frustrated FBI agent - denied permission to key intelligence - states presciently in an e-mail "Whatever has happened to this - someday somebody will die - and wall or not - the public will not understand why we are not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems.'"
This was the 9/11 Commission's finding and the public reaction in a nutshell.
Then the morning after 9/11 in Aden, Yemen: "The CIA chief drew [FBI Agent Ali] Soufan aside and handed him a manila envelope. Inside were three surveillance photos and a complete report about the Malaysia meeting - the very material Soufan had been asking for, which the CIA had denied until now. The wall had come down. When Soufan realized that the agency and some people had known for a year and a half that two of the hijackers were in the country, he ran into the bathroom and retched." ...more info
- So This is How We Got Where We Are...
Not an easy read, but an important read if one wants to understand how we got where we are in terms of Bin Laden, Al Queda, 9/11, and the war on terror.
We must understand the past if we are to understand the future. Otherwise, we will make the same mistakes again...
This is a litany of our mistakes, missed opportunities, and misunderstandings that led to 9/11.
It is impressive that this book is written without casting blame or second guessing. It just lays it out there, warts, moles and all.
That makes this a very important book for our age. A very important book. A "must read" for anyone who wants to understand the world in which we live....more info
- Very topical book
This book explains how 9-11 occurred. It is also a warning to not let our guard down...a very good read....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
Well-researched and based on a carefully constructed timeline, The Looming Tower reveals facts about the rise of al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks that most readers will find surprising. For instance, a common misconception is that Osama Bin Laden was wealthy and therefore able to self-fund the training and equipping of al-Qaeda fighters. In Lawrence Wright's account, we learn instead that while certainly wealthy, Bin Laden's strength is as a prolific fundraiser. He is able to tap both wealthy Arab governments and private donors, particularly as he demonstrates al-Qaeda's increasing lethality. Much more significant perhaps, Wright portrays Bin Laden as a master of public relations. Indeed, he demonstrates early on that his charisma and soft-spoken charm could both inspire followers and unleash horrific violence.
In the lead up to 9/11 Bin Laden captures the imagination of disaffected but well-educated young Muslim males searching for validation and a deeper meaning in their lives. Already steeped in traditional Muslim thought (many studied in madrasses in Western Pakistan), these individuals merely need a catalyst and some direction for their aims and readily find it in Bin Laden's radical proselytizing. Proving Josef Goebbels' famous quote, "make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it", Bin Laden convinces his followers that America (and its staunch ally, Israel) is the source of all persecution in the Islamic world. He eventually gains a critical mass of converts and hence a blunt instrument to wage global jihad.
The scheme to strike at the soft underbelly of American 'infidel' society and the means to do it are born...
Wright also exposes the many seams in the U.S. national security infrastructure and schisms within the law enforcement and intelligence organizations that existed prior to 9/11. Ironically, those same intelligence organizations were created with the single purpose of detecting and preventing terrorist attacks. Simply tragic...
The mosaics the author pieces together in developing his characters (based on scores of interviews) bring to life such leading U.S. counterterrorism officials as Richard A. Clarke and John P. O'Neill. These individuals' relentless efforts to protect both America's domestic and international interests undoubtedly prevent countless attacks. Yet, as Wright alludes, their persistent demands to go on the offense against an emergent al-Qaeda are stymied by poor communication and internecine rivalries between government agencies combined with bureaucratic inertia and simple inaction on the part of our country's political leaders.
The Looming Tower traces the roots of al-Qaeda to radical Islamic organizations such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood and fiery Islamic scholars like Sayyid Qutb and Dr. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. We learn that while their extreme views prove a source of discomfort for mainstream Islamic governments - they espouse violent uprising to achieve their ends - their aggressive activism is largely contained. Interestingly, despite Azzam's pleas for moderation, Bin Laden exhorts his charges to commit suicide bombings as a means of achieving al-Qaeda's aims (and those of greater Islam) while punishing America for 'occupying' the Arabian Peninsula.
Additionally, we discover that Ayman al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden find refuge and a sympathetic ear in failed states such as Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan and co-opt their governments to help nurture and train radicals for suicide attacks. Their demands ever more insistent and their attacks growing in ferocity, Islamic extremists in the Bin Laden era gain a new sense of urgency. Yet, incredibly, despite many alarm bells Western intelligence agencies remain unable to convince their governments of the seriousness of the threat posed by al-Qaeda.
Wright pieces together through hundreds of interviews each militant Islamist plot from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing through the 2000 USS Cole suicide attack. He painstakingly traces the steps of the jihadists as they gradually ratchet up the stakes while leaving unmistakable clues as to their grand design. Only a handful of astute, hyper-vigilant FBI and CIA agents grasp the significance of those clues, but their voices are seemingly drowned out by the bureaucracy with, of course, calamitous results.
The Looming Tower ranks with Rohan Gunaratna's Inside Al Qaeda and Steve Coll's Ghost Wars in its narrative sweep. Not nearly as dense as Coll's Pulitzer Prize-Winning Ghost Wars, The Looming Tower combines the right amount of detail with the author's lighter prose style. Wright manages to entertain as much as he informs. Perhaps most enjoyable about Wright's book, it details unusual aspects of his characters' personalities that make them seem more human. Bin Laden, the devoted family man; John O'Neill, the sentimental romantic; and, Richard Clarke, the ambitious product of blue collar roots... These are the figures who grace Wright's pages. And a truly fascinating cast of characters it is!
Lawrence Wright's book, though a work of investigative journalism, reads like a Greek tragedy.
A sobering insider's look at the first (and arguably most) serious threat facing the West in the 21st Century and an immensely satisfying read...
- 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"
- Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Are we being lulled to sleep by the fact that there hasn't been an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11? If so, Mr. Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower should shake us wide awake to the dangers of our enemy. This true account of the development of Al-Qaeda reads more like a fast paced novel than a historical account and will engross you quickly and keep you turning pages.
The beginning of the book masterfully looks at Sayyid Qutb and how his philosophies and book, "Milestones" in the mid-20th century eventually led to present day Al-Queda. All the cast of characters are present with good development around each. I found especially interesting the friction between bin Laden and Zawahiri. The dynamic tension between the FBI and the CIA; which is exemplified by the admiration and conflict between John O'Neil (FBI) and Michael Scheuer (CIA), author of "Through Our Enemies' Eyes" is also extremely fascinating. For an interesting video account of John O'Neil I would highly recommend watching the Frontline special "The Man Who Knew" from 2002 which can be found on PBS' website.
The Looming Tower does and excellent job of vividly describing our enemy and what we as a nation and the West in general are up against regarding Islamic radicals. This problem will not go away easily and can't be ignored if we hope to continue to enjoy our freedoms and liberties that make this country so great.
If you want a well rounded and excellently researched account of how we got to where we are today regarding our struggle with Islamocfascism and how this struggle could continue for many years, The Looming Tower is a must read.
- 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
- Why we failed to prevent 9.11
It's sad the book was ever written. We had opportunities to capture OBL, which would of completely disrupted al Qaeda. In fact, only a small faction within the CIA and FBI ever heard of the group. The were never taken serious. One of the main reasons of our intelligence failures, is rooted in the poor communication between the CIA, FBI, NSA. The book explains had there been better communication we probably would of got the 9.11 hijackers. The question I am still asking is: Have these problems been fixed? ...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
- 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
- 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
- A masterful account
Lawrence Wright has produced an extremely well-researched and thoroughly documented account of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, starting in 1948 and culminating with the horror of 9/11. Additionally, he does an excellent job recounting the steps and missteps that occurred within the US intelligence communities. Mr. Wright infers that lack of communication between the various agencies, indeed even some petty inter-agency jealousies, allowed certain events to go unnoticed when they should have raised red flags.
This book was five years in the making and Mr. Wright interviewed hundreds of people to create it. It's quite detailed, though very readable. I wouldn't call it a gripping narrative, but it certainly holds your interest. Mr. Wright does an excellent job of assembling and recounting the facts without injecting opinion. ...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
- 9/11 - the novel
This book's strength is that it is written like a thriller. Unfortunately, that's also its weakness. What happened on 9/11 is too complicated to be reduced to a Hollywood production.
In order to achieve an exciting narrative, Wright has to gloss over those areas which are puzzling. For instance, he leaves out the fact that immediately after 9/11 Osama Bin Laden denied any responsibility. But would the Osama depicted in this book have done such a thing? His life for the previous ten years had been one of self-imposed privations and sacrifice dedicated to attacking America, but without much success. But we are supposed to believe that his first reaction to the 9/11 spectacular would be to disown it totally.
In true Hollywood style, at times the author tries to write the story as a personal war between Bin Laden - the evil genius who lives in a cave - and the maverick US FBI man, John O'Neill. Bin Laden emerges as much the more attractive character. This wealthy Arab sacrificed the rich lifestyle offered him by his background in order to fight the Russians. He treated his wives and family fairly and inspired devotion from his supporters. On the other hand, O'Neill lived a dissolute life, lying to every woman he slept with and poisoning the relationship between the CIA and the FBI with his arrogant attitude. He doesn't make a very convincing hero. But the real problem with the book is the author's sources.
For instance, Wright relies heavily on the testimony of a man called Jamal al-Fadl, but in the introduction he tells us that al-Fadl was "selling a story, but he clearly knew the players. The problem was that he kept lying to the investigators, embroidering his tale, depicting himself as a hero who only wanted to do the right thing."
The book has forty pages of notes, and any careful reader should constantly refer to these because many of the most important allegations are not supported. One example will have to suffice: we are told that in 1988, Bin Laden and others met to debate the future of jihad. Wright states that "Although the notes don't reflect it, a vote was taken to form a new organisation aimed at keeping jihad alive after the Soviets were gone." This was clearly a momentous decision, but you can't find in the book who actually said that there was a vote.
This book is a novelisation of the official version. It's very entertaining, but please don't read it uncritically. And what really surprised me was the very generous depiction of Qutb, Bin Laden and Zawahiri.
- The Looming Tower
This book gave me a detailed understanding of the radical Islamism mind. It should be required reading fo all Western civilizations including US congress....more info
- Excellent Read
This is an excellent read if you want to understand the history and thinking of the radical Muslim. I also recommend the book "Milestones" as a supplement to this....more info
- A must read
Our book club, in existence since 1963, discussed this book in September. We agreed that it is a most important book. I gave copies to each of our five offspring. I tell everyone that it is a must read. I would like to ask all those people running for the office of President if they have read it....more info
- Worthy of the prize
I would echo what an author said on the jacket - this led to a lot of 'aha' moments where things were stitched together for me. ...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
- The Looming Tower
Very informative. Every American should read this book to get a better understanding of al Qaedi - who they are and how they think and operate....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
- An extremely important and informative book
We cannot combat an enemy we do not know, and this book tells us who our enemy is, why he thinks the way he does, and why 9-11 happened. In my opinion every Amercian should read this book. It may be the most important book of our generation. It starts with the philosopical foundations and leaders of radical Islam from the 1930's forward and how their thought and actions evolved. More important it helps us understand their long term objectives, why we are so hated, and gives us great enlightenment about what we can do to combat it. Most important it helps us understand how our intelligence services failed and why so many people perished on that tragic day. ...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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Want to Know the True Story of 9/11? Read This Book!
I was a 9/11 conspiracy theory believer before I read this book. I still think that there is much not known about the incident and that many powerful people were involved in bad ways they should not have been.
But, after reading this book, I have a MUCH better understanding of what happened and where Al-Qaeda and bin Ladin came from.
That much of our present world situation was influences by things like the terrible torturing of some key figures in Egypt and how this changed them (almost understandably) into very bitter and vengeful men goes a long way to support the idea that things like torture most be stopped now, by ALL countries (and you know who I am talking about), by all means.
Read this book for a better understanding of our world, and how the personal lives of historical figures later help bring about decisions that can never be undone....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
- This is a hugely informative, and deeply sad, book
The looming tower, tells from a US perspective, the story of the emergence of Al-Queda. It does a creditable job in telling of the emergence, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, of a generation of fanaticists, who were humiliated and disgusted by their own leaders and by the US support for Israel. The book follows the emergence of radical views of the Islamic teachings, eventually seeking to justify Muslims in committing suicide, killing civilians, killing other muslims and so on. For me, this had echoes of the IRA campaign, in which a wider and wider group of people were said to be `legitimate targets' over the course of the years.
There were a number of surprises for me in the book, one being the ruthless effectiveness of the Egyptian security services. There is an unspeakable tale of infiltration of Al-Queda in Sudan, by the Egyptian security, and the devastating consequences for all concerned. The book claims that the mainly-urban society which is modern Egypt has militated against the emergence of an effective guerrilla/subversive organisation, I'm not sure why it didn't emerge, but I can't credit the rural/urban divide as being the main reason.
One other surprise was the lack of sophistication of the majority of Al-Queda attacks, the book describes the bombing of the US embassies in Africa, and of the US Cole. It shows that one of the key communications links between the leaders and the operators was a home in Yemen, which acted as a message relay centre. Similarly other operatives were caught through, apparently, quite straight forward detection.
Undoubtedly the fact that Al-Queda was based in lawless countries contributed to its ability to train operatives and mount attacks. However the clear lesson of the book is the dysfunctional relationship between the US intelligence agencies. The CIA was aware of a significant number of operatives, had tracked them and failed to pass this intelligence on to the FBI when these operatives entered the US. The CIA's interpretation of its exclusion from domestic surveillance, was that it would not compromise its international sources and methods, by sharing information with the FBI.
This calamity was repeated and repeated through the years tracked by the book. Indeed the FBI itself is shown as slow-moving, bureaucratic an plagued by its own internal dissensions. For me the chief lesson from the book was that the subsequent over-reaction - Guantanamo, waterboarding - might not have been necessary, if an effective intelligence network had been put together, overcoming internal, corporate resistance.
Overall a powerful read, of a looming tragedy, which was foretold, but ignored
- 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
- 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 Looming Tower - a must read for those interested in knowing how we got to where we are.
The Looming Tower is a fast-paced, clearly written book that carefully illuminates the climate that spawned 9/11....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