Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2007This is a sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans, and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright's remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.
The Looming Tower achieves an unprecedented level of intimacy and insight by telling the story through the interweaving lives of four men: the two leaders of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri; the FBI's counterterrorism chief, John O'Neill; and the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal.
As these lives unfold, we see revealed the crosscurrents of modern Islam that helped to radicalize Zawahiri and bin Laden; the birth of al-Qaeda and its unsteady development into an organization capable of the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole; O'Neill's heroic efforts to track al-Qaeda before 9/11, and his tragic death in the World Trade towers; Prince Turki's transformation from bin Laden's ally to his enemy; and 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.
©2006 Lawrence Wright; (P)2006 Tantor Media
"Comprehensive and compelling." (Kirkus)
"Deeply researched...immaculately crafted." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Important, gripping....One of the best books yet on the history of terrorism." (Publishers Weekly)
"A thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today....The Looming Tower is a thriller. And it's a tragedy, too." (The New York Times Book Review)
The Looming Tower is well-written, incredibly well-documented, and, if it is possible with such a highly charged subject, well-balanced. 17 hours of audio may seem daunting, but Lawrence Wright is such a gifted story teller that the time just flew by. He brings you inside the discussions of Bin Laden's inner circle and the FBI. This is a must read for every American who is concerned about our future in a world where Islamic Fundamentalism does not differentiate between mass murder and political gain.
I really enjoyed this one, got thru it much faster than usual. Found myself extending my drives and walks to hear more. Wright has obviously done his homework here, as evidenced by the Pulitzer. It's extremely well researched and thought-provoking. The book focuses primarily on the backgrounds and actions of Bin Laden, Zawahiri and John O'Neill and really gets you into the minds of these men. It's sad to hear how stymied the FBI agents were by "The Wall" and CIA in-fighting. Everyone knows how it ends of course, but the journey there was fascinating for me.
This is thoroughly engrossing and compelling read, tracing the origins of al Qaeda from its philosophical founding through to the overthrow of the Taliban. Rich with details, the pacing nonetheless never lags - lets call it a non-fiction thriller. There are lots of interesting bits throughout but what really surprised me was were the numerous occasions where what we now call al Qaeda might never have come to be if not for some combination of luck, timing, or inadvertent consequences. Easily, OBL or his organization might have faded into obscurity on more than a few occasions - it's amazing that they didn't. Overall, the author does a great job of shepherding the reader through the evolution of al Qaeda and it's prime movers and shakers. As we get closer to 9/11 he also weaves into the narrative the growing awareness of the threat al Qaeda posed to the US and how it began to track this. Fascinating from beginning to end. All in all, a very compelling and entertaining read for anyone who wants a better understanding of the growth of Islamic terrorism and the personalities, players, and their motives.
Comprehensive history of Al Qaeda tracing to its Islamic, Egyptian root, how it was propelled by corrupt and brutal Middle Eastern regimes, fueled by Arab-Israeli conflict, and steered toward its anti-America focus by the charismatic yet quixotic Bin Laden. Shockingly, US had amble clues and leads that would have prevented the 911 attacks only to have faltered because of the intense antagonizing cultures between CIA and FBI. Well researched, and succinctly presented.
This book is an excellent and thorough history of the roots of Al Qaeda. An exploration of the roots of evil starting in the 1940's. It gives great insight into the Islamist movement. Though it is lengthy, it is so interesting that it reads quite quickly.
Max Fisher of Rushmore Academy
This is a deeply compelling history of radical Islam and the circumstances that led to the events of 9/11. Finally, all the strange-sounding Arabic names that have come up since that day have meaning and context. A very powerful work, which I was sad to see end.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
This is an excellent story that brings the events leading up to 9/11 into human focus. This is a story of people, not politics and individuals not technology. It examines the terrorists and western intelligence agents all as human beings focusing on their fluid motivations and goals along with both strengths and limitations. This is a down to earth analysis of the factors and people that lead to 9/11. It does not cast blame or propose solutions, it just tells the story. Although it is not a perfect book it fills a gap that definitely needed filling. The book is not for everyone as it is not a ???big picture??? story, but instead it focuses on the details of relationships and events.
The book itself has a great deal of interesting information, but the narration was aggravating at first, and simply unlistenable by the time I had been subjected to it for an hour or so. This narrator is so narcissistically in love with his own voice, and preens so cloyingly, that I had to physically restrain myself from punching the CD player in my car. The guy seems to think that everyone bought this audiobook just to hear his preciously formed diction. The vainglorious presentation calls attention to itself so aggressively that the actual content is simply swamped by the vocal primping.
An informative, detailed account of some of the key events leading up to 9/11 and some of the personalities behind al-Queada and within the US Intelligence community. The portraits of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri, and various other al-Quaeda principals helps humanize these men and, in the process, makes their actions seem (if possible) even more horrific. One finds oneself asking what went wrong to cause relatively comfortable and educated human beings to plan and carry out mass murder on a global scale. Wright clearly, and correctly, points to absolutist ideology as a primary cause; a conviction that a particular set of beliefs represents universal truth that cannot withstand the presence (anywhere, ultimately) of people who believe differently to any degree. Al-Queada, of course, is only a more recent incarnation of this age-old cause of human suffering.
The book also casts blame on the US Government for emboldening al-Quaeda and failing to correctly interpret intelligence data, focusing primarily on petty infighting within and between various intelligence agencies and blundering misapplications of US military power. Especially in these areas, Wright sometimes appears to suffer from a certain amount of hindsight bias, though this is a minor distraction in an overall noteworthy book.
I was a little skeptical when I first heard the narrator. He sounds a bit like a cowboy with one too many empty Marlboro packs on the floor of his pickup. However, it wasn't long before the voice grew on me and I could recognize it for all its gravitas. The narrator even demonstrates remarkable command of the Arabic names.
I hesitated to buy this book, because I typically like books with a grand scope (i.e. terrorism in the 20th century vs. the 9-11 attacks). The book did not disappoint me. It begins much earlier than I anticipated and chronicled some of the early figures in the radical Islam movement and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately, despite glimmers of hope that our heroes would succeed, the book concludes with the inevitable scene of destruction in New York.
The writing itself is staggeringly good. Poetic when it needs to be, but, more often than not, simply concise and vivid. The subject matter moves the story along. There isn't a lot of need for flowery language. I also applaud the author for his measured perspective. We are privy to many poignant moments with the likes of Osama bin Laden, and we are invited to make our own moral judgments and condemnations, rather than having them shoved down our throats by a heavy handed author.
Buy this audiobook! It's intriguing, entertaining, informative, scary, tragic, maddening, inspiring, etc, etc. My only suggestion would be to borrow out a copy from your local library simultaneously. If you're unfamiliar with Arabic names, they can be difficult to keep track of. Having the hardcopy close at hand to reference would be an invaluable resource. As for me, I'm going to go get my hands on a hardcopy and read it again, from cover to cover.
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