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The Looming Tower

Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Narrated by: Lawrence Wright
Length: 16 hrs and 31 mins
Categories: History, 21st Century
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,169 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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
  • 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 US 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.

©2006 Lawrence Wright (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A searing view of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, a view that is at once wrenchingly intimate and boldly sweeping in its historical perspective...a narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel, an account that indelibly illustrates how the political and the personal, the public and the private were often inextricably intertwined." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
"Important, gripping...One of the best books yet on the history of terrorism." ( Publishers Weekly)
"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." ( Kirkus)

What members say

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The Looming Tower

A very detailed writing of the murders and people in our government who allowed 9/11 to happen.
CIA and FBI could not cooperate and help each other eve though they both had valid, pertinent information.
Mr Wright writes and speaks so well of the time before 9/11.
Excellent book.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book a must read.

Factual well written story of the time leading up to the 911 attacks and the breakdown of communication between two branches of our government who put their egos and childish rivalries ahead of the job they were sworn to do therefore missing several opportunities that could and would have changed everything.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great book, could have used professional narration

The author read the book and while his performance wasn’t horrible, I think a stronger narrator would have elevated the material. Lot of great info though.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great story, but should've found a narrator

Exactly as the headline reads: this is a fantastic story with so much incredible backstory. It was very impressive how in-depth this story was. The only fault was that the author narrated it. Although it wasn't a horrible narration, getting a reader who is a professional might have been a good idea.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Supremely thorough and interesting

Do not give up on this Audiobook just because it starts slowly. It is a remarkable work by Lawrence Wright and he does an admirable job narrating it as well given his lack of experience. The failures to communicate by the CIA and FBI are atrocious but Wright does a terrific job explaining this in terms any reader or listener can understand.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Required Reading

Like Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest,” this is a classic example of how much we can learn on a critical topic from an informed author.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Unparalleled account of Al-Qaeda

This is the first book I have read on the subject of Al-Qaeda and I thought it was a masterful narrative into the history, progression, and actions of Al-Qaeda.

Wright details the foundations of Al-Qaeda, and Islamic fundamentalism and weaves it with their principles, beliefs, as well as the simultaneous American intelligence investigation. This was an unbiased, thorough, and candid piece about every detail that produced the men responsible on September 11th.

I loved this book, and strongly recommended it for anyone who looks for edification on the subject of Al-Qaeda.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very Detailed

Easy to listen to and fallow, not overly flooded with jargon and complected facts that would require additional research just to keep up.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic

Thorough but still engaging, I learned much about the history of Al Qaeda and US attempts to track it pre 9/11.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Very detailed and thorough, but...

The book dips into every nook and cranny of the subject. Too many names of peripheral characters that unless the reader is 100% invested in the subject play no direct roles in the attacks on the US embassies, the USS Cole, and the 9/11 highjacking.

Of course little is made in the US about its role in financially supporting the Taliban, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, Saudis. Only to have it blow up on its face, just like Saddam H. did.

We were led to believe that these people were savages who kill others for the sake of it and not for what the US role has been by setting up shop in muslim countries against the will of their citizens.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • HashTag
  • 09-03-18

Astounding

I am a Muslim. I was left speechless once again at the extent one person's drive and hatred can change the course of history. That, and the arrogance and hubris of those we have elected to keep us safe.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Norman
  • 08-31-18

A must listen

An excellent insight to the history of al qaeda, the horrific violence of a minority of fanatics and the mistakes that allowed the terrorist pilots to carry out the awful crimes. Brilliantly narrated by the author.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • 04-11-19

Brilliant narrative on this historic period of our lives

A brilliant audiobook that has gone such a long way to deepening my understanding of the complexities of AQ.

To the many AQ are a bunch of extremists with little to live for and are hell bent on the defeating the infidel. This book takes the listener through the earliest incarnation of a man who may have taken a different path if not for the steering of others - money was evidently never an issue, OBL was happy to give it away or waste it even but with it brought spinsters who wanted whatever they could get hold off, even if it was simply bikes.

The signs and intelligence failures of the West have been portrayed so glaringly in this book, I feel lost at the simple complacency and bureaucracy of government, who’s single most important objective is to protect its people, not to protect the egos of the few who are charged with this responsibility.

Listen and enjoy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Glenn - Ruislip
  • 01-03-19

Good but disturbing and sad.

A great deal of the background and detail make this an interesting and disturbing book. From the egotistical rants of the disaffected and weak to the ineptitude of the CIA. What a waste of life.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Gsav
  • 12-23-18

excellent

really good. very informative and insightful. learned a lot , with a very engaging narrative.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. Lee Graham
  • 11-07-18

Fantastic, well worth the listen

Loved it. Really well told story of what really happened. For those who doubt what happened on 911 simply listen to the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruairi
  • 08-23-19

Disturbing and amazingly insightful

The author sometimes goes into excruciating detail in an effort to bring these events to life. Sometimes this can be horrifying and other times it can be very protracted and mundane. But this detail serves to demonstrate how attentive and studious the author really is in their work.

The frustration felt by those involved in the investigations is conveyed so well that I sometimes found myself having to stop the book because I was so on dumbfounded by the degree to which so much pain and destruction could have been averted had there been fewer pissing contests between the fbi and cia.

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a historical or more personal depiction of the events that culminated in the worst day in US history.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-22-19

Captivating Read

well written and informative was intrigued by the narrative and subject matter it casts a light on both sides of the events

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  • Olly Buxton
  • 04-27-19

Fascinating history

Fascinating, detailed, thoroughly researched and eye-opening history of Islamic fundamentalism from Sayyid Qutb onwards. The denouement is of course terrible and author Lawrence Wright's narration really quite affecting, his voice almost cracking in a couple of places.

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  • Lord Peridot
  • 03-27-19

Long and detailed and a bit confusing

There's a lot of interesting material in this book. The author has first hand experience of Middle East trouble spots and writes about Muslims and Arabs sympathetically. However, I found the book quite confusing and even tedious at times. Wright is a skilled scriptwriter so you would imagine that that wouldnt have been a problem. But it is, not least because there are many characters involved in his narrative, most of which the average person has never heard of. Then they have various friends & relations. So you lose track of who is who & how they relate to each other.

In view of the continued topicality of the 9/11 attacks, its worth pointing out that Wright is on the record as regarding the attacks as a straightforward act of Al Quaeda terrorism. And that there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion of the official story. Its also clear that he has quite strong links with the CIA as he likes to tell a story in which the CIA asked him how they should deal with Bin Laden once they had captured him. In publicly available talks made by him in recent years these points are clearly made. BTW the narrator sounds a bit like Kevin Costner, speaking in a comfortable drawl.

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  • Tim Watkins
  • 01-13-19

Excellently researched. Captivating story.

I loved learning of the origins of Islamic fundamentalist, the foundations of al Qaeda andt the lead up to 9/11 in this exhaustively researched book. The author has crafted a fascinating and engaging account. His narration of his own work was as good as any voice talent available on Audible.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-13-18

best book i listened to all year.

the characters live and breathe. Amazing how the roots for islamic fundamentalism are drawn out

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-25-17

FANTASTIC!!

so much detail, background and insight into Osama and events leading up to 9/11. This book answers so many questions I had and is an amazing listen.