The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Info

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This Pulitzer Prize winner is the basis for the upcoming
Hulu series starring Peter Sarsgaard, Jeff Daniels, and Tahar
Rahim.

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.
National Book Award
Finalist
Updated and with a New Afterword


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Reviews for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11:

4

Oct 05, 2008


Lawrence Wright - from his site

Lawrence Wright looks at the players involved in the history and construction of Al-Qaeda, offering short bios of Sayyid Qtub, Ayyman Zawairi, bin Laden, John O’Neill, et al. It is a thorough and interesting work. As someone who has read quite a bit about the players here, my expectations were modest. But I was impressed with the clarity of the story-telling. It was also impressive in the level of detail he presents. Some of that was amusing, as in his depiction
Lawrence Wright - from his site

Lawrence Wright looks at the players involved in the history and construction of Al-Qaeda, offering short bios of Sayyid Qtub, Ayyman Zawairi, bin Laden, John O’Neill, et al. It is a thorough and interesting work. As someone who has read quite a bit about the players here, my expectations were modest. But I was impressed with the clarity of the story-telling. It was also impressive in the level of detail he presents. Some of that was amusing, as in his depiction of O’Neill’s female juggling act. He comes down hard on the unwillingness of the CIA and FBI to share meaningful information in a timely manner. It is clear from his descriptions that turf wars played a larger role than did the institutional barriers to sharing information, although the latter were not trivial. This is highly recommended for anyone interested in the background to the terror events of the 21st century, clear, compelling and informative. The Pulitzer Committee thought so, awarding Wright their 2007 award for general non-fiction. The book earned a slew of other awards as well.

Published – August 8, 2006
Read – May 2007
Review posted – October 2008
Re-posted - February 2018

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages


Image from NewsMax.com

A nice article in Variety about the Hulu production


Jeff Daniels as John O'Neill in the Hulu production - image from IMDB.com

My personal experience of 9/11 seemed wrong to include in the review proper, so I am putting it here under a spoiler tag for any who have an interest. It is a slightly edited journal entry.

Many years before, in the late 80s and early 90s, I had worked at the World Financial Center, across the street from the WTC, passing through the WTC complex on my way to and from work every day. I would often stop into the WTC at lunchtime. There was a nice lunch place that had good, affordable chili and a video jukebox. In 1994, I was working across the river in Jersey City at one of the increasing number of skyscraping office towers that mirror Manhattan, reachable via PATH trains, the terminal being in the lower levels of the WTC. We felt the thud of the first attempt at the towers while at our desks.

My wife and I did not personally know any of the people who lost their lives on 9/11, but were only a couple of degrees removed from people who did. A friend lost a sister. A nephew knew one of the firemen who had died. We still grieved as New Yorkers, Americans and human beings.

(view spoiler)[8:45a. Mary Ann was running late getting out to work. I was still in bed. She was just putting her shoes on when she heard on NPR that there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center. She dashed to the TV, and when she saw the carnage woke me immediately. We were watching varied television coverage when we saw the second explosion. In the shot, from the north of the towers, it was not at first obvious what had happened. The reporter on that station (I do not recall which) thought she had seen something and had it re-run. In the upper right hand corner a dot appeared and grew slightly. It was clear that it had been the cause of the explosion in the south tower. It was also clear that this was not just a tragic explosion but a coordinated attack. Eye-witnesses had various accounts. One said he saw a small plane go into the north tower. Another swore he had seen a prop plane. We were shaken. I remember saying to M, “This means war.” We applied our attention to CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, CNN hungry for dreaded information. Later, I heard that one of the towers had collapsed and could not believe it, presuming that some portion of the building might have toppled. It was quite jarring to see footage of the entire building collapsing in upon itself. Mary Ann was in various states of weeping at many moments this day. I heaved with near sobs myself. It was too much to take in. I tried calling my brother at home to see if he was ok. There was no one there. By 2 PM, after having been glued to the set for over five hours, we went out to eat.

We went to a favorite diner in Park Slope, Katina’s. On the way we ran into a neighbor who had been working in the downtown area at the time of the attack. He had been able to get out unscathed. At Katina’s the tables were filled. Every eye was on the TV that rests atop a cabinet behind the register. Giuliani was holding a news conference. There was talk about Bin Laden as a prime suspect. What would happen next?

I was scheduled to pick up my daughters from their grandparents’ house in Sheepshead Bay that evening. We arrived ahead of schedule so drove around the neighborhood, and then experienced the strangest vision of the day. The cloud from the WTC fires was very much a presence several miles southeast of the disaster. But as we drove around it appeared that there was a flock of birds heading south. It was not birds. Pieces of paper, letter sized, or at least paper that had once been letter sized wafted to the ground, some charred, in vast numbers. People on the street stopped to pick them up. I saw a child snatch one. A middle-aged lady grabbed another. People gazed upward at this unexpected precipitation. I noticed that the windshield looked as if it had been had driven a bit too close to a volcanic explosion. There was a coating of streaked soot on the glass. We got the girls at 6. The grandparents had, thankfully, been watching coverage on TV, so the girls were not hearing it for the first time from us. We later asked the girls if their mother or their grandparents had talked with them about the events of the day. They had not. We did.

It was a quiet car on the drive north. The light gray cloud from Manhattan was clear, above and in front of us at 10 o’clock, spreading from a narrow plume in the distance to a wider coverage above. Back home, we watched coverage throughout the evening. I sat on the couch with them, holding Caitie’s hand. She clung tightly. Tash, only 8 at the time, did not seem to grasp the significance, although she accepted my hand on hers. The most telling detail of Caitie’s reaction was that as the evening progressed, she acquired two of her stuffed animals and clung to them. I managed to reach my brother. He works at least some of the time at 26 Federal Plaza. I had tried earlier in the day. There was no one at home. I had also called my New York sisters hoping one of them might have heard from him. I even tried my Pennsylvania sister. All to no avail. It was nerve-wracking. Thankfully, I finally reached him. He had gotten news of the event before leaving for work. He had been scheduled to head to Edison, NJ today, not Manhattan, so he would not have been at risk in any event.

When Tash was in bed reading, Cait continued watching with us. She fell asleep on the couch. We woke her and she walked to bed. I tried to sing to Tash, “Always” from Tarzan. It seemed appropriate. I found that I was unable to sing at all. Tears seeped into my eyes and my voice caught. I told her that I was sorry, but I could not sing because the attempt made me cry. I explained to her that the attack on the World Trade Center was an attack on us all. I told her that there were people in the world who wanted to kill us just because we were Americans. [I believed that at the time, but have arrived at a more informed opinion in the years since.] Maybe we had not suffered any losses in our family, but we probably knew people who had. My brother had told me of a friend of his oldest son, a young man of 26 who had been in the Fire Department for only a year or so. He had almost certainly perished in the carnage. I told Caitie that we needed to feel for and support each other as Americans as we would as family members. On this day, we were all a family, an American family. She seemed to get at least some of this, and accepted sleep calmly.

Mary Ann had tried many times during the day to reach her brother, a teacher in Harrisburg. Finally, she got through to his school. In a major surprise, when she reached a school secretary, the secretary had her hold on while she went to fetch him. He had been, obviously, very concerned about her. Our attempts through the rest of the day to reach my sister and other relations in Pennsylvania were unavailing. We were faced with telephone company messages saying that all lines were busy.

One aspect of the day was sound. There is a normal din from the many flights that constantly overpass the city. Today there was almost none of that. Traffic noise is usually oppressive here, with trucks entering the Prospect Expressway on their way toward Manhattan. It was much less today. There were the occasional sirens of emergency vehicles, whether rushing to provide direct service themselves or accompanying convoys of volunteers. Even in this crisis Brooklyn is not a quiet place. Yet the distinct change in background din, almost a hush, was very noticeable

Remembering that day, particularly seeing images of the destruction, still makes my eyes leak. And I never look up at an airplane without having at least a passing concern about whether it is aloft with dark purpose. . (hide spoiler)]

Wright posted the ff in September 2014 in The New Yorker, about a significant omission in the 9/11 Commission Report, removed at the behest of Dubya - The Twenty-Eight Pages - worth a look

Wright interviewed by Tom Ashbrook for On Point

4/21/18 - My wife and I just finished watching the 10-part miniseries of The Looming Tower on Hulu. It is amazing, informative, gut-wrenching, and rage-inducing. So much could have been prevented but for egos, turf-wars, downright stupidity, and willful blindness.

...more
4

Feb 01, 2012

Lawrence Wright is one of those guys who could easily put novelists out of business, and this book made me question why I read fiction at all. The locations, characters, and events in The Looming Tower are so much more fascinating than anything an author could invent, and the fact that they're real makes them seem important in a way fiction almost never does. I loved this book, and my picayune quibbles -- a few recurring awkward sentence constructions, inexplicably referring to domestic Lawrence Wright is one of those guys who could easily put novelists out of business, and this book made me question why I read fiction at all. The locations, characters, and events in The Looming Tower are so much more fascinating than anything an author could invent, and the fact that they're real makes them seem important in a way fiction almost never does. I loved this book, and my picayune quibbles -- a few recurring awkward sentence constructions, inexplicably referring to domestic terrorists who bomb clinics and murder doctors as "protesters" -- just need to be dispatched with here so people know I actually read this book, and am not just brainlessly screaming about how good it is because someone's slipped me a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash.

I never would've read this, actually, if it hadn't been assigned for school, because I purposely avoid everything written about the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. Having to read this book was good because it made me think a lot more about why I do that, plus most of it wasn't really about 9/11, but about the development during the last century of Islamist terrorism and formation of al-Qaeda, which is infinitely more interesting to read about anyway.

As a very provincial, ignorant person who hasn't traveled a lot, I don't know much about Islam or the Arab world and am thus highly susceptible to a romantic Orientalist-type fascination. And so the descriptions in this book of Egypt and Saudi Arabia (and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and a bunch of other places I can't even vaguely visualize without remedial assistance of the sort provided here) in the mid-to-late twentieth century were instantly riveting to me, as were Wright's patient and highly readable narratives of various key players' actions and lives. Partly because the people and places described were so exotic to me, the book had a quality of the mythic to it, and I'll admit that my ignorance and naivite about the rest of the world contributed to my enjoyment of this. For instance, his description of Saudi Arabia at mid-century, just as oil is being discovered, was at least as thrilling and evocative as some fantasy adventure story. The account of Mohammad bin Laden's construction in 1961 of a road uniting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had all the suspense and narrative power of incredible fiction... and the details of Mohammad's polygamous practices were too lurid and insane to have been made up.

No, Hollywood with all its big budgets and CGI effects can't compete with this book's images of antsy Arab jihadists holed up in Afghanistan, mid-eighties Peshawar filling with the chaos of the Afghan war's overflow, a jihadi/US Army sergeant/al-Qaeda member/would-be CIA agent's adventures stateside, a Sudanese general's selling bin Laden fake uranium that was really cinnabar, the shadowy worlds of international intrigues and terrorism and American intelligence's determined bureaucratic obstructionism of itself... and of course all the violence, which is so pervasive and twisted and sadistic beyond even the most famously filmed gore. YOU JUST CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP! Would that we had to...

Okay, but Lawrence Wright didn't write his book just to entertain but also to inform. This stuff really did happen, and we're supposed to think something about it, I guess. Obviously part of what demands the comparison of this book to fiction is the over-the-top drama of its story: the "clash of civilizations" apparently driving these men to mass murder for reasons that seem so foreign and incomprehensible to me.

I guess the main reason I avoid reading about the 9/11 attacks is that I feel profoundly embarrassed by my nation's reaction to them. Not only by our political and military response, but by our cultural processing, and what we've made of these events. Reasons for my discomfort with the political and military stuff is pretty obvious; throughout The Looming Tower, Wright makes clear that a goal of the terrorists was to provoke a repressive response: to make the United States behave more like, say, Egypt, where dissenters and suspected terrorists were rounded up and tortured without any due process, a practice many point to as a factor in Ayman al-Zawahiri's increasingly bloodthirsty radicalization. Well uh, yeah -- as the old cliche points out, cliches become cliche for a reason, and "the terrorists have won" out in many ways, not least in our country's treatment of suspected terrorists. Score one for the away team!

I mean, I really don't want to get into some boring stupid political rant, but reading this did make my own thoughts and feelings about all this stuff clearer to me. In some ways the book had a sort of cartoonish simplicity in its presentation of the battle between good and evil, but the thing is that you can't argue that al-Qaeda and these other similar groups aren't purely evil. They are evil. Intentional mass slaughter of innocent civilians is objectively evil, and so painting these guys as two-dimensional Saturday-morning animated villains is not wrong. The only part of the equation that's not so simple is the goodness-of-adversary part, and so maybe the battle is more like evil v. at-least-somewhat-less-evil. But whatever your issues with the United States and our tendency to have robots drop bombs on wedding parties halfway around the world and to perform extraordinary renditions to Syria or whatever, there are some very nice things about living here, such as the Taliban not running our zoo.

One thing I remember really clearly about being a kid was watching movies or reading books and always thinking that the bad guys were trying to destroy the good guys based on some misunderstanding -- that if the good guys sat down with the bad guys and they drank some apple juice together, the bad guys would realize that their vendetta was all just a silly mistake. Then I grew up, and came to understand that this was rarely the case. Violent hatred isn't usually based just in miscommunication or a lack of understanding; that's just a comforting myth we tell children because the truth kind of sucks. It's not that al-Qaeda hates me because they don't understand me. If they really knew me and what I'm all about, they'd hate me even more than they already do.

Anyway, my book report is willfully trying to turn itself into a moronic political rant -- sorry. Where I think I was going was that Wright also emphasizes how badly bin Laden wanted to lure the U.S. into war in Afghanistan, which he envisioned -- after the Russians' misadventure there -- as a guaranteed destroyer of empires. Well, it is truly baffling to me why anyone would ever want to fight a war in AFGHANISTAN -- from what I can see this is a country of MUTILATED, DRUG-DEALING TRIBAL WARLORDS WHO ARE PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE BEING SURROUNDED BY LANDMINES, and it seems like you'd have to be crazy go fucking around with people like that -- but there we are. Or rather, there are our troops, dealing with God only knows what, while the rest of us sit around at home getting fatter and updating our Apple products and spouting off uninformed opinions in online book reviews and occasionally still making some kind of pious, wounded noise about the excruciatingly painful national tragedy that was 9/11.

I mean, that's really why I avoid all the 9/11 stuff, and what I find so uncomfortably embarrassing about it. For me, in many ways what this book was about ultimately was violence, and about cultural understandings of violence and how it can be used. A lot of the things in here shocked me because of the nature of the violence described -- far before we actually got to jihad, the accepted levels of violence in a lot of these cultures was astounding. For instance, okay, yes, we still have the death penalty here, which also shocks me, but in Saudi Arabia -- who are our friends over there (well, more or less, as far as these things go) -- capital punishment is effected through beheading. BEHEADING! HOLY SHIT! Maybe you think it's culturally insensitive or something that I consider that more gruesome than lethal injection, but man, I sure do. That's just one example though: the wider culture that suicide bombers grow out of is one that seems to have a great deal more familiarity -- and thus perhaps, to some extent, comfort -- with actual violence than our own.

I say "actual" violence because there is a pretty great scene in here towards the end when -- I hope I'm not getting the details wrong, I can't find it, sorry if this is wrong -- the al-Qaeda guys are sitting around in some caves in Afghanistan watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to get ideas for their hijackings. One unexpected impact this book, though its good v. evil presentation, had was in making me question my own culture in a different way than I usually do. I was raised to be critical of American values, even while being so obliviously embedded within and formed by them that I couldn't even fully identify what they were. By explicating the terrorists' beef with the U.S. in such detail, Wright helped me see better why it is exactly that they "hate our freedoms," and what these freedoms are, and of which ingredients is brewed the American Kool Aid is that I was raised on... and remain ideologically committed to drinking.

Maybe the amount of sentimentalism and exceptionalism that goes along with American discourse about 9/11 bothers me so much because I secretly feel some of it too. There are embarrassing things about being an American in this era, and the 9/11 stuff makes me feel a lot of them strongly. As I said at the outset, I am provincial and sheltered, and in this I am fairly representative of my countrymen. I haven't traveled much, but I lived in New York for several years, and descriptions of mass death there do affect me more than those of even more horrific violence in far-off Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, or Kenya.

Lately -- before reading this book -- I've been troubled a lot by the thought that I'm not at all brave. One thing that got me started thinking about that was talking to men who'd served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. These guys are very different from most of us Americans in that they have traveled to these places, and have witnessed and participated in violence there. They aren't motivated by religious fundamentalism; they go into dangerous situations hoping very much they won't get hurt or die, and I consider that very brave. But -- and I know this is no news flash, every idiot knows this -- while they were over there shooting people and having their convoys blown up we were all just back here buying shoes on the Internet and complaining about gas being expensive and acting like the events of September 11, 2001 were this completely isolated and exceptionally violent event that was so traumatic for all of us that our country just might never recover its emotional bearings. I mean, we're so removed from violence that the false memory of its rarity frightens us so badly that we can't even bring our shampoo on the plane. This bums me out so much because I don't want these jihadist assholes to be right about anything. I don't want them to be right thinking that we're not brave and that we're not a moral nation, but we haven't done that great a job proving them wrong in the years since this happened.

Okay, this review got away from me and I'm just babbling and it's really really stupid, and I'm sorry, but anyway, bottom line: this is a fantastic book and I couldn't put it down the whole time that I was reading it. Highly recommended, though maybe not for the plane.

* * * *

Okay, I had to chop off this already overly-long non-review, because I heard the screams of my neighbors and realized the Superbowl had started, so not wanting to be "against us" I had to run off to that. But now, having patriotically reaffirmed my faith in the greatness of my powerful nation by watching Cee Lo Green and Madonna lip sync "Like a Prayer," I thought I'd try to wrap up some of my irrelevant and incoherent non-thoughts.

I'm actually not sure what it is that I was trying to say here about violence. Maybe I'm saying that I think we need to be more consistent in our cultural understanding and application of it, but this book could be a warning about the dangers of consistency, which is perhaps not just the hobgoblin of little minds but also the lifeblood of fundamentalism. One thing I think Wright did a really good job of explaining was the lure that these ideas have for men who then blow up themselves and a whole bunch of innocent people. What's the trade-off, what do they get from it, aside from that rumored afterlife stacked with nubile virgins? Yeah I know these people are real different from the people I know, but they are still people, and I just don't think humans are wired for purely delayed gratification.

What they get from fundamentalism -- taken to murderous extremes, sure, but fundamentalism in general -- is the happy comfort of moral clarity, of a simplified world. Me, I just don't know what to make of all this. All the violence, all the pain, all the baffling overwhelming complexity of an insane world. It's hard enough figuring out what to think of any of it, let alone to know how to live every day in a way that doesn't feel like a series of idiotic and self-contradicting mistakes. But if you become one of these jihad guys, such confusion is no longer a problem you face. There's good, and there's bad, and you know what you must do. And what you must do does seem super batshit crazy and horrible to me, but to you it makes so much sense that you'd never even dream of questioning it, and that's gotta feel pretty great... maybe so much that it's a feeling worth killing and dying for.

But I am still disturbed by our culture's relationship to violence, which seems very hypocritical and problematic to me. Obviously there's something distasteful about letting our enemies define us, but if we are going to play that game and say we stand for the opposite of what they do, then what we stand for, what we do and believe should make sense. If they are for repression and we are for freedom, then we need to be free. If we are against violence, let us be against violence; if we are not against violence, then let's be honest about that, and not cry and whine so much when that violence touches our lives.

I don't know, it was easy for the terrorists to be consistent in their actions, because they were fundamentalists: they were willing to die in order to kill (though tellingly, bin Laden expressed in his will that he didn't want his sons to join al-Qaeda: it's understandably a lot easier to send someone else's kids off to die, as we see here at home when powerful people happily start wars that their sons won't have to fight). It is a lot harder for a diverse nation of people with wildly different ideas about morality and violence to agree about how we're going to see things and respond to something like terrorist acts. But it should start at least with our owning the consequences of our actions -- it should have started with much more responsible media coverage of this last decade's wars, for example. I mean that's just an example. I don't really know what else to say about it, except that I thought of some article a few months ago in one of those mainstream weekly news magazines -- Time or Newsweek -- about the United States military and how sealed off in many ways from the rest of the population they've become. I think that's a really important problem that points to a lot more than just itself. In my experience, it seems to me that a lot of us either tend to be lefty doves, who tend to be naive about certain global realities, or righty hawks, who can be cavalier about the effects of violence. It seems to me that Americans who have fought in the military and people who have grown up in really violent neighborhoods not surprisingly tend to be more realistic and less sentimental about violence, but is that what we want? As this book shows, once you get comfortable with violence things can quickly get horrific and disgusting.

Blah blah blah blah. I don't know who I'm talking to or what I'm saying or why, I'm really just babbling -- procrastinating on homework. Sorry.

The final thing that I wanted to say about The Looming Tower was that I learned how all the terrorists would blend in and get legal status -- whether in California or Somalia or wherever -- by simply marrying a native woman. THIS SERIOUSLY FREAKED ME THE HELL OUT! Those who know me are aware that I have a reputation for poor judgment when it comes to affairs of the heart, and a weakness for swarthy men with an air of mystery about them... and so what am I supposed to do now with this piece of information!?? If I turn down dates with foreign guys named Muhammad does that mean the terrorists have won?

Ah, questions, troubling questions of "the post-9/11 world."

In any case: a truly great book. ...more
5

Oct 23, 2007

What a great surprise this book was. I first read about The Looming Tower (the title comes from the Koranic verse Osama bin Laden used as a coded message to the 9/11 hijackers) in a number of political op/ed columns. Finally, though, it was conservative writer Jonah Goldberg's heavy reliance on The Looming Tower for an L.A. Times column that sent me looking for the book.

Lawrence Wright's treatment of the jihadist movement is thorough to the point of being almost sympathetic. It goes deeply into What a great surprise this book was. I first read about The Looming Tower (the title comes from the Koranic verse Osama bin Laden used as a coded message to the 9/11 hijackers) in a number of political op/ed columns. Finally, though, it was conservative writer Jonah Goldberg's heavy reliance on The Looming Tower for an L.A. Times column that sent me looking for the book.

Lawrence Wright's treatment of the jihadist movement is thorough to the point of being almost sympathetic. It goes deeply into what Egyptian interrogation methods created so many Ayman al-Zawahiris. It explores the history of oil wealth in Saudi Arabia and an immigrant construction entrepreneur named Mohammed bin Laden whose seventeenth child, of fifty-four, would grow up to become the world's most ambitious terrorist.

It also walks readers through the tangled relationship between the United States and Afghanistan and the Taliban and al Qaeda and, yes, Saddam Hussein, and the Northern Alliance and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

It is fairly merciless in its treatment of the American bureaucracy that created figurative walls between the CIA and the FBI. It makes a somewhat cartoonish hero of an FBI agent named John O'Neill and a level-headed assessment of Richard Clarke.

This was the book that led to the interesting and needlessly controversial two-day miniseries called "The Road to 9/11". That series, like this book, points an accusatory finger at no one American, not Bill Clinton and not George W. Bush.

Why not? Well, because the book is too sophisticated for the mindless, thirty-second shout-a-thons that have passed for political discourse on both the political left and right since 9/11.

Anyone who is interested in an intermediate-level analysis of what made Osama bin Laden so notorious (and his rise has many parallels to that of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna) is well advised to read this book. At 475 pages, it is exhaustive but not exhausting.

Anyone who has "strong" feelings about what caused the rise of al Qaeda (and be warned, the network is a lot smaller than one might think) on the world stage should read this book before the next time he raises his voice for/against a US politician.

The Looming Tower is not "complicated" (the cop-out word self-proclaimed intellectuals use at every turn) but detailed. It is not inciting but insightful. It is also highly recommended to any curious American. ...more
5

Sep 20, 2007

there are the books that make our heads explode, that make every minute of the day a chinese water torture of waiting for the chance to get the hell home and read some more, the books that live inside us all through the day, the books that make us excited to take a crap just so we can shut the door behind us (or not) and sneak in a few pages, the books which cause horn-honking at red lights from drivers irritated we're reading at the fucking wheel... the looming tower is one of 'em. as riveting there are the books that make our heads explode, that make every minute of the day a chinese water torture of waiting for the chance to get the hell home and read some more, the books that live inside us all through the day, the books that make us excited to take a crap just so we can shut the door behind us (or not) and sneak in a few pages, the books which cause horn-honking at red lights from drivers irritated we're reading at the fucking wheel... the looming tower is one of 'em. as riveting and compelling as any novel i've read. only on page 230 and stamping with a fiver. fucking fantastic. ...more
5

Aug 12, 2015

"Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in looming towers" ("أينما تكونوا يدرككم الموت ولو كنتم في بروج مشيدة")
- Qur'an 4:78



A great narrative history of the rise of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Wright's journalism takes the reader from Sayyid Qutb's youth to the destruction of the twin towers and includes most of the major characters both in al-Qaeda, and Zawahiri's al-Jihad to Saudi Arabia to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. The focus of the book, however, is obviously Bin Laden and "Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in looming towers" ("أينما تكونوا يدرككم الموت ولو كنتم في بروج مشيدة")
- Qur'an 4:78



A great narrative history of the rise of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Wright's journalism takes the reader from Sayyid Qutb's youth to the destruction of the twin towers and includes most of the major characters both in al-Qaeda, and Zawahiri's al-Jihad to Saudi Arabia to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. The focus of the book, however, is obviously Bin Laden and O'Neill who both seem iconic symbols of radicalized Islam and the US. The research and narrative of the book is impressive and even though many of these stories and ideas have been floating for years; some of what I seem to have known is probably due to Wright's groundbreaking reporting in this book (It was originally published in 2006). The narrative is complex and jumps back and forth across countries and cultures and institutions, but never loses the central theme and historical elements. It is a masterpiece of narrative history in both focus and scale. ...more
4

Jan 11, 2009

Well, I finally found my notes and got this review finished - long overdue.

For all the energy, lives and treasure we have devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that they had nothing to do with 9/11 which became the excuse for our actions rather than the proximate rationale. We are now in a war that would appear to have literally no end, this “war of terror,” one that any sane person who recently traveled on an airplane can see the terrorists have won as we meekly surrender Well, I finally found my notes and got this review finished - long overdue.

For all the energy, lives and treasure we have devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that they had nothing to do with 9/11 which became the excuse for our actions rather than the proximate rationale. We are now in a war that would appear to have literally no end, this “war of terror,” one that any sane person who recently traveled on an airplane can see the terrorists have won as we meekly surrender our civil rights to government agencies who now can tap phones, examine library records, collect data, cavity search, etc., in the name of some illusionary sense of safety, a theater of the absurd. In addition they convinced us , this tiny group of delusionary men (no women), to send thousands of troops to a hostile land and environment where they could be more easily picked off.

Wright traces the rise of anti-semitism in the MIddle East to the influence of Naziism during WW II and especially afterwards when many Nazis fled to Egypt for sanctuary from the victorious allies. For centuries Jews had lived quite peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, but several events fueled a return to a fundamentalist, Islamicist view. The Six-Day war was used by these in a rather tortured logic to validate their position, i.e. that God had favored the Jews because Muslims had wandered away from the true Islam and the Caliphate. (This kind of perverted thinking is not unique to Islamists. It’s rampant among fundamentalist Christian groups such as the Westboro Baptists who insist that US military deaths are caused by God’s displeasure with current U.S. policies with regard to homosexuality. Other examples abound.) The war, which an overwhelming victory for Israel, humiliated Egypt, where, following Nassar’s death, Sadat needed to appeal to the fundamentalists to strengthen his government; so he released many who had been jailed from prison. Not a smart move.

The actions of the Egyptians, following the assassination of Sadat, solidified a diverse, incoherent movement. He flatly states that 9/11 was born in the torture chambers of the Egyptian government which created an appetite for revenge and turned moderates into extremists, not to mention destroyed any notion that western society actually practiced the ideals of freedom and human rights they espoused. Communism, Zionism, and Imperialism were all lumped together as the great western enemy of Islam and the only solution was to use violence to try to create an Islamic theocracy. By throwing all of the anti-government groups together in prison, many individuals and groups which had been unaware of the other’s existence were now thrown together and molded into a more coherent movement. Torture was an instrument of humiliation, revenge and punishment as well as information gathering and Ayman Zawahiri emerged as the new leader of the group.

I was astonished how intertwined the Bin Laden family, wealthy beyond measure from lucrative construction contracts, was with Saudi government and culture. That said, Osama comes across as a pathetic little man whom, for some bizarre reason, we have inflated to mythic proportions. He left a long trail of words that Wright has used effectively to build a comprehensive picture of the man that Afghans, in the fight against the Russians, thought was rather pathetic, but who was adopted by the United States and supported. Another example of how certain actions taken for a variety of reasons can have long-range negative effects. How one might ever develop the perspicuity to avoid making such mistakes remains a mystery to me.

If there are any heroes in this book, it’s the field officers of the FBI and one John O’Neill (who tragically died in the World Trade Center.) They had been concerned that the Islamic fundamentalists would try something spectacular but got little support from Washington. One Minneapolis supervisor, admonished for his reports and concerns, simply said back to the bosses in DC that he was simply “ “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” This in August of 2001

Wright has done a magnificent job of melding detail and the broader picture to present a better understanding of why we are where we are today.The title, drawn from the Koran is ironic in light of Osama’s killing by American troops: ““Wherever you are, death will find you, Even in the looming tower,” a quote from one of Osama’s many videos.

After-note: Read a couple of the one-star reviews on Amazon to get a feel for psychotic thinking.



Previously written: "Therefore when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided... Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything, intelligence cannot form a strategy." Sun Tzu, 500 B.C.

For some reason, I failed to get very far into this book and was reminded of it when I read an excellent column recently at Salon (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/201...) regarding the costs of our obsessiveness with regard to airline security. I was reminded that Wright discussed Al Qaeda strategy at some length. It was quite simple. Bin Laden knew he couldn't maintain an attack on U.S. soil so he needed to get us to come to him. And he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. We send troops and treasure over to him to be whittled away at. His first attempt to draw us in was the U.S.S. Cole; Clinton failed to fall into the trap as did Reagan after the 200 Marines were killed in Lebanon. Bush swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. Iraq and Afghanistan have cost more than a trillion dollars of borroweded money in the first unfunded war in our history. And we spend more hundreds of billions searching for the latest object in someone's crotch for the illusion of security. Wait till someone detonates a small bomb in a TSA security line or at a McDonald's. We will then lose all our freedoms in the name of maintaining an empire we cannot afford.
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0

Sep 25, 2015

People who want to be politicians are out of their goddamned minds. Attempting to clean up this mess alone—even just describing it as a single mess being, of course, a gross oversimplification—is a task of such a Sisyphean order, I have serious doubts that even a titan could manage it, let alone some dipshit human(s). I would write more about this, but "this situation" is way beyond my level of even abstract problem-solving, and probably everyone's levels of abstract problem-solving. Combined.

As People who want to be politicians are out of their goddamned minds. Attempting to clean up this mess alone—even just describing it as a single mess being, of course, a gross oversimplification—is a task of such a Sisyphean order, I have serious doubts that even a titan could manage it, let alone some dipshit human(s). I would write more about this, but "this situation" is way beyond my level of even abstract problem-solving, and probably everyone's levels of abstract problem-solving. Combined.

As you may have noticed, this book is so frustrating and overwhelming and anxiety-inducing and depressing, depressing, depressing that it has left me totally scooped out and somber. Fifty gallons of bleach couldn't cleanse my brain of some of the imagery in this thing, and I'm not just talking about the actions of al-Qaeda. One of the most scandalizing things in the book for me was, actually, committed by the Egyptian government. But of course, it is all terrible. Everybody's terrible. I'm going to clear my throat and change the subject now.

Oh, after this last thought: Please vote. I know it feels futile and I totally understand the idea that doing so is morally reprehensible and validating the machine and all that, but watching my country's narrative edge its way closer and closer to some theocratic Handmaid's Tale shit like the Right is propagandistically prepping a patient for some illegal organ harvest (starting with the uterus) is just making me feel so helpless and hopeless and I have just this one measly thing to hold on to, that maybe we can get some people in office who, best case scenario, won't make this country and our world even shittier than it already is. Y'all seem pretty smurt. Help? ...more
2

Aug 13, 2010

You can be nerdy and geeky and boring about all manner of things, railway timetables, cricket, fine wine, Marvel comics, Beatles flipsides, the confectionary you used to scoff when you were little (ah the nostalgic sweetmeats of childhood, how much of a lump in your throat were they then and still are now), campy 70s sitcoms, Jean-Marie Straub movies, the best places to go backpacking in Andalucia, bootlegs of the Velvet Underground, and so on boringly and tediously.

Turns out you can be geeky You can be nerdy and geeky and boring about all manner of things, railway timetables, cricket, fine wine, Marvel comics, Beatles flipsides, the confectionary you used to scoff when you were little (ah the nostalgic sweetmeats of childhood, how much of a lump in your throat were they then and still are now), campy 70s sitcoms, Jean-Marie Straub movies, the best places to go backpacking in Andalucia, bootlegs of the Velvet Underground, and so on boringly and tediously.

Turns out you can be geeky and tedious about 9/11 too. But perhaps not too surprising, as 90% of this book is about that shadowy alphabet world of espionage, counter-espionage, counter-counter-espionage and lots of sweaty men trying to pluck the one shiny needle of truth from the haystack of rancid "intelligence" that the world of spy vs spy vs spy showers like golden rain bountifully, munificently, all over the place in this information-soaked fun-packed palace of stupefied over-eaters we call the western world. Three blind counter-terrorist agencies - see how they run - they all ran after the farmer's wife - which was a grave error as she knew very little about al-Qaeda, as it turned out, after some strenuous waterboarding.

Anyway, I couldn't hack it, it made me feel slightly ill. Too much stuff about two giant boys towns, one better dressed than the other one, but only slightly.

Dispiriting is not the word.

Disgusting may be.

This has been another bad-tempered rant from your friend Paul Bryant of Nottingham. He ought to know better, but he doesn't.

Thank you for your patience. ...more
5

Jul 22, 2015

Two themes run through the book. First is the development of radical Islamist movements particularly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan culminating in the formation of al-Queda. Included in the story are detailed accounts of the lives of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their ideological predecessor Sayyid Qutb. Second is the disjointed response of the CIA, FBI and national security apparatus in Washington to counter al-Queda and similar groups. American efforts are rendered Two themes run through the book. First is the development of radical Islamist movements particularly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan culminating in the formation of al-Queda. Included in the story are detailed accounts of the lives of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their ideological predecessor Sayyid Qutb. Second is the disjointed response of the CIA, FBI and national security apparatus in Washington to counter al-Queda and similar groups. American efforts are rendered ineffective by personality feuds, political infighting and protection of jurisdictional turf. As a case in point we get the personal story of John O’Neill, his love lives, and his abrupt off-putting and endearing behaviors that won allies and created enemies. O’Neill is a polarizing figure who the author feels had the right stuff to uncover the plot if left to his own devices. My take is he was the wrong man for the job, incapable of inducing cooperation and lacking the deftness to break through bureaucratic tangles.

The book is a compelling read. Wright sprinkles in personal details about the protagonists to keep the narrative eminently human. Between the machinations of the various terrorist groups and Washington agencies we are always finding out something about the private lives of O’Neill, bin Laden and his widely extended family, as well as the character shaping events in the lives of al-Zawahiri and Qutb. This personal touch and straight forward journalistic style make Wright’s history very accessible. But more important is the message, the shifting nature of terrorism, always morphing, always challenging established thought and practices and the total inadequacy of America’s institutions to keep pace short of a massive military response. Based on this account, America’s intelligence agencies were in need of deep reform and restructuring. Hopefully action has been taken to make America’s counter terrorism agencies work together effectively because, as we look around us fourteen years after 9-11, the need has never been greater.
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4

Jun 09, 2018

I have a morbid fascination with terrorism and the reasons people behind it do what they do, but I have always wanted to learn more about their motivations and the ties to religion. It's crucial in today's world that more of us have an understanding of why this is happening, especially with events such as 9/11. Religion, politics and foreign policy are all of interest to me, all three feature in "The Looming Tower" in a large way.

Make no mistake, this is a challenging read! It could be I have a morbid fascination with terrorism and the reasons people behind it do what they do, but I have always wanted to learn more about their motivations and the ties to religion. It's crucial in today's world that more of us have an understanding of why this is happening, especially with events such as 9/11. Religion, politics and foreign policy are all of interest to me, all three feature in "The Looming Tower" in a large way.

Make no mistake, this is a challenging read! It could be categorised as a "non-fiction thriller" as it is a compelling and information rich book. I also found it highly thought-provoking and an eye- opener, Lawrence Wright certainly knows his stuff. The writing is exquisite and immensely detailed from the word go. Wright has clearly done a lot of research on this topic

I had no idea that the book had been made into a TV series but I plan on watching it and seeing how it compares to this. It is a topic that more people should be interested in learning, as it does impact us all and will for the foreseeable future.

Many thanks to Penguin Books (UK) for an ARC. I was not required to post a review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. ...more
5

Jan 15, 2009

Thoroughly, painstakingly researched, extremely readable, well-written, riveting account of the genesis of al-Qaeda and some of the reasons why we failed to prevent 9/11 and their earlier attacks, by New Yorker contributor Wright. Long on narrative and short on analysis, although what analysis there is, is good and insightful. Wright used primary and secondary sources as well as personal interviews with hundreds of people. Where accounts differ, he explains in the endnotes that he chose one Thoroughly, painstakingly researched, extremely readable, well-written, riveting account of the genesis of al-Qaeda and some of the reasons why we failed to prevent 9/11 and their earlier attacks, by New Yorker contributor Wright. Long on narrative and short on analysis, although what analysis there is, is good and insightful. Wright used primary and secondary sources as well as personal interviews with hundreds of people. Where accounts differ, he explains in the endnotes that he chose one source's version over another source, though he doesn't always explain why.

The interesting tidbits are too many to note - Osama starting an a capella singing group as a youth; Osama's young sons, even in the decrepit conditions in Afghanistan, playing Nintendo; Osama's prettiest wife determined to stay in shape by jogging around the courtyard of their ramshackle abode. (In spite of these details, no, they really aren't a lot like us.) ...more
5

Aug 23, 2007

This book is really worth reading, even if you think you've had your fill of Al Queda, 9-11 et al. The histories of Bin Laden and Zawahiri are interesting and surprising, and this book really lays out how the CIA and FBI blew their chances to stop 9/11. If you're not already disgusted by them, this will get you there. Despite its depressing subject matter, the book is actually a pleasure to read, because the writing and story-telling are so good. This dude has knowledge!
5

Jul 26, 2019

If you are a citizen of the USA and young enough to remember 9/11 as it unfolded, this is something you'd be pretty much gobsmacked over. Holy smokes - read this thing! It is fascinating in an awful way.

Of course, this shocking book didn't just win the Pulitzer because that section of the population can relate. The layers of secrets that are peeled back and how these events were the escalation of other attacks are just the surface. If you work for a company, say, where maybe management makes If you are a citizen of the USA and young enough to remember 9/11 as it unfolded, this is something you'd be pretty much gobsmacked over. Holy smokes - read this thing! It is fascinating in an awful way.

Of course, this shocking book didn't just win the Pulitzer because that section of the population can relate. The layers of secrets that are peeled back and how these events were the escalation of other attacks are just the surface. If you work for a company, say, where maybe management makes stupid decisions based on information that comes from isolated areas, then you will see parallels in here.

There is one agency that is committed to unraveling knots, even if it takes a bit of time, and finding kingpins of various plots, then eliminating them. This government group is the kind who believes that when you chop off the head of the snake, the whole body (eventually) dies. A second group thinks that when it comes to fundamental religious terrorists, treating the entire body - head and tail - like a common criminal is the best way to go. Chop off the head, and the head becomes a revered martyr, a folk hero whose story (always embellished) will bring more little snakes into the den.

Now, I have zero experience in dealing with law enforcement or intelligence or espionage. But I can see both viewpoints having some merit. The problem comes when Group A and Group B have been at odds with each other for years. Instead of a pack approach to dealing with terrorism, the two ended up like competing hounds peeing on the same fire hydrant and allowing the quarry to scuttle away, repeatedly.

I've had a copy of this book forever and have even downloaded the audio from the library, but never got around to reading or listening. Since school is out for a few more weeks, hubby and I have been binge watching some TV series with our 16 year old... lazy pleasures. We watched the first episode against my wishes (I was bound and determined to read first, then watch). WOW. We could not stop watching.

The series has more up to date information than the book, but also combines various characters into a single "person" who embodies the attitudes or viewpoints of a small group of people. The effect creates a couple of distinct villains in the TV series and also drops a big chunk of blame at the feet of the administration who had only come into office a short while prior. Condoleeza Rice is briefly but badly skewered in the series, but it turns out that the Clinton administration was presented at least 8 shots at eliminating Bin Laden (they declined) while the Bush people were offered only one (they too declined). But we learn in the book and in the TV show that these "shots" would involve collateral damage. If you were the guy or gal in charge, how many dead civilians do you think are worth wiping out the head of a snake whose ultimate bad deeds we don't know and whose presence at the point of impact may or may not be guaranteed?

Fascinating book. If you cannot get to it, do watch the ten episode show. Incredible. ...more
5

Mar 18, 2018

This is my second or third Wright book and I’m convinced he might be one of our best historians currently working. Another phenomenal read. Truly sad stuff. Not just the topic. But to get a glimpse of how it all came about. From the horror and absurdity of religion and the extremists it breeds to the failure of bureaucracy to communicate and share data which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands of people. If you’ve ever wondered how something so twisted was allowed to happen or how someone’ This is my second or third Wright book and I’m convinced he might be one of our best historians currently working. Another phenomenal read. Truly sad stuff. Not just the topic. But to get a glimpse of how it all came about. From the horror and absurdity of religion and the extremists it breeds to the failure of bureaucracy to communicate and share data which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands of people. If you’ve ever wondered how something so twisted was allowed to happen or how someone’s mind becomes so warped they would carry out such a murder; it’s all laid out here. Recommended! ...more
3

Apr 07, 2014

Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower.

Such is from the Koran. Apparently, Mr. bin Laden quoted it a number of times. We know this from an interview -- or interrogation. Most of this book has a similar source. It obviously isn't scholarly,largely journalistic. Its thematic is a group of people who to survive had to avoid a paper trail. Last week I was reading an article in the LRB about the rise of Jihadism in Syria. The author of the piece cited Mr. Wright's book as Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower.

Such is from the Koran. Apparently, Mr. bin Laden quoted it a number of times. We know this from an interview -- or interrogation. Most of this book has a similar source. It obviously isn't scholarly,largely journalistic. Its thematic is a group of people who to survive had to avoid a paper trail. Last week I was reading an article in the LRB about the rise of Jihadism in Syria. The author of the piece cited Mr. Wright's book as the authoritative history of al-Qaeda. (BTW the fundamentalists were invited and encouraged by Al-Assad, who believed he could control them and their presence would destabilize US operations in Iraq). I wasn't yet primed to get off my ass and read the work. Laurence Wright himself was then on PBS Newshour late last week discussing his play about the Camp David Accords. That's it, I said, call me a mystic, it was written in the stars. I read Looming Tower essentially in 24 hours. It is not cumbersome prose. It is both grim and fascinating. That first element lingers as the conditions which fostered such are likely to stay.

I feel that The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East is the much more comprehensive work, though one concerned with the region less than the specific organization. ...more
5

Mar 30, 2013

This is a highly readable account of the events leading up to the 9/11 tragedy. It details the activities of it's masterminds and the status of the determined men and women in the US who were putting the pieces together. There is an impressive number of interviews with key players and informed bystanders. While this has been a well covered event, still, without Wright's diligence much of what he presents could have been lost to history.

I've recently read Steve Coll's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian This is a highly readable account of the events leading up to the 9/11 tragedy. It details the activities of it's masterminds and the status of the determined men and women in the US who were putting the pieces together. There is an impressive number of interviews with key players and informed bystanders. While this has been a well covered event, still, without Wright's diligence much of what he presents could have been lost to history.

I've recently read Steve Coll's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century which focuses on the leaders of the Bin Laden family and Osama, its black sheep. From that work I realized how on the run Bin Laden was and how the Saudi Royal family's power depends on the radical religious leaders. This book fleshes out Osama's life and his increasing radicalization and extent of Saudi money in support of the ideology that results in violence.

Wright humanizes the principle players and this draws you in. He describes Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri as friends and rivals, the basis for their differences and how they came to unite. Wright shows the waning fortunes of Bin Laden in his Sudan years as he loses his money and his access to the family. Bin Laden is shown to be an eclectic and lackluster businessman he had been leading a jihad that has trouble getting traction. Wright gives you insight on Hassen al Turabi and Mullah Omar and how troublesome their "guest" made their lives. Interestingly, we learn of the jihadi who changes his mind about suicide just before entering the Nairobi embassy.

Stateside, you learn about the personalities and rivalries of investigators, how they doggedly pursue clues despite little cooperation or support from above and about the Cole investigation and John O'Neill's (an almost made for TV character) treatment in both Yemen and in the US. The end, when key photographs are faxed to our ONE Arabic translator in Yemen, your heart almost breaks.

It's hard to put down this book. I highly recommend it. ...more
5

Sep 21, 2018

This book was very good and very interesting, but I want to do something different and do a double review. I like to read several books at a time and it just so happened that I read this book at the same time as I read the book "Bring the War Home" by Kathleen Belew and I was struck by how similar Al Qaeda was to the white power paramilitary in the US. There are obvious differences, but there are more similarities than you would expect. So here's what I observed of both movements:

1. Both are This book was very good and very interesting, but I want to do something different and do a double review. I like to read several books at a time and it just so happened that I read this book at the same time as I read the book "Bring the War Home" by Kathleen Belew and I was struck by how similar Al Qaeda was to the white power paramilitary in the US. There are obvious differences, but there are more similarities than you would expect. So here's what I observed of both movements:

1. Both are run by men who feel disaffected and feel like their society has lost its way. Al Qaeda resists the push of modernity on Islam and the white power groups resist the Civil Rights movements changes and feminism in the 60s.

2. Both movements believe in strict gender roles and view men as hyper masculine warriors whose sole job is to protect their women from being soiled. Both view women as pure virgins to be protected. BOTH movements take on polygamy and retreat from the world into their own highly armed home spaces. The women of both movements seem to be brainwashed into the rightness and holiness of the movement the men are running.

3. Both are ostensibly rooted in religion (Al Qaeda more so), but both are perversions of the mainstream religious movement. However, the Saudi Wahabbi's are much more fundamentalists than the right wing Christian movement. Both movements glamorize a past of violence sanctioned by God. The white power movement talks about the crusades and Al Qaeda about the Islamic Caliphate.

4. Both movements are ignored by the FBI until a major act of terrorism. Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma city building was not as devastating as 9/11, but it was not linked to the broader white power movement. The FBI did not take the Al Qaeda threat very seriously until it was too late. After 9/11, they shifted gears quickly and snuffed it out.

5. THE MAIN SIMILARITY, which was striking to me: BOTH of these groups were used, armed, and trained by the US Defense department or CIA during the 80s to fight communists. Not Al Qaeda because they weren't formed yet, but the Taliban and the Afghani Mujahedeen that Bin Laden uses were all formerly relied on by the US to beat back the communists in Afghanistan.

In the case of the white paramilitary, the movement started in Vietnam and when these vets came back, they formed civilian contra paramilitaries and the US either used their services or turned a blind eye as these men went into Nicaragua and other central American countries and used their military training to informally wage war on commies. They also tried to kill "commies" (aka Asian immigrants trying to fish in America).

6. Both movements started with a bunch of enemies and then both honed in on one: The US federal government.

7. Obviously, both groups blame everyone else for their own problems and filled with rage.

Al Qaeda is dead, but then there was ISIS and there will be more and more of these hate-filled extremists. We have to take the threat of these men and their ideas seriously and not rely just on the FBI to take them down, but also on the political systems in which both groups embedded themselves. Obviously, the US does a much better job at rooting out the violent psychos on our own soil and failed states in the middle east do not, but it's important for Americans to distinguish between the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and other Middle Eastern regimes that they don't like instead of lumping them all together. That's what gives rise to white hate groups here who think all people of color are commies. ...more
5

Mar 25, 2017

Informative. Exciting. Revelatory. Thought-provoking. Powerful. I could use a slew of words and phrases to describe The Looming Tower, but to no avail could I ever begin to satisfactorily convey to the proper extent exactly how magnificent this book was from start to finish.

The Looming Tower is unlike any other non-fiction book I have read thus far, for it read as though it were the work of one of literature's most prominent and accomplished storytellers of the same vein as F. Scott Fitzgerald Informative. Exciting. Revelatory. Thought-provoking. Powerful. I could use a slew of words and phrases to describe The Looming Tower, but to no avail could I ever begin to satisfactorily convey to the proper extent exactly how magnificent this book was from start to finish.

The Looming Tower is unlike any other non-fiction book I have read thus far, for it read as though it were the work of one of literature's most prominent and accomplished storytellers of the same vein as F. Scott Fitzgerald or Edith Wharton – not necessarily in terms of writing style, but rather in sheer narrative scope and power. I was wholly captivated in a story unlike any other thanks to Wright's stellar writing and storytelling abilities. The people in the book were fleshed out so well that, at times, I nearly forgot I was reading non-fiction. From bin Laden and the al-Qaeda operatives directly involved in the terror attacks, to John O'Neill and his fellow FBI agents dedicated to the prevention of such diabolical plots, every single person was written in a humanizing fashion to such a degree that I was able to fully understand how and why the attacks on September 11 took place, and furthermore why it was not prevented. Were it not for the refined writing that made these people seemingly jump right out of the page with every sentence, the effect of the book would have been entirely lost on me, and it would have read no differently than a textbook. Truly, Wright's engrossing narrative makes such a complex historical matter exhilarating even to those who are the most averse to American history as a subject.

Not only was this book written exceptionally well, but it was also expertly researched. The investigative effort on Wright's part deserves the highest praises, for it seems as though not a single minute detail had been omitted in the telling of this harrowing American tragedy. Anything remotely related to the September 11 attacks is covered in stunning detail, but not in an overwhelming fashion that tends to bore readers. Every substantive link to the attacks was discussed from the unassuming origin of the radical Islamic movement against the United States up until the days following the collapse of the Twin Towers and destruction of the Pentagon. Not a single major moment was overlooked, much to the benefit of this book's value. What I found to be truly commendable was how objectively the author was able to present these details to the reader, seeing as how 9/11 was both heartbreaking and infuriating for any American to have to recount without constantly recalling strong emotions of anger, hatred, scorn, or bitterness at each utterance of "al-Qaeda" or "bin Laden" (I know I would not have been able to hold my tongue so well). That is not to say that Wright in any way, shape, or form sympathized with the terrorists at any point in his book due to his lack of personal input. Rather, he presented the facts from both perspectives in an unbiased and professional manner, thus making his work much more credible in the process. Anybody could write a hate-piece directed against al-Qaeda and bin Laden for the evils they have committed, but it takes an especially skilled and disciplined writer to get people to see the bigger picture of this tragedy – unabated by our personal sentiments regarding that fateful day.

At no point in the book was I emotionally detached from what was going on. I experienced a litany of emotions in response to what I was reading. I felt rage. I felt heartbreak. I felt worry, anxiety, inspiration, and wonderment. Never did I feel indifferent or apathetic to the story being told. That once again speaks to how phenomenally written The Looming Tower is.

The attacks on 9/11 have always personally affected me, despite my being only five years old at the time it took place. The fact that one of my earliest memories is coming home from school to see my mom crying while watching the news is a testament to how impactful this tragedy has been to me. That is why I am so pleased that The Looming Tower was written with such dignity and respect. This fine book opted to be an honest and informative history lesson with heart rather than be a cold attempt at prying money out of the hands of patriotic Americans yearning for that ever-so elusive answer to the question of how and why we left ourselves vulnerable to such unspeakable atrocities. Lawrence Wright accomplishes something spectacular by delivering a definitive answer to that question without pandering to the lowest common denominator. This could easily have been a manipulative cash-grab that preyed on the patriotic Americans whom 9/11 personally affected, but thankfully The Looming Tower carried itself with dignity and poise the whole way through and did each American an invaluable service in the process.

With my highest approval, I recommend this book to everyone regardless of their reading preferences. In the age of widespread terrorism, The Looming Tower educates its readers on the origins of this global affront against the civilized world and also to the general theme of how deep seated hatred can breed catastrophe if left to fester for so long. The book's teachings feel just as relevant today, if not more so, than back in 2001. The Looming Tower should be required reading for every American so that the horrors of that fateful September morning will never be forgotten. ...more
5

Aug 29, 2011

On the morning of September 11, 2001, most Americans had never heard of Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. But they were very well known to the FBI, CIA, NSA and the White House. This book (which won the Pulitzer Prize) explains why.

"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright precisely details the individuals and events that lead (over the course of five decades) to September 11, 2001. The writing is crisp. The narrative is compelling. The historical context is vivid.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, most Americans had never heard of Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. But they were very well known to the FBI, CIA, NSA and the White House. This book (which won the Pulitzer Prize) explains why.

"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright precisely details the individuals and events that lead (over the course of five decades) to September 11, 2001. The writing is crisp. The narrative is compelling. The historical context is vivid.

Shortly after World War II ended the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism (and its bitter grievances against the United States) were sown. And in this history book (that reads like a novel) Lawrence Wright describes the ideas, people and developments that lead to the dramatic terrorist attacks.

Most readers are familiar with "the events" of September 11, 2001. But what lead up to that fateful day? Why did it happen? "The Looming Tower" answers these questions. And in doing so, it also explains:

Why Islamic fundamentalism grew rapidly during the second half of the 20th Century.

How the Muslim Brotherhood came to be. And why its ideas appealed to the majority of students in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Why Islamic extremists tried to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993. How the crime was solved. And how the perpetrators were indicted, arrested, tried and convicted.

How an Egyptian (Ayman al-Zawahiri) and a Saudi (Osama bin Laden) came to declare war on the United States during the 1990s. And how the U.S. Government failed to neutralize them.

How intelligence agencies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt repeatedly warned the United States of the growing threat of Al-Qaeda. And how the FBI, CIA and NSA failed to connect a blizzard of dots.

Why young, well educated, professional men repeatedly undertook suicide attacks on United States interests throughout Africa and the Middle East. And why the U.S. Government failed to adequately respond to the growing phenomena.

How the U.S. Government concluded in August 2001 that Osama bin Laden was intent on striking inside the United States. And how the U.S. Government failed to prevent the attack.

"The Looming Tower" is an important book. Any citizen interested in understanding what really happened to the United States on September 11, 2001 would benefit from reading it. "The Looming Tower" is a fascinating story that is very well written. But it is also disheartening.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, America was shocked by the crimes of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. But the FBI, CIA, NSA and White House were not. "The Looming Tower" explains why.
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5

Apr 08, 2011

Anyone who wants to really understand why 9/11 happened needs to read this book. From Sayyid Qutb, the exiled Egyptian intellectual who in the 50's instituted the idea that modernity and Islam were completely incompatible, to the horrible, petty rivalry between the CIA and FBI that prevented vital information from coming to light about the 9/11 plot until it was too late, The Looming Tower delivers a huge cast of characters, spans sixty years and virtually the entire world.

I’ve always wondered Anyone who wants to really understand why 9/11 happened needs to read this book. From Sayyid Qutb, the exiled Egyptian intellectual who in the 50's instituted the idea that modernity and Islam were completely incompatible, to the horrible, petty rivalry between the CIA and FBI that prevented vital information from coming to light about the 9/11 plot until it was too late, The Looming Tower delivers a huge cast of characters, spans sixty years and virtually the entire world.

I’ve always wondered what percentage of news coverage since 9/11 can be traced with that day and everything that lead up to it: Al-Qaeda, Iraq, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, suicide bombers, the Arab Spring. I’ve experienced each news thread in the same emotional arc that most Americans have--first with a sense of rage, then the sustained gloom that rises up with every new report of violence, then with jadedness--but always at a remove. We can never really know what the front lines of these extremisms are like unless we read books like The Looming Tower.

I can’t remember the last time I learned so much from a book. Granted, it took me awhile to read--and I had to put it down to read other stuff for a breather, like short stories. There’s a mind-boggling amount of information here, astoundingly researched and often reported with the narrative force of a novel. As Wright traces the roots of modern terrorism that gave birth to arguably the worst day in U.S. history, you’re bowled over by a truth that is otherwise glaringly obvious: modern jihad is simply a continuation of the Crusades, a war not so much against the U.S. as it is against Christians and Jews, who in the eyes of fundamentalists constantly threaten to impede Islam’s rightful domination of the world.

In a nutshell, this is the best kind of ripped-from-the-headlines nonfiction: your eyes have never been more wide open when you finish. ...more
5

Nov 15, 2012

This is a very readable account of the growth of Islamic militancy. This is given from the perspective of life in the Arab states and the different personalities involved. It starts with Sayyid Qutb’s visit to the United States in the late 1940’s and the subsequent publication of his books espousing fundamentalist Islam. This version of Islam hardly recognizes any of the social transformations that have taken place in the world in the last 1200 years (since the death of Mohammed). The author This is a very readable account of the growth of Islamic militancy. This is given from the perspective of life in the Arab states and the different personalities involved. It starts with Sayyid Qutb’s visit to the United States in the late 1940’s and the subsequent publication of his books espousing fundamentalist Islam. This version of Islam hardly recognizes any of the social transformations that have taken place in the world in the last 1200 years (since the death of Mohammed). The author then describes the life of Ayman al-Zawahiri (like Qutb an Egyptian) who also became an Islamist favouring a Sharia state. Lawrence Wright then moves on to Bin laden’s early life in Saudi Arabia and events there. Ayman al-Zawahiri came to influence Osama Bin Laden.

The level of violence in Egypt and Saudi Arabia between the government and religious groups is astounding. Both groups vie for power and control by any means necessary. Fundamentalist Islamists assassinated Anwar Sadat in broad daylight. After, predictably, thousands of Islamists were incarcerated. Violence spread and was justified by various interpretations of the Quran – for the killing of innocent people – children, women, apostates. These justifications later evolved to the glorification of suicide in killing people.

There is an attempt to blame the FBI and the CIA for being negligent in putting together the pieces of the puzzle that led to September 11/2001. Only a small minority within these two organizations were convinced of the dangers of Islamic militancy to the U.S. This aspect on the failures of U.S. intelligence seemed to be an afterthought when writing the book. Was it necessary to describe the girlfriends of John O’Neill?

But on all other fronts this is an excellent account of the growing turbulence in the Middle East and how it became global.
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3

May 30, 2018

My favorite part of this book was its opening pages about Sayyid Qutb's growing disillusionment with the West, even as he benefited from its educational system. Qutb is considered to have laid the foundations for the swing towards fundamentalism in Egypt, from which came bin Laden's cohort Ayman al-Zawahiri.

I think I am more interested in the philosophies that drive terrorism/recruitment for terror, than the politicking and strategy. So, despite the wealth of information in this book and the My favorite part of this book was its opening pages about Sayyid Qutb's growing disillusionment with the West, even as he benefited from its educational system. Qutb is considered to have laid the foundations for the swing towards fundamentalism in Egypt, from which came bin Laden's cohort Ayman al-Zawahiri.

I think I am more interested in the philosophies that drive terrorism/recruitment for terror, than the politicking and strategy. So, despite the wealth of information in this book and the massive scope of the research Lawrence Wright had to compile to put it together, I wanted this book to be something different than the historical play by play that it was. I also was very interested in bin Laden's origins - mostly because of what they indicate about his motives - but once he fully committed to waging jihad on the West at his turning point in Sudan post Afghanistan battle glory, my interest dropped off a bit.

If you are interested in the history of the formation of Al Qaeda and all of Al Qaeda's actions as a growing terror cell leading up to 9/11, you would probably enjoy this book thoroughly. It is very painful to read from hindsight, knowing that if bin Laden would have died as he nearly did in Afghanistan, or if the CIA would have shared information with the FBI, 9/11 probably would never have happened at all. ...more
4

Feb 04, 2015

Compelling narrative but a painful read, particularly when it comes to the failure of US intelligence agencies to act on the information they had leading up to 9/11. Bureaucratic red tape and intelligence failures are one thing, but Wright draws harsh causal lines between ego-driven refusals to provide information and god I can't even think about it. The CIA comes off with especially unclean hands; there’s a palpable scene on 9/12 where Soufan (the only Arabic-speaking FBI agent in the late 90s, Compelling narrative but a painful read, particularly when it comes to the failure of US intelligence agencies to act on the information they had leading up to 9/11. Bureaucratic red tape and intelligence failures are one thing, but Wright draws harsh causal lines between ego-driven refusals to provide information and god I can't even think about it. The CIA comes off with especially unclean hands; there’s a palpable scene on 9/12 where Soufan (the only Arabic-speaking FBI agent in the late 90s, which alone is bonkers) finally gets the information he’d been hounding the CIA for, namely that the CIA had long known two of the hijackers were in the U.S., and he has to run to the bathroom to throw up.

The biographical studies are interesting, bin Laden most of all. It’s jarring that he comes off as a dreamer with a modest celebrity cache, but who was also manipulated out of his wealth, shuffled around into the custody of whichever country would take him, and not a strategos by any means. There’s even an element of naiveté there, particularly in his belief that bringing down the towers would cause the United States literally to end. On the other hand, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed gets minimal treatment in the book, which is sort of surprising but also not, given bin Laden's mythology in the U.S.

It’s also interesting to look at our own pre-9/11 naiveté again. I can’t imagine un-knowing something like that, but we can wish something didn’t happen without wishing ourselves back into that kind of vulnerability. ...more
5

Mar 16, 2019

I enjoyed the TV show based on this book and thought I'd give it a shot, even though I normally don't read nonfiction. It was awarded the Pulitzer prize so I knew it would be good, but I didn't know it would grab me as much as it did. I LOVED it. I hadn't felt so excited about reading in a long time. I don't know if it's the subject matter or the author, but it was just fascinating, super informative, and flowed so effortlessly. The tv show covers maybe one chapter, relating to the FBI and CIA, I enjoyed the TV show based on this book and thought I'd give it a shot, even though I normally don't read nonfiction. It was awarded the Pulitzer prize so I knew it would be good, but I didn't know it would grab me as much as it did. I LOVED it. I hadn't felt so excited about reading in a long time. I don't know if it's the subject matter or the author, but it was just fascinating, super informative, and flowed so effortlessly. The tv show covers maybe one chapter, relating to the FBI and CIA, while the book mainly focuses on the background of al-Qaeda. I've been googling so many terror related references that I must be in some watchlist by now. Super recommended. ...more
4

Apr 05, 2018

Al-Qaeda had aimed its attacks at America, but it struck at all humanity
Originally published in 2007 with a 2011 afterword in this edition, it’s clear to see why Wright won a Pulitzer: not just is this a huge undertaking but it manages to build in nuance and complexity rather than over-simplifying. The road to 9/11 is a very long one in this book, starting just after WW2 and inflected by world events including the foundation of the State of Israel, the Civil Rights movement in the US, the Al-Qaeda had aimed its attacks at America, but it struck at all humanity
Originally published in 2007 with a 2011 afterword in this edition, it’s clear to see why Wright won a Pulitzer: not just is this a huge undertaking but it manages to build in nuance and complexity rather than over-simplifying. The road to 9/11 is a very long one in this book, starting just after WW2 and inflected by world events including the foundation of the State of Israel, the Civil Rights movement in the US, the Soviet failed war in Afghanistan, and the oil boom and bust which transformed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Despite the vast swathe of names, of ideologies and theological positions, of feuding and allying radical Islamist groups, Wright manages to tell his story with clarity and flair. He draws out, without overplaying, the strange parallels at times between the US and Islamic fundamentalism, and refuses to write out the way America has allied itself, at times, with the forces which later coalesced into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He is fairly attentive, too, to the stated unease and dissension even within and between radical groups, especially with regard to acts of violence and terrorism.

The current TV series based on this book is far lighter, turning much of the research into a fairly conventional spy story, and especially skims over the various Arab groups with different ideologies, religious interpretations and visions, and national vs. pan-national political agendas which are detailed here. If you’ve ever wondered about the relationships between Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and others, then this is certainly worth picking up.

The style is journalistic rather than academic so while there are extensive references in an appendix they’re difficult to match up with the text – not a problem for a general reader but worth being aware of.

The world has certainly moved on since this was written and even since the 2011 afterword which is cautiously optimistic but which was written before the conflagration of Syria. All the same, for anyone struggling to make sense of world politics today this is accessible and knowledgeable, while also being a gripping read.

Thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley ...more

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