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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Would give this book 10 stars if I could, October 5, 2011
This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
(REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED ON AMAZON UK 30 SEPTEMBER 2011)

Jason Burke has written an excellent account not of the War on Terror but of the 9/11 wars, the wars mainly fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan but by no means confined to these places, wars which in his reckoning have claimed 250,000 lives over the past decade.

The first part of the book deals with the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the attack on Afghanistan and the swift eviction of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Part 2 covers the invasion of Iraq and the slide of the country into civil war. Part 3 turns to Europe in 2005-06, with bombs exploding in London and Madrid and Muslim youths rioting in French cities. Part 4 deals with the Iraq insurgency, while Part 5 covers Pakistan and Afghanistan (again). Part 6 concludes with a survey of the principal theatres of the 9/11 wars and what the future might hold.

Burke rejects the 'clash of civilisations' interpretation of these wars. But having said that, they were still ideological wars. George Bush Jnr. and Tony Blair defined the issues in Manicheistic terms, every bit as much as their opponents did. The disastrous consequences of this thinking were of course realised in Iraq: Iraqis were glad to see the back of Saddam, but this didn't mean they wanted democracy imposed on them at gunpoint. The occupiers failed to appreciate the depth of wounded pride an occupation would entail.

Refracting complex local situations through the lens of counter-terrorism produced further negative consequences. Burke presents overwhelming and damning evidence that the massive use of torture and incommunicado detention sanctioned by the US and indulged by the UK (of which Guantanamo Bay was merely the tip of the iceberg)simply ended up making new enemies of those who might otherwise been supportive, or at the very least neutral. As one Afghan elder, detained for two years in Guantanamo Bay on false charges of being a senior Taliban commander remarked, to inflict an injustice on him was to inflict it on his extended male kin networks - all 300 of them.

The so-called surge in Iraq in 2007 marked a shift not just in tactics but in ideology, a `cultural turn' as Burke puts it: the Americans came to accept a Shia-dominated sectarian democracy, aligned with Iran, in the interests of stability. Iraq now enjoys a fragile, `ugly peace.' To achieve this meant the US and the UK abandoning ambitions to refashion Iraq on the lines of a free market democracy. The country is by no means out of the woods yet - sectarianism runs deep, the embers of an Islamist insurgency still smoulder, infrastructure remains dilapidated.

However, Al-Qaeda's alternative, a messianic vision of a globalised Islam, of a return to a mythical golden age, deracinated from Islam's multiple local understandings and accretions, fared no better. The dream of a pan-Islamic unity, transcending all other identities such as tribe, race, nation and class has failed. Indeed Burke notes the resilience of ` artificial' nation-states like Iraq and Pakistan, the citizens of which still wish to live under the same roof, even when they are killing one another (one notes that the case was the same with Libya. Both sides claimed to be fighting to unite Libya. Partition was a `solution' enthusiastically espoused by Westerners, not Libyans). There is no widespread longing to return to a golden age of a united Ummah.

Radical Islamists authored their own failure: in demanding ever more exacting standards of pious purity, they slaughtered fellow believers whom they considered insufficiently devout. Bombings by Islamists claimed the lives of the faithful in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other places, turning popular opinion against the Jihadists, to the detriment of the global aims of Al-Qaeda.

A representative example of this was the Jordanian-born sadistic thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , Al-Qaeda's leading man in Iraq: initially aligned with anti-American insurgents, he and his men's growing insistence on subordinating the local, national aims of the insurgency to pan-Islamic ones, their strictures against smoking, watching Egyptian soap operas, and trying it on with local women, led to open conflict between Iraqi nationalists and foreign Jihadists, a conflict that the latter were bound to lose. Al-Zarqawi himself died in an American air strike. If Al-Qaeda could not establish itself in the chaos and mayhem of Iraq, it wasn't going to establish itself anywhere.

Meanwhile, the riots of French Muslim youths in 2005 did not herald the beginning of a dreaded European Intifada, but was an expression of a local French difficulty, albeit a very serious one. The defining issue was not the global Jihad, but the shortfall between ideal and reality in French notions of citizenship. Talk of Europe being swamped by Muslims is hype: Muslim birth rates are falling in line with native birth rates.

Does this mean we can breathe easily, then? Well, not quite. Afghanistan continues its descent into chaos. The West does not have the means nor the will to stamp out a renascent Pashtun Taliban insurgency, feared and loathed by other groups in the country. The future is anything but bright. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, lurches from crisis to crisis, and plays a double game with militants in Afghanistan and its own Wild West, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (which gets a whole chapter in the book, entitled tellingly `Another Country'). There is little evidence that the rise of a middle class in the country correlates with greater acceptance of secular, liberal values. The same can be said for much of the Islamic world. Even though Al-Qaeda as an organisation is a spent force, it is still capable of franchising its `brand' among groups or individuals, disaffected and difficult to detect. This does not mean that they pose an existential threat to the very survival of democratic society but the threat of fresh outrages is a hazard we are going to have to live with indefinitely.

The book covers a lot of ground, and unpicks a variety of issues with great dexterity. I came away with some of my own assumptions challenged and no doubt you will likewise, if you choose to read it. For instance, I had assumed the Pakistani Madrasas provided much of the Taliban's cannon fodder. This is too simple. While many of these schools provide a hideously bigoted and distorted version of education, many Pakistani militants are likely to have been educated in government schools (pp. 347-349). Likewise, I learned that the CIA did not fund Bin Laden or `create' Al-Qaeda as is often claimed: the foundation of Al-Qaeda was not the result of American intervention in any way (p.20).

When it's noted that a book is written by a journalist, the observation is frequently derogatory. Jason Burke is of course a journalist but this is not the work of a hack with an axe to grind. He dispenses with the ideological platitudes of both right and left. If you are looking for a denunciation of `Islamophobia' or' Islamofascism', or confirmation of your favourite conspiracy theory, you will not find it here. Instead he has written a first-class empirical analysis, based on immersion in both primary sources and secondary literature, on numerous interviews with academics, diplomats, insurgents, police, soldiers, spies and (failed) suicide bombers, and on first-hand experience of many of the events about which he is writing, which adds additional authority. All other books written by the `hacks' are left in the shade by Burke. They shouldn't write or speak another word about the 9/11 wars until they have read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the full picture, January 14, 2012
This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
This book is mainly about the muslim side of the story, ie: the view from the people living in the countries where most of the conflict was taking place and it is rooted in a description of how their societies were evolving before and after 9/11. As such it is a welcome counterbalance to the analysis of western policy and the mistakes made which has been quite thoroughly-covered by others. It takes you through the decade chronologically, moving between the main countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) with detours to Western europe. Although not knowing any of the countries, I think the author struggles more to understand Pakistan than the other countries, which may reflect that it is in some ways easier to write about situations of armed conflict and invasion than it is about a country which is evolving within a self-determined and quasi-democratic process. The book is a portrait of a complexity which Western strategists and journalists have sought to simplify to black and white and there is an ironic element in the title's reference to the defining event.There is an element of polemic to the author's perspective and there are points where it is hard to credit the degree of naivety that is attributed to western policy makers. This occasionally leaves you feeling there is probably more to a particular story than is presented here. Those caveats aside it is a very well-researched and fascinating read, with a great balance of analysis and illustrations and anecdotes drawn from the author's own experiences. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force from Jason Burke, October 27, 2011
By 
Rp125 (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
This book has a valuable premise - a review of the conflicts and casualties caused by the us vs militant Islam wars in the ten years since 9/11. As a reader with only a very basic understanding of iraq, Pakistan and afghanistan, and of Islam in general, I found this pitched at a good level, lots of detail, compelling narrative, dense but accessible. I am sure many people would disagree with the author on minor or major points but his theses and hypotheses seem pretty interesting and compelling to a non expert. The first hand experience he has and the wide range of secondary sources he uses lend weight to his findings. I feel like I know about a hundred times more about the conflicts than I did before reading the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burke's brilliant essay is a deep, complex, intelligent tour-de-force, August 12, 2012
This review is from: The 9 (Hardcover)
Jason Burke is a New Delhi-based investigative journalist respected for his long record of insightful analysis into the complex 30-year modern history of global Islamic militancy. He has been a regular correspondent for `The Guardian' and `Observer' newspapers and has several previous books to his name including `Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam' published in 2004.

`The 9/11 Wars' (pub 09/2011) is a tour-de-force of investigative writing on the subject probably unequalled for thoroughness and original insight. In this somewhat intimidating 500-page tome, Burke weaves together recurrent themes from disparate long-running conflicts in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa to clear the waters of the mud of common misunderstandings about the Islamic world, its simmering internecine wars and how it sees itself. His primary focus is Iraq, Afghanistan and (especially) Pakistan but he also addresses the issue of Europe's sizeable 2nd and 3rd generation Moslem communities; how tradition and modernity are reconciled and how acts of terrorism towards fellow citizen-neighbours in their host communities by a radicalised minority come to be tolerated and justified, taking in the Danish newspaper cartoons controversy, the bombings in Madrid and London, the widespread riots in France in 2005 and the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2nd September 2004 by Islamic militant Mohammed Bouyeri (having shot van Gogh eight times at point-blank range, Bouyeri tried to sever his victim's head with a knife as his body lay in a public street).

Burke is no armchair theorist. He personally interviews primary sources whether Taliban tribal leaders, US generals serving in Iraq, displaced refugees in northern Pakistan, failed suicide bombers in Jordan, disillusioned former European jihadists openly revealing their resentment at being used as `cannon fodder' by Al Qaida in Iraq, or the personal motivations of the late Benazir Bhutto. Revealing vignettes and personal stories a-plenty from Kabul, Kandahar, Baghdad and Karachi bring the narrative to life.

Burke demonstrates the disastrous consequences, both for the troops on the ground and for the local populations, of US-led western policies framing the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of `liberation', `bringing democracy' and the `clash-of-civilizations' narrative - this latter straight from the textbook of the Salafi world-view expounded by Mullah Mohammed Omar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden. The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq might have been much easier, even `successful', if only a more enlightened and co-operative approach had been taken, if there had been clear mission objectives and a viable long-term plan. The appalling prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and other detention centres all over the region helped turn a welcoming, or at least neutral population against the occupiers and made the occupations incomparably more bloody than they might have been. The Hamid Karzai-led government in Kabul Burke found to be widely reviled by the rural population as corrupt, ineffectual, immoral, kleptocratic - and supported by the west. The Taliban by contrast are widely seen to bring consistency, social order and swift justice which, in simple terms, villagers value. `Democracy' is widely seen as a cover for decadence and sexual licence, for a hated secularism, for the imposition of western values and commercial interests and a kind of cultural imperialism. Has PNAC run up a blind alley?

The long chapters on Pakistan reveal a land pulled apart by competing forces, as Burke paints a sombre portrait of "the most dangerous country on Earth." A detailed survey of the social, religious and political attitudes of university students in Islamabad is a real revelation, as is a section on the ungovernable and violent FATA tribal areas in the north. The paranoid attitudes towards India common in Pakistan feed the schizophrenic confrontation/indulgence of the ISI & Pakistani Army to the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban; essentially the Taliban are revealed as a client project of the ISI, supported financially, militarily and politically as a bulwark against potentially hostile neighbours.

One of the most insightful themes examined by the author is how the tension between global and local perspectives among the militants has played out. In the areas of Iraq around Falluja for example, the forces of the radical Jordanian cleric Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were ultimately defeated by local Iraqi sentiment. Former Baathist Sunni militias eventually chose to side with the American military to expel foreign Islamic jihadists who had outstayed any lukewarm welcome they may have initially enjoyed by alienating the local populace with their brutal, insensitive and murderous activities. Burke's detailed examination of these often obscure and complex dynamics bring new and deeper insights, and reveal most analyses from other sources to be shallow and lightweight in comparison.

The book touches on the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in Abbottabad in May 2011 - largely welcomed throughout the Islamic world - and likely consequences of the first wave of `Arab Spring' uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya where, as in Iraq, extremist Islamist militancy in each case tried and failed to gain any real traction with the local populace, and was comprehensively defeated in Algeria by populist sentiment.

Overall this is a superb piece of work: detailed, intelligent, knowledgeable, fascinating, surprising - if not exactly light reading. Proofreading is exemplary and the writing style literate and academic, if occasionally a bit dry. There are two sections of pertinent full-colour plates to support the narrative. The only slight criticism might be that the book has the wrong title, in that the September 11th attacks play no direct part in Burke's narrative, though the author constantly refers to these global conflicts as `The 9/11 Wars.' Rather, the wider conflicts and historical context frame the discourse. Burke demonstrates the deaths by violence in Islamist-inspired wars in the past 30 years - beginning with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 up to the epidemic of suicide bombings in Pakistan in recent years - exceed as a conservative estimate 250,000 people, i.e. 100x the death-toll in the 9/11 attacks which therefore pale to insignificance when compared to 30 years of global mayhem. The vast majority of fatalities in recent years result from suicide bombings and IEDs.

Burke suggests that ultimately the global violent-jihadi project has failed and is unlikely to gain further traction, though evidence suggests the violence will subside only slowly, where and when local populations turn against it. He further postulates that these areas of the world look unlikely to become clones of western commercial and economic practice, as one might claim has happened in Japan, South Korea and China and also much of Latin America.

The 160+ pages of notes and bibliography are so extensive as to be in themselves a treasure-trove of information additional to the narrative of the main essay. If a book ever deserved six stars, Burke's truly excellent `The 9/11 Wars' would qualify unconditionally.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Piece of Historical Writing, November 6, 2011
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This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
The Definitive History of the Early 21st Century

It is the first time in a long time that I am sad I finished reading this book. Jason Burke has written the definitive history for the early decade of the 21st Century, a book whose appearance is long overdue. With Bin Laden's death, the author has chosen a propitious time to release the book, for the first part of this (sadly) continuing story has concluded with more (unfortunately) to occur.

The author begins at the beginning. In March 2001, the Taliban desecrated the giant Buddha statutes in Afghanistan, an act which horrified and dismayed the world. The author begins his narrative from there, proceeding to 9/11 itself, the initially bombing incursions in Afghanistan, backtracks with the Gulf Wars, proceeds to the Iraq invasion, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and chronicles the military savagery that followed until the death of Bin Laden.

After that disarming period of complacency following 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq, the dogs of war were literally released and tormented the world. Its all here. The author reminds us several times that the "9/11Wars" actually consisted of, of course, the Iraq invasion, but local rivalries, inter-tribal conflict, armed struggles between militant groups.

The author warns the reader that he makes no pretense to represent he is presenting an objective narrative. This history is written with a certain perspective, as are all histories necessarily are, but that perspective is not overbearing and does not detract from the simple narration of events. There is plenty of blame to be passed around, and he distributes this blame as evenhandedly as possible under the circumstances. There are even those rare occasions where the author assigns mistakes and blame to the real victims in this sad saga -- the civilian population of the Middle East. One notable example possibly could be found when recounting the story of how the battle of Majjar al-Kabir. Another example would be that figure so thoroughly demonized by the Western world, Saddam Hussain. The author implies that the war in Iraq could have possibly been avoided if Hussain had been forthright in disclosing whether or not he had WMD to the UN inspectors. The author states that he did not based on his mistaken calculation that if he did he would have looked weak before the many ethnic and political factions which comprise Iraq and the area surrounding Iraq. Obviously, had he not miscalculated and complied with the UN inspectors, the invasion of Iraq quite possibly would not have occurred because the Western powers would not have had that pretext of invading the country.

The book is valuable for readers in the United States because the information obtained from "embedded" journalists are immediately suspect and indirectly unreliable. One notable example are the reports that emerged after the initial incursion into Afghanistan, where the US, news media related that Bin Laden's caves were an elaborate system of underground passageways containing a cache of weapons. In reality, when Bin Laden fled Afghanistan, US forces found that he and the militants lived in primitive, simple caves containing tins and tins of baby food. Oh, and no weapons. Revelations such as this abound in the book. In a display of the evenhanded nature of the research, the author revealed that the US in fact did not directly fund or create the Taliban. CIA funds went directly to the ISI the Pakistani security forces, who funneled the funds to the Taliban.

The most valuable feature of this book that it presents context. The author just doesn't chronicle a series of events, but he presents those events within their historical perspective, and gives an explanation of how the Middle East arrived at the position where the very fabric of the societies could be torn apart by hostilities and animosities, but gives a journalist's perspective of where the conflicts might be going.

My one disappointment is that this book only comes out apparently in paperback. Once purchased, this book could and will be read over and over again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best and most up to date, November 4, 2011
By 
Roger Green (Brighton, ON Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
The two previous reviews have it right - it's too bad we're limited to 5 stars. It's in the tradition of his previous books, and up to date when published - Sept 2011. How he included the recent Arab Spring events baffles me. He must have added material in the galley proofs stage and had a very sympathetic publisher. This is "on the ground" stuff - he is an experienced long-time reporter for the Independent and the Guardian. This is the book to read to understand what has been and is going on. The Economist wrote a very favorable review in its Sept 3 2011 issue [...]
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5.0 out of 5 stars In one word... wow!, March 15, 2014
This review is from: The 9 (Hardcover)
In one word - wow!

Jason Burke's book is an amazing compilation of facts that led up to and integrated into the War on Terror. Being a former journalist, Jason is able to go places where the regular author isn't and his volumes of facts and personalities is just mind-blowing. I picked this book up at the airport as research for a fictional novel that I am working on and found myself highlighting sections of information that I had heard in rumors and newspaper stories. He has brought a great deal of detail to each of his encounters and expanded the background so that the reader is better able to understand what went wrong and why.

This is an must read for anyone who wants to understand the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and why neither has delivered the results that were expected.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful study of diverse wars, January 16, 2012
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
In this book, journalist Jason Burke tries to cover the last ten years of diverse wars, especially looking at Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. His coverage of Pakistan is particularly good, but on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jonathan Steele's books are better. Burke's title is silly - these wars had little or nothing to do with 9/11.

He notes the UN's sanctions `war' against the Iraqi people. He points out that the lies about WMD were often told as a result of tortures inflicted at the CIA's request, often with MI5 connivance. He notes the CIA's `extensive programme of kidnapping suspects overseas, illegal detention, collusion and direct participation in torture'. In 2010, 17 people were still being killed every day in Iraq, making it the world's worst place for terrorism.

From the start of the war on Afghanistan, US bombing killed civilians, 214 in December 2001 alone. The war in Afghanistan has lost public support. Burke sums up: "The constant bad news, the growing casualties, the apparent complexity of the conflict, the disaster of the elections, the fact that al-Qaeda had not successfully attacked anywhere outside the Middle East or Maghreb for several years and was based, as far as anyone could tell, not in Afghanistan at all but in neighbouring Pakistan all combined to further undermine any remaining support for the war in the West." Also, US military spending in Afghanistan is $10 billion a month.

Between 2007 and 2009, $3 billion, much of it aid money, was flown out of Kabul to tax havens. In October 2009, Afghanistan's then vice-president flew into Dubai with $52 million in cash.

The Taliban lie that the West is trying to destroy Islam. The reactionary mirror-image is that Islam is trying to destroy the West. Likewise, Osama bin Laden's globalised pan-Islamism is a mirror-image of globalised capitalism. But both are in decline. Nationalism, and therefore class thinking, are on the rise.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb Account of Its Complex Subject, but Do Yourself a Favour by Reading This in an Hardback Edition!, September 29, 2012
By 
Gerald Parker "Gerald Parker" (Rouyn-Noranda, QC., Dominion of Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The 9/11 Wars (Paperback)
Jason Burke`s "9/11 Wars" is as near-absolutely superb and definitive as any study of such recent and controversial history (experienced directly on site) can be. However, rather than to discuss the content of this book, which some other users on Amazon`s U.S. and on other Amazon national WWW sties have done quite well, here these comments limit themselves, for now, to dissuading most readers from acquiring this grand and massive work in its paperback form. This an example of an exceedingly important work for which its inappropriate reification as a physical object is a crippling handicap. As received, its ISBN and the extent of the book`s pagination differs quite considerably from what the Amazon Canada description indicates. The real pagination of the volume (in the Penguin Books "Allen Lane" line) for this trade paperback edition (ISBN 978-1-846-14517-9), as the publisher prints it upon the pages of the volume that this user received, is: xi, 709 p., excluding the unpaginated illustrations, thus considerably more extensive than the estmated pagination (at a wildly inaccurate toll of merely "500 pages") in the Amazon entry for the book.

Unless one is going to read Burke`s study seated at a desk or in an armchair, the book simply is unmanageable. The notes alone are extraordinary for amplitude as well as for their quality and pertinence, but with so many of them referenced per page, it is an ordeal to keep turning back and forth from text to references several times each page. (An high proportion of the references are substantive, not purely bibliographical in nature, making them all the more essential to read.) One, really, has to hold the book in BOTH hands at ALL times (unless one is a mutant with an extra limb who can hold it in THREE hands simultaneously!) while reading it.

If that is how one reads all (or most) of the time, it can be done. In a library, of course, one would sit holding the book with both hands, at a armchair or, much better, on a chair before a desk or table top. However, to prop up this humongous paperback edition and to negotiate its great girth in any other position or manner, is arduous and discouraging. Hard covers, on the other hand, even with a glue binding, facilitate using Jason Burke`s book, despite the fact that what serves to bind the pages between those hard covers, as also in the work`s paperback edition, is merely the tough glue adhesive holding the book`s pages together. Stitched thread signatures (groups) of pages sewn to each other, by contrast, would have resulted in greater flexibility to lay the book open flat. At any rate, the rigid covers of the hardback edition are strong enough to bear the pressure of a bookstand grasping or fastening the book at each end while the reader is busy thrashing away, flapping back and forth through its pages fore and aft; with lighter paperback covers, by contrast, one quickly can demolish the book while handling it during reading.

The print-type is so small that both text and notes are difficult for all but young, maximally functioning reader`s eyes to take in with any ease. Howeverer if the print had been any larger, of course, the book would have been even bulkier than it already is. This may be a book which could have profited either from use of even thinner paper (e.g., "onion-skin" paper of the type often used in fine quality Bibles), to reduce the volume`s bulk, or from publishing in two tomes rather than in a single volume.

The work`s content is Amazon 5-stars all the way, four of them here only due to the unmanageable paperback format. The writing is vivid, the perspectives, whether "close-up" vignettes or more "wide-scope" reportage of what takes place as the author recounts it, in both cases resolutely grip the reader`s attention. Get the book, but obtain it in hardback (as this reader has done, reluctantly and ruefully, after having purchased the paperback edition), despite its much greater cost!
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The 9/11 Wars
The 9/11 Wars by Jason Burke (Paperback - September 21, 2011)
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