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The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century Hardcover – April 1, 2008

62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The bin Ladens are famous for spawning the world's foremost terrorist and building one of the Middle East's foremost corporate dynasties. Pulitzer Prize–winner Coll (Ghost Wars) delivers a sprawling history of the multifaceted clan, paying special attention to its two most emblematic members. Patriarch Mohamed's eldest son, Salem, was a caricature of the self-indulgent plutocrat: a flamboyant jet-setter dependent on the Saudi monarchy, obsessed with all things motorized (he died crashing his plane after a day's joy-riding atop motorcycle and dune-buggy) and forever tormenting his entourage with off-key karaoke. Coll presents quite a contrast with an unusually nuanced profile of Salem's half-brother Osama, a shy, austere, devout man who nonetheless shares Salem's egomania. Other bin Ladens crowd Coll's narrative with the eye-glazing details of their murky business deals, messy divorces and ill-advised perfume lines and pop CDs. Beneath the clutter one discerns an engrossing portrait of a family torn between tradition and modernity, conformism and self-actualization, and desperately in search of its soul. (April 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The sprawling and immensely wealthy Bin Laden family has a past and present far more complex and interesting than that of one middle-aged man holed up in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coll, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a staff writer for the New Yorker, has written an impressive family saga that spans three generations and four continents and intersects with some of the key events of the last century. Osama is, of course, part of this story, but he isn’t necessarily the most interesting or even the most important family member. Coll begins with an examination of the life and career of the family patriarch, Mohamed, who was born in poverty in southern Yemen, where he toiled in menial jobs. As a teenager, he immigrated to the port city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. His cleverness and ambition meshed perfectly with the building boom fueled by the oil revenues of the Saudi royal family. Before his death in 1967, Mohamed had fathered more than 50 children by various wives, and Coll offers portraits of some of them. He effectively shows how the creation of the Bin Laden family fortune was, and continues to be, tightly bound to the fate of the Saudi royal family. This is a well-done, sweeping chronicle of a clan that continues to exert worldwide power and influence. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 671 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201641
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201646
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steve Coll is a writer for The New Yorker and author of the Pulitzer Prize- winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. He is president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he served, for more than twenty years, as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and ultimately as managing editor of The Washington Post. He is also the author of On the Grand Trunk Road, The Deal of the Century, and The Taking of Getty Oil. Coll received a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism and the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for outstanding international print reporting and the 2000 Overseas Press Club Award for best magazine reporting from abroad. Ghost Wars, published in 2004, received the Pulitzer for general nonfiction and the Arthur Ross award for the best book on international affairs.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
... is Steve Coll. I've experienced the shortcomings of the other kind, and duly criticized them. So it is all the more important to recognize and praise a job very well done. Coll conducted voluminous and meticulous research. He interviewed not only members of the Bin Laden family, but their Arab and Western associates. He put "shoe leather to the pavement," traveling as far as the Bin Laden's ancestral home in the Haudramaut, in the Yemen, even noting that Freya Stark had been there before him, in the `30's. He also researched the public records of divorce cases involving the Bin Laden's, as well as their public financial transactions, concerning houses and companies. As must still be urged of all students in journalism school, he would seek out at least two sources to confirm an event. If he couldn't find them, he'd attribute the story to one person, usually identified. Mainly, he eschewed speculation. Simple principles of good journalism, coupled with much hard work, focused on one of the more compelling families of our age.

I shuttered when I saw the book's length--almost 600 pages. This is a LOT more than I think I will ever need to know. But I was wrong, for among other reasons, it is a book about much more than this one family. I realized that Coll emulated another great journalist, Neil Sheehan, who told the story of the Vietnam War through a principal actor, John Paul Vann. Like Sheehan's book, "A Bright Shining Lie," Coll's is immensely readable; he could have easily gone on for another 400 pages. The book is written for Americans, and part of his skill is to find an American analogy to explain an Arabian event / concept.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Steven Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When one thinks of Bin Laden, of course, one thinks of Osama, Al Qaeda, and 9-11. However, this book looks at a fascinating family history, with Osama Bin Laden as only one small part of the larger familial tapestry. A genealogy at the front of the book helps to identify the family's background, from Ali (circa 1820) to Aboud, to Awadh (born around 1875) to Mohamed (born around 1905) and Abdullah, brothers who came to bring the family wealth and recognition. Finally, the 54 children of Mohamed Bin Laden, born in the time frame from the mid-1940s through 1967.

Mohamed and his brother grew up in Yemen, in poor circumstances. They suffered bad luck. Finally, they moved to Saudi Arabia and began to become more successful. Mohamed, especially, was the brother with more drive, and the story of the family takes off with the depiction of his worming his way into the royal family's graces by his hard work and willingness to do as he was bid. A "rags to riches" story. . . . The family Saud is, obviously, the central power in a country bearing the family's name (how often does that happen!?).

And that family's history is intertwined with Mohamed's family. This part of the story begins with Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. After working his way upward, Mohamed had the good fortune of beginning to do projects for the royal family. What he did not know about construction, he learned or he hired people who did know what to do. Over time, he became the "go to" person for construction (whether for palaces, or roads, or. . . .) in Saudi Arabia. The quality of his work was sometimes open to question, but his willingness to do whatever the royal family wanted served him well. But enough of a simple chronology.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Sanjay on April 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book a lot - It's a fascinating history of a family's rise from nothing to high influence in Saudi Arabia. Steve Coll and his team have researched this very well and provide a high resolution story of the Bin Laden family. By their close association to the Royal Family, we find out about the secretive ways in which decisions are/were made.

The middle east is a vastly different place from any other on earth - here's a great insight into a very different culture. If you're into the history of interesting places that influence your every day life, this will not disappoint.

Not sure why a previous reviewer felt compelled to review his life in Saudi instead of the book, but for sure the book is more interesting than his life.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Agnostic on April 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What a tale. Except it is all true. Whereas Mike Moore threw out facts without much context, Coll provides well-researched history and explanations, making our weird relationship with The House of Saud that much more clear. And Murky.

The Bin Laden Family is far more complex and interesting than I would have thought possible, and as alien and strange, when compared to western society, as you could imagine.

This is an important book, one that provide the curious with information, background, and a glimmer of understanding as to how Osama became who he was, and how his family life, Muslim marital and divorce practices, and the strange, complex, and bizarre entity we know as the Bin Laden family came to be.

The only thing worse than learning how US policies led to 9/11 is seeing how we have coddled and knowingly supported one of the most corrupt family dictatorships in the world - the Sauds. Eye-opening, fascinating and hard to put down. I highly recommend this book.
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