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)
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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