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The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 [Hardcover]

Lawrence Wright
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (475 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 8, 2006 037541486X 978-0375414862 1
A sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright’s remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.

The Looming Tower achieves an unprecedented level of intimacy and insight by telling the story through the interweaving lives of four men: the two leaders of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri; the FBI’s counterterrorism chief, John O’Neill; and the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

As these lives unfold, we see revealed: the crosscurrents of modern Islam that helped to radicalize Zawahiri and bin Laden . . . the birth of al-Qaeda and its unsteady development into an organization capable of the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole . . . O’Neill’s heroic efforts to track al-Qaeda before 9/11, and his tragic death in the World Trade towers . . . Prince Turki’s transformation from bin Laden’s ally to his enemy . . . the failures of the FBI, CIA, and NSA to share intelligence that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

The Looming Tower broadens and deepens our knowledge of these signal events by taking us behind the scenes. Here is Sayyid Qutb, founder of the modern Islamist movement, lonely and despairing as he meets Western culture up close in 1940s America; the privileged childhoods of bin Laden and Zawahiri; family life in the al-Qaeda compounds of Sudan and Afghanistan; O’Neill’s high-wire act in balancing his all-consuming career with his equally entangling personal life—he was living with three women, each of them unaware of the others’ existence—and the nitty-gritty of turf battles among U.S. intelligence agencies.

Brilliantly conceived and written, The Looming Tower draws all elements of the story into a galvanizing narrative that adds immeasurably to our understanding of how we arrived at September 11, 2001. The richness of its new information, and the depth of its perceptions, can help us deal more wisely and effectively with the continuing terrorist threat.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wright, a New Yorker writer, brings exhaustive research and delightful prose to one of the best books yet on the history of terrorism. He begins with the observation that, despite an impressive record of terror and assassination, post–WWarII, Islamic militants failed to establish theocracies in any Arab country. Many helped Afghanistan resist the Russian invasion of 1979 before their unemployed warriors stepped up efforts at home. Al-Qaeda, formed in Afghanistan in 1988 and led by Osama bin Laden, pursued a different agenda, blaming America for Islam's problems. Less wealthy than believed, bin Laden's talents lay in organization and PR, Wright asserts. Ten years later, bin Laden blew up U.S. embassies in Africa and the destroyer Cole, opening the floodgates of money and recruits. Wright's step-by-step description of these attacks reveals that planning terror is a sloppy business, leaving a trail of clues that, in the case of 9/11, raised many suspicions among individuals in the FBI, CIA and NSA. Wright shows that 9/11 could have been prevented if those agencies had worked together. As a fugitive, bin Ladin's days as a terror mastermind may be past, but his success has spawned swarms of imitators. This is an important, gripping and profoundly disheartening book. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Looming Tower may be the most riveting, informative, and "heart-stopping account" yet of the men who shaped 9/11 (New York Times Book Review). The focus on individuals gives the book its emotional punch, but it is also a narrative bold in conception and historical sweep. Lawrence Wright conducted more than 500 interviews, from bin Laden's best friend in college to Richard A. Clarke, Saudi royalty, Afghan mujahideen, and reporters for Al Jazeera. The result, while evenhanded in its analysis of the complex motives, ideals, and power plays that led to 9/11, leaves few nefarious details uncovered. An abrupt ending did little to sway critics that Looming Tower is nothing less than "indispensable" reading (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037541486X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414862
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (475 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
144 of 150 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating account of events leading to 9-11 September 3, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Lawrence Wright has written an utterly absorbing book that will both captivate and appall you, and not just because of his recounting of the breathtaking horrors that took place on September 11, 2001. Equally appalling is Wright's depiction of the entrenched bureaucrats at the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency, who failed to share crucial information with one another because of petty personal differences and agency cultures that value conformity above true investigative ability. Had the CIA, in particular, released information regarding the whereabouts of several individuals who ultimately participated in the 9-11 attacks, those tragedies might well have been prevented.

Reading these things was deeply painful for me, who watched the Trade Towers collapse as I sped across Queens trying to get home to my family in Brooklyn Heights. I can only imagine how distressing this experience might be to those who lost friends and loved ones in the attacks that day. Yet Wright has handled this difficult material in a way that makes it bearable to read, and his pacing of the story is masterful. The Looming Tower reads like a suspense novel at times and the writing is lyrical.

The book is also chock full of pertinent facts and background material that help make sense, insofar as that is even possible, of the motivations of the terrorists. I have never seen logic in the tactics of al Qaeda and similar groups, but this book has helped me understand that logic is not the driving force. Rather it seems to be history, the pursuit of a tribal conception of "honor" and a desire to recreate past glory that is far more important than logic.
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481 of 534 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waking Up to the Nightmare of Al-Qaeda August 10, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In Lawrence Wright's masterpiece The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, he effortlessly connects disparate puzzle pieces of our current clash with Islamofascism with a coherent, page-turning narrative that at time reads like a Robert Ludlum suspense novel. He begins with FBI operative Dan Coleman who finds terrifying evidence in 1996 that there is an organization, Al-Qaeda, that is hell-bent on destroying America and spreading Islamofascism throughout the world. His superiors find Coleman's claims "too bizarre, too primitive and exotic" and fail to take action. In other words, the Western imagination cannot comprehend the Islamofascist mentality. It is Wright's objective to get inside, to the very core, of Al-Qaeda's chief figures and show us how they feel humiliated by the successes of the West, including Israel, and how this humiliation, plus a great deal of sexual repression, animates their obsession with becoming "martyrs for Allah." Lawrence Wright achieves his objective masterfully and leaves a terrifying, indelible imprint on the reader. Having read dozens of "9/11" books, I can say this is my favorite. The book succeeds for several reasons. First, it shows the failure of American imagination in dealing with terrorism. Second, Wright's narratives leading to 9/11 are effortlessly woven with concrete (never academic) psychological profiles of the seeds of Al-Qaeda: We see the fastidious, sexually repressed Egyptian anti-Semite religious scholar Sayyid Qutb as he navigates post World War II America. He is disgusted by our freedom and equality for women and his disgust radicalizes him so that he returns to Egypt to support a radical theocracy movement that thrives to this day. Read more ›
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371 of 417 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lecture about the book September 29, 2006
By John
Format:Hardcover
I saw the author last night at a book signing/lecture, and wrote down some of his main points. I hope it is o.k. with him that I share them here, and what he said, because I found if very fascinating. Mr. Wright is a very intelligent, "gentle" man who obviously cares about things and people, and I found him very likeable, becuase he has a good sense of humor and he did so much research for this book, and travelled extensively. He said he interviewed over 1,000 people in the Arab world for this book.

Some of the main points of what he said:

- The Arabic world is incredibly insular. He said, if you take away oil, the entire Arab world, from Morocco to Pakistan, produces less economically than the Finnish company Nokia (Nokia has less than 8,000 employees). He said, there have been 10,000 books ever translated into Arabic. If you think about that in terms of how many rows of book stacks that would be at a bookstore, it is shocking (I calculate that to be a few stacks of books !). One single Borders in the U.S. thus contains far more books than have ever been translated by Arabic translators (Spain alone translates about 10,000 books a year). Thus, most Arabs are, for our standards, incredibly lacking in resources, to understand our world. Not only that, but their countries censor books and all media. Freedom to assemble basically does not exist in the Arab world, and thus, basic freedoms are lacking.

- There is "gender apartheid" in [most of] the Arab world (particularly Saudi Arabia). Women are mostly not seen in public in Saudi Arabia. Men know very little about women as a result (how to meet them ?). It is pathetic, how little young men know about women.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A history of Al-Qaeda that reads more like a narrative than a history...
A history of Al-Qaeda that reads more like a narrative than a history book. I found it interesting and informative without being "preachey" or to technical. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Timothy Carroll
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating
There is no book out there that will grant you greater understanding of the 9/11 tragedy than this one. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Impact
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history, excellent read
A Looming Tower is an excellent history of the Muslim terrorist movement. It is fascinating and tells the story so that anyone can understand it. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Jane Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book about 9/11. Buy it!
It is an absorbing, disturbing and a very sad story. There are no heroes and plenty of losers in this real life account of the history 9/11. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Kamiyahagi
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, interesting and easy to read.
Well written, interesting and easy to read. I almost gave this book to the Salvation Army after I was done reading it, but after I found myself quoting it often, I decided to keep... Read more
Published 11 days ago by J. Darlington
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Valuable History Lesson
For any person interested in why terrorism is so prevalent today The Looming Tower should be required reading. Lawrence Wright did his homework.
Published 12 days ago by christopher stier
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, great non-fiction book
This is a great work of historical journalism. In the first, and most engaging, part of the book, Wright takes you through the origins and some of the history of Islamic... Read more
Published 16 days ago by Tim
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly outstanding book
This is the best book I have ever read about the origins of al-Qa'ida. I have an academic friend who follows terrorism and she swears by it. Mr. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Erick
5.0 out of 5 stars The Looming Tower
Excellent book. Long list of citations for those who
like to check facts. Learned a lot from this one.
Highly recommend.
Published 22 days ago by JBShag
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book written on the subject!
While the news-glamour of what's going on fades, AQ continues to act - and grow. This book explains the how and why starting with Qtab. Read more
Published 28 days ago by R. Butler
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Topic From this Discussion
Any books similiar to Looming Tower that continue its story?
I think he wanted nonfiction
Jul 31, 2013 by Nicholas Papamarcos |  See all 3 posts
Looming Limited Hangout: one more cover-up. Read 9/11 Synthetic Terror...
Lawrence Wright vividly reconstruct the origins and evolution of Islam's confrontation with America, a path that goes from the rise of the US as a global superpower to the morining of September 11, 2001.

His will become one of the essential books to understand what really happened on that day.
Aug 8, 2006 by F. D. Montano |  See all 7 posts
2011 Looking to Catch-Up Be the first to reply
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