- Paperback: 540 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 21, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400030846
- ISBN-13: 978-1400030842
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (813 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Paperback – August 21, 2007
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The author describes bin Laden’s father, Mohammed bin Laden, a wealthy and well-connected man responsible for building a ramp to the Royal palace and a previously unattainable road over the al-Sarawat Range, which united the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, thus garnering favor with the Royal family, who subsequently appointed him honorary minister of public works. His growing reputation and Royal connections allowed for him to expand his businesses throughout the country, and at a time of financial difficulty, he loaned a substantial amount of money to the Royal family when the banks would not, further solidifying his relationship with the Royals.
Growing up in this privileged life, his 17th son, Osama bin Laden, also enjoyed a close relationship with the Royal family. Since he was further down the ladder in the order of sons, there were no positions of power within his father’s companies for him to assume, so he was left to “make his own way”. Of course, he was also provided a monthly stipend, so he never actually had a job, and this would be his primary source of income and how he financed his terrorist organization for much of his life. Surprisingly, he comes across as rather aimless and ineffective, lacking ambition or his father’s keen business sense. Without his father’s money to support him and his endeavors, it seems to me he would have become an unknown farmer, pontificating to his wives, children, and neighbors about the presence of Americans in the Middle East. It is only due to his father’s money and his willingness to spend it on the disillusioned masses that he found an audience for his disgruntled rantings and financially supported their destructive, rage-fueled fantasies of Islamic dominance.
While the book initially includes various events that occurred overseas, the author points out that bin Laden hadn’t really done anything at that point, and the events he publicly took credit for were events he had little to nothing to do with, so for some time, his reputation was being built on exaggerations or flat-out lies. His organization did continue to grow, but ignoring the aid of hindsight, there truly does not appear to the average reader to be a connection to the US that was overlooked by the authorities. There were, however, a handful of fastidious US intelligence agents who monitored bin Laden and those he financed throughout the 1990s, and they did see connections, but when they alerted others to the potential dangers posed by the largesse of this largely unknown man, without a direct or specific threat to the US, they were ignored. This error was further compounded by the folly of American bureaucracy and the unwillingness of the FBI, CIA, and NSA to work together and share information, which resulted in several missed opportunities. This is what I believe to be the crux of the “road to 9/11”: our intelligence agencies provided the unobstructed path with their lack of communication and teamwork. If each agency had not been so busy trying to keep any information they had away from the other agencies, they would have realized that they each possessed pieces of information that, when fit together, would have provided them with a better idea of what was going on, and could have led to the capture of key al-Qaeda members that would have thwarted their plans. Instead, their continued secrecy and stubbornness allowed known al-Qaeda members to enter the US and without hindrance, they were free to develop their plans.
On another disconcerting note, the author also points out that bin Laden knew he could not win a fight with Americans on US soil, and sought to devise a plan that would bring the fight to him, on “a large-scale front which it cannot control”, where American soldiers “cannot stand against warriors of faith who do not fear death”. Since Islamic extremists believe that jihad never ends, they would have generations of radical, resentful, and repressed Muslims, mesmerized by the myth of martyrdom, to fight the “eternal war” to defend Islam. We played right into his hands, waging war on their soil, where we have been for well over a decade now, without an exit strategy or an end in sight.
The author has done a fantastic job of writing a comprehensive history that creates a broader picture for the average reader to get a better understanding of how events that occurred a continent away would have rippling effects here in the US years later. This should be required reading for all.
If you often just listen to the news casually, as background “Newsack,” you might not really understand the difference between such groups as Hamas, al Jihad, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. This book distinguishes those groups by region, history, and leadership so that readers can approach currently unfolding news stories more intelligently.
“Looming Tower” starts in the early1950’s with Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, telling how his ultimate martyrdom gave impetus to much of modern terrorist activity. Wright proceeds through the formation of the Taliban in the wake of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and on to bin Laden’s activities under the al-Qaeda banner. He tells how the latter became in effect, “a death-cult.” Enough biographical information is given about each of these leaders to convey a sense of who they were in their personal lives – of the frequent disjunction between what they did publicly and how they lived privately. There isn’t a huge amount of psychological analysis of how presumably religious people arrived at the point of justifying mass murder and suicide, but Wright does provide some insights into the process of transformation away from simple, often happy childhood days.
This book is written in straight-forward reportorial style. But it includes enough telling metaphor to graphically illustrate many points. For example, Wright tells how some factions fell away from having a centralized leadership and instead organized themselves into cells. This gave them a “spongy quality, clandestine, hard to combat.” With that one word “spongy,” Wright conveys the difficulty that U.S. and allied military forces have been up against.
The narrative includes some really surprising details about how Western and Middle Eastern cultures can differ in their interpretation of events. I had no idea how the Monica Lewinsky/President Clinton scandal was interpreted by many in the Middle East – and how it served to fuel further terrorist activity. Wright also tells of other instances where our failure to speak the language and realize cultural differences led to serious diplomatic and military miscalculations.
The last third of the book moves quickly, almost too quickly, towards 9/11. A lot of it is told from the perspective of FBI investigator John O’Neill. There isn’t quite the measured detail here that there is the first part of the book. I felt a little hurried along. Of course, events themselves were rapidly sweeping towards the terrorists’ fearful culmination. But I would have liked to have known somewhat more about how vital information that might have forewarned us got lost in the jostling egos of FBI and CIA operatives. Well, more detail on that score might have made this book too long and was perhaps better saved for separate books.
“Looming Tower” was first published in 2006, and includes an “Afterword” written in 2011. In that afterword, Wright expresses some optimism that a partial, peaceful resolution might be possible – an optimism that unfortunately doesn’t seem justified in light of recent developments.
There’s a map at the front of the book showing Middle East countries’ relationships to each other, and the location of key bases of activity. Wright also provides a list of “Principal Characters” at the back of the book, reminding the reader who’s who. Despite the many names in this book, I found that I didn’t often have to refer back to that reference section. Wright provides such a clear, chronological account, it was easy to keep track of the key players.