Customer Reviews: Osama Bin Laden
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VINE VOICEon January 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Michael Scheuer is a unique personality in the field of "bin Laden Studies." He's neither liberal nor conservative, although he holds positions that please and upset both parties. However, at times he seems to have nuggets of wisdom, but his insights are limited by his passionate and occasionally sloppy communication. Osama Bin Laden bears all of these characteristics.

First, Scheuer goes to great lengths to write an actual biography of bin Laden, not simply diatribe against the man. Scheuer uses many sources both written by bin Laden or by those close to him. It's fascinating to see what Scheuer highlights that goes missing in the typical "war on terror" books. For example, bin Laden loves the outdoors and believes a Spartan lifestyle toughens soldiers. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he's survived quite readily in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. More importantly, Scheuer clarifies that bin Laden has never followed takfirism, or the policy of judging certain Muslims insufficiently pure. In fact, his success derives in no small part to his appeals to pan-Islamism, going so far as to chastise his lieutenant Zarqawi in Iraq for targeting Shias.

While I appreciate Scheuer's caution against rushing to villainize bin Laden, at time he goes too far in the opposite direction. Scheuer lambast anyone who accepts what he calls the "Saudi propaganda version" of bin Laden's life, notably that bin Laden as a good Saudi led astray by the Egyptian al-Zawahiri. Scheuer does point out that Zawahiri does seem to have moved closer to bin Laden's positions after they met. But he also recounts - and immediately dismisses - an anecdote by a Saudi journalist about an interview during which bin Laden seemed to change his mind after talking to Egyptian colleagues. It's not clear why Scheuer's guesswork is superior to that firsthand account, which he likens to something "utterly impossible."

A more persistent problem with the book is that Scheuer seems to occasionally lash out at everyone and everything - except for bin Laden himself - for little reason. He blames "New Age" professors for the fact that the U.S. military is unwilling to accept high causalities or engage in total war (isn't that really the fault of an American public?). He insinuates that everybody else in the policy community is stupid by claiming jihad is primarily a non-violent form of struggle (doesn't Scheuer realize American officials have to pretend Islam is a "religion of peace" in order not to incite Muslims further?).

Perhaps most critically, for somebody who worked at the CIA, Scheuer seems to have a poor grasp of policy realities. He lambasts the U.S. military for not invading Afghanistan until October 7, 2001, giving al-Qaeda time to flee. Yet, what other option did it have - we simply could not transport the troops or give the Taliban an ultimatum in time? Likewise, he claims the U.S. airstrike that killed Zarqawi was a boon to al-Qaeda, but what alternative did the U.S. have - to let him live? It's frustrating because Scheuer makes these comments almost as asides, and while they could develop into interesting insights, as is they seem more like snide recriminations.

Finally, the book is not really written for a beginner. In fact, there's relatively little context. Readers who aren't already familiar with Zarqawi or Zawahiri, much less the minor characters like Qutb or Ramzi Yousef, will probably get lost. I didn't have this problem generally because I'd followed the news for the past 15 years, but even so I'm sure I missed the full importance of some of the names he drops.

Despite my criticism, I give the book 3.5 stars because it is an important biography of Osama bin Laden (arguably the first actual biography) and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the man. Scheuer really tries to understand him and understand the world from his perspective. I do think the book would have benefitted from a readover by somebody who isn't fully immersed in this debate just to ask the questions "Will readers know who that is?" or "What do you mean by that provocative sentence?" As it stands, I can't quite believe this book is almost complete and nearing (as of January 10, 2011) publication.
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VINE VOICEon January 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Michael Scheuer who worked in the "bin Laden" unit while with the CIA has continued is interest if not constant focus on Osama bin Laden. This is not necessarily a bad thing and in his book we have what is the first objective biography of the man who has declared war on not just the U.S.A. but on all who stand in the way of the teachings of Islam of eight hundred years ago. This includes the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I found this not to be the normal biography and read more like an intelligence briefing with the end notes being an important part of the book. We get a glimpse of Osama bin Laden the educated businessman, family man, farmer, Islamic solider and lover of nature. All that made him the intelligent and patient adversary Mr. Scheur pro-ports him to be. Along with his short biography is the author insight into the thinking and motivations of Osama bin Laden using the hundreds of pages of documents written by bin Laden himself and those close to him for his research.

We see through the writings and broadcast that Osama bin Laden has laid out his philosophy and plan of action and has done so in a way that the over one billion Muslims of the world can understand his reason based on their cultural and religious history. It is obvious that the author has tremendous respect for his subject yet knows he must be defeated. He points out many of the errors that are made by the western politicians and academia who have completely misread this man and his intentions. Though an insightful analysis and based on many facts there is still interpretations made on subjects that can only be known to the subject.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia I do know that many believe that America is a paper tiger that will leave as soon as the populace sees some casualties; as we did in Lebanon and Somalia. I do not judge these decisions for only the President, we hope, has an accurate assessment of all the facts at hand. Some of the author's assessments seem to not take account the logistical abilities that allow armies to deploy in strength. Though Osama bin Laden is the new and real threat the west faces this is a conflict that has been going on since the founding of Islam...and between other factions as far back as history has been recorded.

The author also seems to expect the reader to have a fundamental understanding of the players that have also been involved for over a decade in this conflict but it does shed some light on the man who is Osama bin Laden. An interesting overview on this complex man whose plans according to the author drew the west into war on Islamic lands.
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on February 4, 2016
A well organized display of a man capable of horrors and beyond...but also the writer dos not shy away from the horrors delivered from the west. The only less than great aspect of the book is the effort made in the beginning to argue against other literature about the man. Even so there were to me a great many eye openers. For example the shear hatred sunni or at least the wahabis have against the shia..
I highly recommend this mostly because of its informative nature.
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on April 10, 2011
Bin Laden is an enigmatic personality who has been described in the Western media as a Satanic Terrorist Leader who has a fanatical and warped sense of Islam that has brought undeseved harm to the West and our alies.
While this is one aspect of who he is, the Book by Scheur gives an indepth understanding of his background, the development of his ideas, formation of Al Queda and importantly: what is his goal and why does he believe what he does and how does he plan to accomplish it.
This book is particularly enlightening and creates a broader perspective regarding the dynamics and the turmoil in the Middle East (Especially the current revolations in Egypt, Libya,Algeria, etc). While I don't give any credit to Bin Laden for any positive attributes, one can see where his plans and execution give the name "Mastermind" real meaning, albeit, a very evil one.
For a student of today's dynamics in the Middle East and what the future may hold, this is a book that is worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon January 19, 2011
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If you were going to take one thing from Sun Tzu, it would be 'Know your enemy.' Michael Scheuer has written a genuine biography of bin Laden, versus a polemic, and by using bin Laden's own writing he has created a more complete picture rather than the cartoonish sketch frequently drawn in the media. Osama bin Laden has almost 800 pages of published text that can be analyzed, and what emerges is a coherent plan and a solidly based rationale that he has acted on since his 1996 declaration of war on the United States. Bin Laden advocates a number of simple things, like the removal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, the liberation of Palestine, the removal of non-Shariah regimes throughout the Middle East- the house of Saud in particular- and an eventual resolution of the Sunni-Shia split (which sounds rather ominous.)
Bin Laden is not mad, he is merely pious, ascetic, determined, and patient beyond belief. Bin Laden likes to grow huge sunflowers from a genetic strain that he developed himself. He believes that cities make you soft and that open, challenging spaces build character. Hence Afghanistan and Yemen are ideal training grounds for jihadis, the terrain and conditions ensure tough fighters free from big city influences. Al-Qaeda employs both clerics and scholars, but bin Laden claims to be neither, rather he desires to reintroduce jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam.
Mr. Sheuer is amply qualified to write a bin Laden biography as he was head of the CIA's bin Laden unit for four years. He mentions other prominent books on bin Laden and their citations of material and sources versus the depth of his own. In places we have quite sketchy accounts of bin Laden, but secrecy has been a part of his mantra, and the fact that he is still alive and in good health, (and was never known to be on dialysis) prove his success. Bin Laden laid out a plan to lure the U.S. into Afghanistan, and was then handed the bonus of Iraq, furthering his argument that the West is at war with Islam, and will do anything for oil.
Mr. Sheuer is a long way from perfect; pp138: "The United States invaded Afghanistan to defeat the Taleban and al-Qaeda and failed, stayed to Westernize Afghans, and is now losing to those it swaggeringly came to conquer. It next invaded Iraq and created a Shia-run regime and society; empowering Iran and alienating all Sunnis, radical, conservative, or moderate. In both places it has fielded a slow-moving, over-equipped, and casualty-averse army that failed to win under careerist generals drawing advice from New Age social scientists bent on pursuing hearts and minds and avoiding blood and iron."
Well, loosely, yes, a correct statement, but to write off the army as casualty-averse is to ignore history, and to merely characterize General Petraeus as careerist is rather insulting. The military did the best it could with the mission impossible handed down to it, and the initial progress in Afghanistan was tremendous, such that bin Laden was surprised and would have been killed at Tora Bora if it weren't for a casualty-averse refusal to drop the Tenth Mountain as a blocking force. The "blood and iron" statement implies that we can just kill our way out of Afghanistan and Iraq, exactly what didn't work in Vietnam.
A strength of Sheuer's work is its historical context; bin Laden fits with Islamic history by taking on superior forces and either prevailing or surviving to fight another day. He utilizes propaganda, having learned from the Prophet Muhammad himself, who hired the greatest poets of his time to spread his message. Osama bin Laden has created a quintessential Islamic jihadi archetype, and the United States has played along perfectly with his script.
Sheuer is also able to challenge convention; pp73: "Is al-Qaeda an insurgent organization or a terrorist group? This is not a mere matter of semantics but rather represents a fundamental difference. Terrorist groups are small; obsessively secretive; aim at publicity, not victory; constitute a lethal nuisance, not a national security threat to the nation-state; and are subject to defeat by decapitation or attrition. Insurgent groups, on the other hand, are much larger, balance the need for secretiveness with the need for propaganda; aim at victory and define what constitutes victory; pose genuine security threats to nation-states; and put so much effort into succession-planning that neither decapitation nor attrition is likely. Bin Laden also brought a new dimension to insurgency. Whereas historically most insurgencies are specific to nation-states, al-Qaeda is the first to have a substantial international presence."
In summation, Michael Sheuer has made a significant contribution to the literature on bin Laden, and most importantly, places him in an Islamic historical context, which is actually how he is perceived by hundreds of millions of people.
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VINE VOICEon January 5, 2011
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This book aims and is successful at explaining Osama Bin Laden's influence, personality, history, and his relationships. Although we know very little about his marriages and children, the author does a brilliant job in laying out his life before the readers.

First, this book is not an easy read. It took me about a week to read the nearly 200 pages because there was so much information and analysis on each page. I would have tried to make it easier for those of us not familiar with Bin Laden and geographic locations.

I would have highly recommended maps to familiarize the reader with those locations. Also, I would have listed the many names of people involved in the organization with Bin-Laden in a glossary style and I would definitely have an index.

This book might be aimed at readers who are very familiar with Bin Laden and his associates but I'm not one of those readers.

Anyway, I found the book to interesting and fascinating at times. The author treats his malevolent subject such as Osama Bin Laden with a great deal of courage and honesty regarding his political and religious backgrounds especially his fundamentalism.

I believe like the author to understand Bin Laden, we are halfway there in finding a solution in stopping the violence and terrorism in the world. Of course, Bin Laden's views are based on his distortion regarding religion and his distaste for western society such as the United States.

The publisher is the Oxford University Press which I believe is highly regarded. This book might indicate that the United States played into the hands of Bin Laden by going to war in Afghanistan. Another issue is Saddam Hussein who was seen as a mutual enemy of the United States and Bin Laden's. According to the author, Hussein was viewed unfavorably as a traitor to the Muslim people. This book might argue that his trial and execution benefited Bin Laden most of all.

Sadly, we can't forget those lives lost in the sake of a needless war. Bin Laden is responsible for influencing Al-Quaeda's actions and developing their infrastructure which has taken years to formulate and process. This book has a lot of issues regarding Bin Laden's actions especially his time in the Sudan.

Despite the hatred for him in the western world, he is highly regarded in his own culture and seen as a martyr or living prophet for trying to reclaim Islam for the Muslims in a fundamental or distorted way. Bin Laden is no hero but a modern day anti-Christ who is set to unlease evil in the world.

This book can be very useful in warning us and educating us about Bin Laden's future actions against his enemies in the world.

But you must be prepared to have an open mind in reading this book to understand and comprehend. You might have to re-read pages, sections, and even chapters to fully grasp the details, information, and analysis.

I deducted one star because I felt this book could have been written more clear even with repetitive information to benefit the reader. I also felt an index is definitely necessary for this book and so are maps and lists of people mentioned in this book to help determine who is on what side. This is a difficult book to read even though it is only 200 pages.

We have not yet finished reading the final chapter on Bin Laden's life. I'm sure the author who was a CIA operative will have more to write in the years to come.
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VINE VOICEon April 19, 2011
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Scheuer has done us a great service in portraying osama within the context of his own words and actions. Contray to the stories we are usually told through the media, osama in not an insane maniac with diminished intellect but an evil, patient, calculating foe. Scheuer contends that we in the west are content to tell each other fairy tales of who we are fighting so that we can sleep at night. The osama depicted here is much more formidable than what we have been told to believe. The picture here is of an athletic, determined enemy with very specific strategic goals. Scheuer is correct to point out that osama chiefly seeks the economic collapse of the United States and we would be well served to keep this in mind. No punches are pulled in relating the breadth of al-qeada's appeal across the world. Scheuer repeatedly warns against dismissing osama as a takfiri, but presents him as a man who can rally muslims from all schools. A strong point is to be made that osama still views the Shia as heretical, but otherwise will welcome just about anyone under the al-qaeda umbrella. The extent and success of al-qaeda's media arm are clearly depicted, the roots of which must be pulled up if we are to defeat al-qaeda. osama and his kind can be beaten but we had better get our heads on straight about who we are fighting and how they should be fought. Scheuer's book goes a long way in disabusing us of our comforting fantasies and forces us to contend with reality head on. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about who osama is and the power behind his appeal to so many across the Muslim world. It's time to destroy al-qaeda once and for all.
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VINE VOICEon October 22, 2012
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I finished reading this book before Osama Bin Laden was killed by Seal Team 6, and it hasn't been far from my thoughts since I turned the last page. Author Michael Scheuer presents a well-balanced look at the life of Bin Laden, his upbringing, his relationship with his family, and his rise to power. It's not an easy read, or a fun one....there were times where the wounds from September 11th felt like they were going to be ripped wide open...but I would say that this book is an essential read for anyone trying to understand why the "War on Terror" seems to be escalating every day.
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VINE VOICEon March 5, 2011
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Osama bin Laden, this author explains, has not been marginalized nor defeated, nor is he some psychopath on the fringes of Islam. On the contrary, he is an intelligent, brave and formidable foe, and we are losing to him.

The book is not a formal biography of bin Laden, but it does highlight his development, from a shy and soft-spoken youth, to the leader of a vast, worldwide, Islamic movement. The author uses original sources as much as possible, including bin Laden's own writings and speeches.

In spite of much study and many books, the author says, Americans remain woefully ill informed about the man and his movement, and it will cost us dearly.

Author Michael Scheuer is well qualified to write this work, after serving for many years as the bin Laden man in the CIA. If his prose is somewhat difficult, cluttered with Arabic names and Arabic terms (not always well explained), still, what he has to say is clear enough and profoundly disturbing. Bin Laden comes across as a worthy opponent with serious military goals, and not a man with whom we can negotiate. He is also an adversary with long-term plans and goals which will outlive the man himself. I'm glad I read this work. You should read it, too. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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VINE VOICEon February 21, 2011
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Osama Bin Laden

On September 11, 2001, the world as we knew it forever changed. The man responsible: Osama Bin Laden. Before 9/11 most of us never heard the name Bin Laden or of Al Quedea. But on 9/11, that name and group would be forever etched in our memory. But who is this man? Why did he attack America? What led him to be come a feared and dangerous person?

In the book Osama, writer Michael Scheuer attempts to delve into the mind of a madman. Who he is. What he is and why he is? The origins of Al Quedea. The reasoning of his hatred towards the Western World. The psychology of a man on America's "most wanted" list. As Scheuer explains in the beginning: This isn't just another portrait of a man nor is it a biography of one. It is a dissection of a mastermind in the terrorist world and to unravel the mind of a misunderstood person.

I'm not sure misunderstood is the correct term to use here however,Scheuer is the former head of the Bin Laden unit of the CIA and therefore has had plenty of access to classified files, archives, photos and so much more to tell us who Bin Laden really is. The question you need to ask yourself is: Do we really care? While I'm not going to answer that here, the answer may indeed surprise you.

According to CIA records, Bin Laden is a media manipulator, genius, teacher and prolific orator. His charm got him through the ranks from a dissident to becoming America's Most Wanted. But the journey of how he got there is pretty interesting.

FAIR WARNING: While the book is an excellent read, some people might be put off by the exhaustive notes in each chapter and even in some paragraphs. The footnotes will cause you to go back and forth between the story and the notes for each page. It does get annoying and tiresome but the notes are extensive and quite helpful.

In the end, Osama Bin Laden is a well researched and well written and deserves a chance by all.
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