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Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It Paperback – Bargain Price, August 15, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Although Americans might like to believe that the 19 hijackers behind the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. were evil or demented, McDermott reveals portraits of very ordinary, well-educated men with unexceptional backgrounds. Based on research of confidential files and interviews with friends and relatives of the hijackers across four continents, McDermott, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, traces the path the men took to develop from only moderately religious backgrounds to a vision of themselves as soldiers of God. Coming from various regions and ethnic groups, several of the men found commonality in religion and language as they struggled with feelings of alienation in Hamburg, Germany. McDermott details their transformation to fundamentalist Islam and their struggle to fulfill their commitment to their religion, ultimately by striking at a nation they considered--along with Israel--at the root of the evil wrought upon the world by the West. McDermott puts a human face on the hijackers and offers riveting accounts of the final weeks and days as the plotters prepared to carry out their horrific mission. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It's taken three-plus years for a serious study of the hijackers, but the wait was worth it. L.A. Times reporter McDermott has dug deep, interviewing scores of friends, relatives and officials worldwide and trawling through troves of documents. Engrossing and deeply disturbing from the start, the book begins with two events Americans rarely connect: Russia's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, followed in 1990 by Western troops pouring into Saudi Arabia after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. McDermott shows victory in Afghanistan electrifying Islamic warriors who hated Christianity as much as communism; a new "infidel" army to fight proved an irresistible challenge. For McDermott, this moment marks the beginning of organized, nonstate-supported terrorism. Not very organized, he adds, describing half a dozen plots cobbled together by clumsy enthusiasts who were often caught—though often too late. Despite the media attention paid to bin Laden, McDermott paints him not as the führer of terrorism, but as a rich leader with the most aggressive P.R. Bin Laden, for example had nothing to do with the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993—but he was inspired by it. McDermott's detailed biographies of the hijackers go far beyond the characterizations of the 9/11 report, and he is skeptical of accounts that portray them as deeply disturbed: all came from intact families, most were middle-class, few were deeply religious, none were abused or estranged. Recruited for the hijackings and informed they would die, they thought it over and agreed. McDermott's clear rendering of that decision is just one of this book's strengths. (May 3)
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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006058470X
  • ASIN: B00375LNG0
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,594,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
McDermott has written what is so far the definitive narrative of the 9/11 hijackers. He divides his book into three parts: First, he profiles the backgrounds and personality profiles of the hijackers, many who started as regular citizens and slowly drifted into their extremism, often by chance. Second, he explains the political forces in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan that helped to revive Jihad and give power to Osama Bin Laden. Third, he focuses on the actual plot to hijack the planes on 9/11. The reportage is remarkable and provides clues to the hijackers' personalities that have so far not been publicized. What's scary is the effective way the author shows the hijackers often came from privileged backgrounds and then drifted into the fringes of society where, needing direction and identity, they were susceptible to the extremist rhetoric of fundamentalism and violent jihad. Where I might disagree with McDermott is his characterization of the hijackers as "fairly ordinary men." Perhaps I have a different definition of "ordinary" than does McDermott who uses hundreds of salient illustrations to paint these men anything than as ordinary: They are often portrayed as sullen spoiled narcissistic brats and bullies. One of the most prominent of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, in particular is an extreme personality study in repressed sexuality, narcissism, and sociopathic hatred of others. He cannot smile or enjoy life in the slighest so that when he eats food he mutters to himself how boring and tedious the task of eating is. Everyone who knew him, even people who shared in his beliefs, found him an obnoxious presence. Sullen, brooding, and controlling, he made the hairs on people's neck bristle whenever he entered a room.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of the 9/11 related books out there and this is one of the best. I learned many things I either didn't know or had misconceptions about. For example, I'd heard that most of the 9/11 hijackers didn't know it was a suicide mission- a somehow comforting thought. McDermott makes the convincing case that every one of them knew they were about to die and embraced their path to paradise. This is a must read for anyone who wants insight to what these fanatics were really thinking.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Terry McDermott has made a well-written and well-researched investigation of the 9/11 hijackers. His work focuses on the pilots, plus Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. Osama bin Laden is to a lesser extent covered, though his 1996 and 1998 fatwas against Americans are included in the appendix. Steering clear of conspiracy theory nonsense, McDermott nonetheless supplies critical questions in the endnotes. Overall an important book, the "Perfect Soldiers" are shown really to be ordinary men, made extraordinary by the forces of radical Islam. The starke evil of the hijackers could wear an alarming human face. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This account reads well and should be read by anyone still trying to sort out, or to create, the meaning of the events of 9/11. It is the best account of the hijackers that we have to date. However, in the end it does not begin to answer the question: why?

Atta seems not to have been, despite the author's contention, an ordinary person. He seems to have been intensely, perhaps morbidly, introverted; to have been under extreme family pressures for achievement, which he did not satisfy; to have been raised in a family environment that was extremely rigid, unfriendly, cold; to have had no capacity whatever for understanding anything outside of his own extremely narrow views; and to have had no capacity to adapt socially. He was almost universally disliked, by both those who had brief exposure and those who had long-term exposure to him, with the exception of a few of his radical Islamist associates. Every prospect of change or difference forced him into an even more intense withdrawal. His will, written in 1996, shows a morbid fascination in the contemplation of his own dead body, a horror of women, and a dread of sexual humiliation (he specified that those who would have contact with his body's genital areas must wear rubber gloves).

There is an element of pathos in Jarrah's story, but not enough detail to tell a complete story. He split his time between jihadist plotting and living the high life of a foreign student in Germany and, eventually, the U.S. He engaged in a long-term and passionate romance with a Turkish/German woman who seems to have had no inkling of his murderous plans or Islamist mindset. Jarrah seems to have been a virtual split personality, or at least possessed of a level of profound ambivalence that he could not consciously acknowledge.
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Format: Hardcover
Far from wild-eyed raving religious fanatics, the 19 men who struck on 9/11, were by and large middle class and from secular backgrounds. How these seemingly unexceptional young men became suicide soldiers for Al Qaeda is the story that's told here. It's their decided ordinariness and their descent into fundamentalist jihad that makes this such a frightening read.

McDermott paints chilling portraits of the leaders of the 19. Young and lonely Middle Easterners floundering in German colleges, their insecurities lead them to the Islamic fundamentalism preached in Hamburg mosques. Like moths drawn to a flame, they find the direction, certainty and purpose they so crave. Once immersed in the tenets of jihad, they move on to Al Qaeda's terrorist training camps in Afgahnistan. Here, they are hand-picked by Al Qaeda's leadership to go to the U.S. to train to be pilots. The rest, as they say, is history.

The question that's never really answered here is why these men did it, why they sacrificed their own lives to kill innocent civilians. Perhaps no one will ever know. Perhaps the answer is beside the point.
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