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

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

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 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.

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This is highly recommended for anyone interested in the background to the terror events of the 21st century, clear, compelling and informative. Many years before, in the late 80s and early 90s, I had worked at the World Financial Center, across the street from the WTC, passing through the WTC complex on my way to and from work every day. In 1994, I was working across the river in Jersey City at one of the increasing number of skyscraping office towers that mirror Manhattan, reachable via PATH trains, the terminal being in the lower levels of the WTC. She was just putting her shoes on when she heard on NPR that there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center. We were watching varied television coverage when we saw the second explosion. It was clear that it had been the cause of the explosion in the south tower. One said he saw a small plane go into the north tower. Later, I heard that one of the towers had collapsed and could not believe it, presuming that some portion of the building might have toppled. I tried calling my brother at home to see if he was ok. On the way we ran into a neighbor who had been working in the downtown area at the time of the attack. The grandparents had, thankfully, been watching coverage on TV, so the girls were not hearing it for the first time from us. We later asked the girls if their mother or their grandparents had talked with them about the events of the day. Back home, we watched coverage throughout the evening. Tash, only 8 at the time, did not seem to grasp the significance, although she accepted my hand on hers. He had been scheduled to head to Edison, NJ today, not Manhattan, so he would not have been at risk in any event. When Tash was in bed reading, Cait continued watching with us. I told her that there were people in the world who wanted to kill us just because we were Americans. I believed that at the time, but have arrived at a more informed opinion in the years since. On this day, we were all a family, an American family. Mary Ann had tried many times during the day to reach her brother, a teacher in Harrisburg. In a major surprise, when she reached a school secretary, the secretary had her hold on while she went to fetch him. Our attempts through the rest of the day to reach my sister and other relations in Pennsylvania were unavailing. Yet the distinct change in background din, almost a hush, was very noticeable Remembering that day, particularly seeing images of the destruction, still makes my eyes leak.

I loved this book, and my picayune quibbles -- a few recurring awkward sentence constructions, inexplicably referring to domestic terrorists who bomb clinics and murder doctors as "protesters" -- just need to be dispatched with here so people know I actually read this book, and am not just brainlessly screaming about how good it is because someone's slipped me a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash. Having to read this book was good because it made me think a lot more about why I do that, plus most of it wasn't really about 9/11, but about the development during the last century of Islamist terrorism and formation of al-Qaeda, which is infinitely more interesting to read about anyway. And so the descriptions in this book of Egypt and Saudi Arabia (and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and a bunch of other places I can't even vaguely visualize without remedial assistance of the sort provided here) in the mid-to-late twentieth century were instantly riveting to me, as were Wright's patient and highly readable narratives of various key players' actions and lives. Reasons for my discomfort with the political and military stuff is pretty obvious; throughout The Looming Tower, Wright makes clear that a goal of the terrorists was to provoke a repressive response: to make the United States behave more like, say, Egypt, where dissenters and suspected terrorists were rounded up and tortured without any due process, a practice many point to as a factor in Ayman al-Zawahiri's increasingly bloodthirsty radicalization. I mean, I really don't want to get into some boring stupid political rant, but reading this did make my own thoughts and feelings about all this stuff clearer to me. In some ways the book had a sort of cartoonish simplicity in its presentation of the battle between good and evil, but the thing is that you can't argue that al-Qaeda and these other similar groups aren't purely evil. Where I think I was going was that Wright also emphasizes how badly bin Laden wanted to lure the U.S. into war in Afghanistan, which he envisioned -- after the Russians' misadventure there -- as a guaranteed destroyer of empires. That's just one example though: the wider culture that suicide bombers grow out of is one that seems to have a great deal more familiarity -- and thus perhaps, to some extent, comfort -- with actual violence than our own. I say "actual" violence because there is a pretty great scene in here towards the end when -- I hope I'm not getting the details wrong, I can't find it, sorry if this is wrong -- the al-Qaeda guys are sitting around in some caves in Afghanistan watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to get ideas for their hijackings. evil presentation, had was in making me question my own culture in a different way than I usually do. There are embarrassing things about being an American in this era, and the 9/11 stuff makes me feel a lot of them strongly. I haven't traveled much, but I lived in New York for several years, and descriptions of mass death there do affect me more than those of even more horrific violence in far-off Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, or Kenya. Lately -- before reading this book -- I've been troubled a lot by the thought that I'm not at all brave. I don't want them to be right thinking that we're not brave and that we're not a moral nation, but we haven't done that great a job proving them wrong in the years since this happened. Okay, this review got away from me and I'm just babbling and it's really really stupid, and I'm sorry, but anyway, bottom line: this is a fantastic book and I couldn't put it down the whole time that I was reading it. Maybe I'm saying that I think we need to be more consistent in our cultural understanding and application of it, but this book could be a warning about the dangers of consistency, which is perhaps not just the hobgoblin of little minds but also the lifeblood of fundamentalism. One thing I think Wright did a really good job of explaining was the lure that these ideas have for men who then blow up themselves and a whole bunch of innocent people. It's hard enough figuring out what to think of any of it, let alone to know how to live every day in a way that doesn't feel like a series of idiotic and self-contradicting mistakes. I don't know, it was easy for the terrorists to be consistent in their actions, because they were fundamentalists: they were willing to die in order to kill (though tellingly, bin Laden expressed in his will that he didn't want his sons to join al-Qaeda: it's understandably a lot easier to send someone else's kids off to die, as we see here at home when powerful people happily start wars that their sons won't have to fight). It is a lot harder for a diverse nation of people with wildly different ideas about morality and violence to agree about how we're going to see things and respond to something like terrorist acts.

I first read about The Looming Tower (the title comes from the Koranic verse Osama bin Laden used as a coded message to the 9/11 hijackers) in a number of political op/ed columns. It is fairly merciless in its treatment of the American bureaucracy that created figurative walls between the CIA and the FBI. Anyone who is interested in an intermediate-level analysis of what made Osama bin Laden so notorious (and his rise has many parallels to that of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna) is well advised to read this book.

there are the books that make our heads explode, that make every minute of the day a chinese water torture of waiting for the chance to get the hell home and read some more, the books that live inside us all through the day, the books that make us excited to take a crap just so we can shut the door behind us (or not) and sneak in a few pages, the books which cause horn-honking at red lights from drivers irritated we're reading at the fucking wheel...

"Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in looming towers" (" ") - Qur'an 4:78 A great narrative history of the rise of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

The Six-Day war was used by these in a rather tortured logic to validate their position, i.e. that God had favored the Jews because Muslims had wandered away from the true Islam and the Caliphate. Other examples abound.) The war, which an overwhelming victory for Israel, humiliated Egypt, where, following Nassars death, Sadat needed to appeal to the fundamentalists to strengthen his government; so he released many who had been jailed from prison. He flatly states that 9/11 was born in the torture chambers of the Egyptian government which created an appetite for revenge and turned moderates into extremists, not to mention destroyed any notion that western society actually practiced the ideals of freedom and human rights they espoused. I was astonished how intertwined the Bin Laden family, wealthy beyond measure from lucrative construction contracts, was with Saudi government and culture. He left a long trail of words that Wright has used effectively to build a comprehensive picture of the man that Afghans, in the fight against the Russians, thought was rather pathetic, but who was adopted by the United States and supported. If there are any heroes in this book, its the field officers of the FBI and one John ONeill (who tragically died in the World Trade Center.) They had been concerned that the Islamic fundamentalists would try something spectacular but got little support from Washington. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything, intelligence cannot form a strategy." Sun Tzu, 500 B.C. For some reason, I failed to get very far into this book and was reminded of it when I read an excellent column recently at Salon ( regarding the costs of our obsessiveness with regard to airline security.

But of course, it is all terrible. I know it feels futile and I totally understand the idea that doing so is morally reprehensible and validating the machine and all that, but watching my country's narrative edge its way closer and closer to some theocratic Handmaid's Tale shit like the Right is propagandistically prepping a patient for some illegal organ harvest (starting with the uterus) is just making me feel so helpless and hopeless and I have just this one measly thing to hold on to, that maybe we can get some people in office who, best case scenario, won't make this country and our world even shittier than it already is.

Three blind counter-terrorist agencies - see how they run - they all ran after the farmer's wife - which was a grave error as she knew very little about al-Qaeda, as it turned out, after some strenuous waterboarding. Too much stuff about two giant boys towns, one better dressed than the other one, but only slightly.

"Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower." -The Qu'ran, Sura 4:78 Hiraba (), the Arabic word for terror, piracy, or unlawful warfare. The view that political leadership is corrupt, and that they prostitute themselves to foreign powers.

There is more than one author with this name Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and fellow at the Center for Law and Security at the New York University School of Law. He is a graduate of Tulane University, and for two years taught at the American University in Cairo in Egypt. Wright is the author of six books, but is best known for his 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 4.39
  • Pages: 469
  • Publish Date: August 8th 2006 by Knopf Publishing Group
  • Isbn10: 037541486X
  • Isbn13: 9780375414862