Review of “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright

I was chatting with Catholicgauze a few weeks ago. In that chat I mentioned I wanted to read the perfect book — something about a subject I had been following and cared about, but that would put all the pieces I already knew into a broader contexts. Without saying anything, Catholicgauze quietly purchased The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and sent me a copy. I am glad. It is a perfect book.

Before I go into my reflection, here are some thoughts I shared in a thread on Coming Anarchy

I strongly recommend The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. I was turned off by the name, as it seems like more of a popular book than a history. Really, to capture the seriousness of the work, it should have a boring title, such as Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic Group: Violent
Political Islam in the Wake of Sayyid Qutb (1966-2001).

Fortunately, Catholicgauze talked me into it, and I’m glad he did. From the trivial (bin Laden was an an acapella group that put out a cassette), to the insightful (two of bin Laden’s wives have Ph.D.s, he was the only of his brothers not to leave KSA for university), from the network-oriented (Zawahiri’s uncle was Qutb’s defense attorney) to the operational (Zawahiri had a spy within American special forces, who attempted to gain their trust by passing on secret (and true!) information about bin Laden; bin Laden’s previous organize, the Special Bureau, operated openly in the United States), The Looming Tower is a must read.

The book is written like a novel — while incredibly informative and surprisingly balanced, it is written by the author of The Siege — a movie that is sometimes blamed for discouraging the Clinton Administration from taking steps that would have averted 9/11.

The Looming Tower ends with a real-life cliffhanger — al Qaeda has been chased out of Afghanistan, the retreat into Pakistan was a bloody disaster, and Zawahiri is seen riding south on horseback.

The sequel is yet to be written.

6 thoughts on “Review of “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright”

  1. Weird. I picked this book up at a used book store about a year ago and put it on the shelf figuring I’d get around to it when I had the time. I picked it up earlier this week and finished it on Wensday night.

    I think the Looming Tower should be read along with/right after Ghost Wars by Steven Coll and Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile to get a pretty solid picture of how America came be involved in the Af/Pak theater.

  2. I read the book over Christmas. I wish I read it it sooner. If somebody can only read one book to get context of the war we are in, this is the book.

  3. I agree completely.

    I cannot believe how long I ignored it.

    I think its that there were so many pop-political pop-histories that came out shortly after 9/11, some sadly by the principals involved in the story, that jewels like this got lost.

    It is amazing.

  4. Wow! Hulu is going to have a worthwhile original show! Thanks for the heads-up, I hadn’t heard of this before.

    Finally, something worthwhile to watch on Hulu besides Family Guy and South Park reruns!

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