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The looming tower

by Lawrence Wright

Book list Wright, a talented New Yorker0 staff writer with a diverse portfolio and a long-standing personal interest in the Middle East, was on the al-Qaeda beat within hours of the 9/11 attacks. The product of his efforts is more deeply researched and engagingly narrated than nearly all of the looming stack of books on Osama bin Laden and his cohorts published in the past five years. The events are familiar: this account begins with theorist Sayid Qutb, covers the trajectories of bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and culminates with Mohammed Atta and the collapsing Trade Center. But Wright's interview--fueled, character-driven approach captures both the complexity of individual actors--Qutb's alienation, for example, and bin Laden's struggle for legitimacy--as well as the fluid internal dynamics of the often covert terrorist organization. The tragic centerpiece of the book, familiar to New Yorker0 readers, is Wright's sensitive portrayal of John O'Neill, the deeply flawed working-class FBI gumshoe from New Jersey who may have been the only American to fully understand the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11. Wright seems to have found his calling: a perceptive and intense page-turner, this selection and Peter Bergen's The Osama bin Laden I Know0 (2006) should be considered the definitive works on the topic. --Brendan Driscoll Copyright 2006 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Wright (fellow, Ctr. on Law & Security, NYU Sch. of Law; Twins) goes back-way back-to 1948 to dissect the personal influences and political radicalization that would lead to al Qaeda's attack on America. Delving into the tangled roots of Egyptian political dissenters, he carefully draws out the biographical background of Osama bin Laden's number two man, Dr. Ayman-al-Zawahir, who was notable for being implicated in the plot to assassinate Anware Sadat and later became a key figure in Islamist groups as he allied with bin Laden. The matter-of-fact story of the founding of al Qaeda is almost an afterthought as Wright's narrative follows bin Laden in his business and terrorist ventures from Saudi Arabia to Sudan to Afghanistan. A chilling counterpoint to the story of this growing organization is what little attention was paid to the trickle of information that made its way to Western intelligence agencies. While illustrating the CIA and FBI responses, or lack thereof, to the emerging threat of Islamist terrorism, Wright attempts to tie in an important law-enforcement figure, John O'Neill. At one time a counterterrorism agent for the FBI who deeply understood the global nature of bin Laden's threat, O'Neill ironically perished on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. The thrust of O'Neill's story, however, does not merge well with the rest of the book (for a closer look at O'Neill, see Murray Weiss's The Man Who Warned America). However, Wright's research is exemplary, including dozens of primary-source interviews and first-person perspectives, and he provides welcome insight into the time line leading up to 9/11. Recommended for large libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/06.]-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Svc. Inst. Lib., Champaign Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Choice Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, has published several previous works on a variety of subjects, and has lived and taught in the Middle East. The current study provides a well-written, dispassionate history and analysis, meticulously researched, of the series of events and personalities over a lengthy period of time that culminated in 9/11. Wright examines the impact of secularism, "Americanism," Israel, and the growing influence of radical Islam. Rival radical Islamic thinkers from Egypt to the Gulf States influenced the formation of Al Qaeda as a distinct group. The importance of such thinkers as Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, and Osama bin Laden are carefully reviewed. This study will put to rest the notion that Islamism is characterized simply by nihilistic fanaticism, or a monolithic movement. Personal rivalries as well as doctrinal disputes are described alongside the progress and setbacks of the Islamists' cause. Also critical is the appraisal of how various American agencies and intelligence professionals view the threat. Unusual in a trade book, endnotes, bibliography, and list of interviewees are included. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduates through faculty. M. Slann Macon State College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Library Journal New Yorker staff writer Wright profiles four men intimately involved with 9/11: al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, FBI counterterrorist chief John O'Neill, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence. With a three-city tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly 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 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.