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Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

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On Sale: August 08, 2006
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

UPDATED AND WITH A NEW AFTERWORD

National Book Award Finalist

A Time, Newsweek, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year

A gripping narrative that spans five decades, The Looming Tower explains in unprecedented detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Lawrence Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Packed with new information and a deep historical perspective, The Looming Tower is the definitive history of the long road to September 11.

Excerpt

The Martyr

In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. “Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?” he wondered. “Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?” It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveler had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now.

The stern bachelor was slight and dark, with a high, sloping forehead and a paintbrush moustache somewhat narrower than the width of his nose. His eyes betrayed an imperious and easily slighted nature. He always evoked an air of formality, favoring dark three-piece suits despite the searing Egyptian sun. For a man who held his dignity so close, the prospect of returning to the classroom at the age of forty-two may have seemed demeaning. And yet, as a child from a mud-walled village in Upper Egypt, he had already surpassed the modest goal he had set for himself of becoming a respectable member of the civil service. His literary and social criticism had made him one of his country’s most popular writers. It had also earned the fury of King Farouk, Egypt’s dissolute monarch, who had signed an order for his arrest. Powerful and sympathetic friends hastily arranged his departure.

At the time, Qutb (his name is pronounced kuh-tub) held a comfortable post as a supervisor in the Ministry of Education. Politically, he was a fervent Egyptian nationalist and anti-communist, a stance that placed him in the mainstream of the vast bureaucratic middle class. The ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind; indeed, he would later say that he was not even a very religious man before he began this journey, although he had memorized the Quran by the age of ten, and his writing had recently taken a turn toward more conservative themes. Like many of his compatriots, he was radicalized by the British occupation and contemptuous of the jaded King Farouk’s complicity. Egypt was racked by anti-British protests and seditious political factions bent on running the foreign troops out of the country—and perhaps the king as well. What made this unimposing, midlevel government clerk particularly dangerous was his blunt and potent commentary. He had never gotten to the front rank of the contemporary Arab literary scene, a fact that galled him throughout his career; and yet from the government’s point of view, he was becoming an annoyingly important enemy.

He was Western in so many ways—his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies. He had read, in translation, the works of Darwin and Einstein, Byron and Shelley, and had immersed himself in French literature, especially Victor Hugo. Even before his journey, however, he worried about the advance of an all-engulfing Western civilization. Despite his erudition, he saw the West as a single cultural entity. The distinctions between capitalism and Marxism, Christianity and Judaism, fascism and democracy were insignificant by comparison with the single great divide in Qutb’s mind: Islam and the East on the one side, and the Christian West on the other.

America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that had characterized Europe’s relations with the Arab world. America, at the end of the Second World War, straddled the political chasm between the colonizers and the colonized. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine America as the anticolonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. America’s power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notions of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes. And because America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable relationship with the rest of the world. Arabs, like most other peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country claimed to stand for.

And so, Qutb, like many Arabs, felt shocked and betrayed by the support that the U.S. government had given to the Zionist cause after the war. Even as Qutb was sailing out of Alexandria’s harbor, Egypt, along with five other Arab armies, was in the final stages of losing the war that established Israel as a Jewish state within the Arab world.  The Arabs were stunned, not only by the determination and skill of  the Israeli fighters but by the incompetence of their own troops and the disastrous decisions of their leaders. The shame of that experience would shape the Arab intellectual universe more profoundly than any other event in modern history. “I hate those Westerners and despise them!” Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of a hundred thousand Jewish refugees into Palestine. “All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch, and finally the Americans, who have been trusted by many.”

The man in the stateroom had known romantic love, but mainly the pain of it. He had written a thinly disguised account of a failed relationship in a novel; after that, he turned his back on marriage. He said that he had been unable to find a suitable bride from the “dishonorable” women who allowed themselves to be seen in public, a stance that left him alone and unconsoled in middle age. He still enjoyed women—he was close to his three sisters—but sexuality threatened him, and he had withdrawn into a shell of disapproval, seeing sex as the main enemy of salvation.

The dearest relationship he had ever enjoyed was that with his mother, Fatima, an illiterate but pious woman, who had sent her precocious son to Cairo to study. His father died in 1933, when Qutb was twenty-seven. For the next three years he taught in various provincial posts until he was transferred to Helwan, a prosperous suburb of Cairo, and he brought the rest of his family to live with him there. His intensely conservative mother never entirely settled in; she was always on guard against the creeping foreign influences that were far more apparent in Helwan than in the little village she came from. These influences must have been evident in her sophisticated son as well.

As he prayed in his stateroom, Sayyid Qutb was still uncertain of his own identity. Should he be “normal” or “special”? Should he resist temptations or indulge them? Should he hang on tightly to his Islamic beliefs or cast them aside for the materialism and sinfulness of the West? Like all pilgrims, he was making two journeys: one outward, into the larger world, and another inward, into his own soul. “I have decided to be a true Muslim!” he resolved. But almost immediately he second-guessed himself. “Am I being truthful or was that just a whim?”

His deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and “half-naked.” She asked him in English, “Is it okay for me to be your guest tonight?”

Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed.

“A single bed can hold two people,” she said.

Appalled, he closed the door in her face. “I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realized that she was drunk,” he recalled. “I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals.”

This is the man, then—decent, proud, tormented, self-righteous, and resentful—whose lonely genius would unsettle Islam, threaten regimes across the Muslim world, and beckon to a generation of rootless young Arabs who were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and would find it in jihad.

Qutb arrived in New York Harbor in the middle of the most prosperous holiday season the country had ever known. In the postwar boom, everybody was making money—Idaho potato farmers, Detroit automakers, Wall Street bankers—and all this wealth spurred confidence in the capitalist model, which had been so brutally tested during the recent Depression. Unemployment seemed practically un-American; officially, the rate of joblessness was under 4 percent, and practically speaking, anyone who wanted a job could get one. Half of the world’s total wealth was now in American hands.

The contrast with Cairo must have been especially bitter as Qutb wandered through the New York City streets, festively lit with holiday lights, the luxurious shop windows laden with appliances that he had only heard about—television sets, washing machines—technological miracles spilling out of every department store in stupefying abundance. Brand-new office towers and apartments were shouldering into the gaps in the Manhattan skyline between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Downtown and in the outer boroughs, vast projects were under way to house the immigrant masses.

It was fitting, in such a buoyant and confident environment, unprecedented in its mix of cultures, that the visible symbol of a changed world order was arising: the new United Nations complex overlooking the East River. The United Nations was the most powerful expression of the determined internationalism that was the legacy of the war, and yet the city itself already embodied the dreams of universal harmony far more powerfully than did any single idea or institution. The world was pouring into New York because that was where the power was, and the money, and the transforming cultural energy. Nearly a million Russians were in the city, half a million Irish, and an equal number of Germans—not to mention the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Poles, and the largely uncounted and often illegal Chinese laborers who had also found refuge in the welcoming city. The black population of the city had grown by 50 percent in only eight years, to 700,000, and they were refugees as well, from the racism of the American South. Fully a fourth of the 8 million New Yorkers were Jewish, many of whom had fled the latest European catastrophe. Hebrew letters covered the signs for the shops and factories on the Lower East Side, and Yiddish was commonly heard on the streets. That would have been a challenge for the middle-aged Egyptian who hated the Jews but, until he left his country, had never met one. For many New Yorkers, perhaps for most of them, political and economic oppression was a part of their heritage, and the city had given them sanctuary, a place to earn a living, to raise a family, to begin again. Because of that, the great emotion that fueled the exuberant city was hopefulness, whereas Cairo was one of the capitals of despair.

At the same time, New York was miserable—overfull, grouchy, competitive, frivolous, picketed with No Vacancy signs. Snoring alcoholics blocked the doorways. Pimps and pickpockets prowled the midtown squares in the ghoulish neon glow of burlesque houses. In the Bowery, flophouses offered cots for twenty cents a night. The gloomy side streets were crisscrossed with clotheslines. Gangs of snarling delinquents roamed the margins like wild dogs. For a man whose English was rudimentary, the city posed unfamiliar hazards, and Qutb’s natural reticence made communication all the more difficult. He was desperately homesick. “Here in this strange place, this huge workshop they call ‘the new world,’ I feel as though my spirit, thoughts, and body live in loneliness,” he wrote to a friend in Cairo. “What I need most here is someone to talk to,” he wrote another friend, “to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars—a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul.” Two days after Qutb arrived in America, he and an Egyptian acquaintance checked into a hotel. “The black elevator operator liked us because we were closer to his color,” Qutb reported. The operator offered to help the travelers find “entertainment.” “He mentioned examples of this ‘entertainment,’ which included perversions. He also told us what happens in some of these rooms, which may have pairs of boys or girls. They asked him to bring them some bottles of Coca-Cola, and didn’t even change their positions when he entered! ‘Don’t they feel ashamed?’ we asked. He was surprised. ‘Why? They are just enjoying themselves, satisfying their particular desires.’ ”

This experience, among many others, confirmed Qutb’s view that sexual mixing led inevitably to perversion. America itself had just been shaken by a lengthy scholarly report titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues at the University of Indiana. Their eight-hundred-page treatise, filled with startling statistics and droll commentary, shattered the country’s leftover Victorian prudishness like a brick through a stained-glass window. Kinsey reported that 37 percent of the American men he sampled had experienced homosexual activity to the point of orgasm, nearly half had engaged in extramarital sex, and 69 percent had paid for sex with prostitutes. The mirror that Kinsey held up to America showed a country that was frantically lustful but also confused, ashamed, incompetent, and astoundingly ignorant. Despite the evidence of the diversity and frequency of sexual activity, this was a time in America when sexual matters were practically never discussed, not even by doctors. One Kinsey researcher interviewed a thousand childless American couples who had no idea why they failed to conceive, even though the wives were virgins.

Qutb was familiar with the Kinsey Report, and referenced it in his later writings to illustrate his view of Americans as little different from beasts—“a reckless, deluded herd that only knows lust and money.” A staggering rate of divorce was to be expected in such a society, since “Every time a husband or wife notices a new sparkling personality, they lunge for it as if it were a new fashion in the world of desires.” The turbulent overtones of his own internal struggles can be heard in his diatribe: “A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid, but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”

The end of the world war had brought America victory but not security. Many Americans felt that they had defeated one totalitarian enemy only to encounter another far stronger and more insidious than European fascism. “Communism is creeping inexorably into these  destitute lands,” the young evangelist Billy Graham warned, “into war-torn China, into restless South America, and unless the Christian religion rescues these nations from the clutch of the unbelieving, America will stand alone and isolated in the world.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Lawrence Wright|Author Q&A

About Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright - The Looming Tower

Photo © Kenny Braun

Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of six previous books of nonfiction, including In the New World, Remembering Satan, The Looming Tower, Going Clear, and one novel, God’s Favorite. His books have received many prizes and honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower. He is also a playwright and screenwriter. He and his wife are longtime residents of Austin, Texas.

www.lawrencewright.com

Lawrence Wright is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Random House Speakers Bureau at rhspeakers@randomhouse.com or visit www.rhspeakers.com. 

Author Q&A

Q: You are well known as a writer concentrating on the Middle East and intelligence matters. What prompted you to start focusing on these subjects?

A: My wife and I taught English for two years at the American University in Cairo, in the early seventies, and so I had some familiarity with the area. I also spoke a very rusty Cairene Arabic. I was very fond of the time I spent there, which added to the heartbreak I experienced on 9/11.

In addition, I had co-written a movie, The Siege, starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, and Annette Bening, which appeared in theaters in 1998. That movie anticipated, in certain eerie ways, the attacks on America by Islamist terrorists and the damage that these attacks would cause to our country and our civil liberties. While researching the film, I had the opportunity to speak to agents in the New York office of the FBI and hear their anxieties about possible strikes against the American homeland. “The Siege” reflects those concerns, which turned out to be so shockingly premonitory. When I watched the attacks on America that Tuesday morning in September, I thought, “This looks like a movie.” Then I had the sickening realization, “This looks like my movie.”

Because of my previous experience in the Middle East, and because I had already imagined something like this happening, I felt obligated to pursue the story of what had really occurred.

Q: Was The Siege inspired by research you were doing at the time for another project? How did it come about?

A: The Siege began with a lunch with Lynda Obst, the producer, who asked if I would be interested in writing about a woman in the CIA. That was the essence of the idea. But the cold war was over and the CIA seemed irrelevant at the time. For a year, I explored various notions of setting the movie back in time, or somewhere that the agency was still quite active, as in China or Cuba. Finally, I realized that the CIA did have a real-life antagonist: the FBI. Their bureaucratic quarrels were legendary. At the time I began my research they were fighting over which organization would control counterterrorism inside the United States. That’s when the plot actually began to cohere. I chose to make the terrorist an Arab because I had had some experience in the Arab world; moreover, there were already precedents with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center by Ramzi Yousef and the plot by followers of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman to destroy the landmarks in New York, including the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the United Nations, and Federal Plaza. The screenplay was based on the most likely scenario I could imagine, drawing from research I conducted at the time with members of the New York office of the FBI.

Q: When did you begin working on The Looming Tower?

A: On the morning of September 11, 2001, within an hour of the attacks, I sent an e-mail to David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, saying, “Put me to work.” A few hours later, New Yorker writers scattered all over the United States engaged in a conference call, in which David asked us to file reports that he would incorporate into a narrative. I was fortunate to locate a young man, Kirk Kjeldsen, who had slept through his subway stop and was running late to a meeting at the Windows on the World restaurant on top of the World Trade Center. His story of escaping the tower became the centerpiece of the now famous black issue of the magazine.

Immediately after that, I began scanning the online obituaries, looking for a person whose life and death could exemplify in some way the massive national tragedy. On the Washington Post site, I found mention of John O’Neill, the former head of counterterrorism in the FBI’s New York office. The brief obituary mentioned that O’Neill had resigned from the bureau under pressure before taking a position as the head of security at the World Trade Center. I thought that, whether he was a hero or a disgrace, he was a pivotal figure. He was our chief Osama bin Laden hunter, but instead of getting bin Laden, bin Laden got him.

Q: What sort of research went into the book?

A: In the nearly five years I have been working on the book, I’ve traveled extensively to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, as well as New York and Washington. I’ve interviewed more than six hundred people, including many FBI agents, CIA officers, intelligence operatives from many countries, and members of al-Qaeda and al-Jihad, Zawahiri’s organization. Some of those people I interviewed dozens of times.

Soon after airline travel resumed in the U.S., I flew to New York to prepare a profile on John O’Neill for The New Yorker. In February 2002, I went to Cairo, where I spent three months meeting Zawahiri’s friends and family members. A year later, after fourteen months of being refused a visa as a journalist in Saudi Arabia, I took a job in the Kingdom. I was to “mentor” young reporters at a newspaper in Jeddah, bin Laden’s hometown. It proved to be a fortuitous turn of events, since I was able to get much more deeply involved in Saudi society than I could ever have hoped as a reporter.

Over the years I’ve hired a number of translators to help me decipher the primary documents involved making this book; most of those documents were in Arabic, but there were also important books, documents, articles, or other material in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. My interviews filled 78 legal pads—that is 3900 pages of handwritten notes. Eventually, all the translated documents, my interview notes, and my notes from published sources, were reduced to fourteen boxes of 4x6 note cards.

Q: What was the most surprising revelation for you while you were researching and writing this book?

A: Among the thousands of unexpected details I came across during the research for this book, two stand out as the most surprising.

One is the fact that al-Qaeda turned out to be a rather good job, especially for young men who had gone off to fight jihad against the Soviets and were confronted with an uncertain future once that conflict ended. Al-Qaeda offered them housing, health care, a decent monthly salary, and a yearly month-long vacation with a round-trip ticket home. Terror was not just a calling for many of these young men, it was an appealing employment opportunity.

The other revelation, sadly, is that 9/11 could have been prevented if the CIA and the NSA had cooperated with the FBI by providing the information that two al-Qaeda hijackers had arrived in America in January 2000, nineteen months before the attacks. Personal rivalries and bureaucratic turf wars stood in the way. As a result, the hijackers remained in the country unobserved, and the attacks proceeded.

Q: What separates The Looming Tower from other books about al-Qaeda, 9/11, and the intelligence community?

A: More than any other book in English, The Looming Tower explores the Arab personalities who make up the core of al-Qaeda. It examines their backgrounds and explores the evolution of their decisions to attack America and to murder innocent people. Relying on documents that have never been available until now and extensive interviews with jihadis and intelligence figures who have never before spoken to the press, The Looming Tower gets inside the al-Qaeda community and richly describes what the terrorist life is like—not only for the leaders but also for their wives and children. At the same time, The Looming Tower deals with the counterterrorists in America and Saudi Arabia who sought to stop the Islamist threat.

The story is told through the lives of four primary characters: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who is the brains behind al-Qaeda; Osama bin Laden, the organization’s charismatic leader; Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and now the ambassador the United States; and John O’Neill, the former head of counterterrorism for the FBI in New York, who died in the towers on 9/11. Their interweaving biographies create a vast historical saga.

Although there have been many books about al-Qaeda and others that examined the failures of American intelligence, The Looming Tower is the first to tell both sides in even-handed manner, using primary new material. No book has gotten such rich and intimate detail about the primary figures in this immense tragedy.

Q: You include details of bin Laden’s life such as what television shows he liked as a child. Why do you think it’s important to humanize him and other men behind al-Qaeda?

A: Osama bin Laden is the most famous man in the world and will probably be one of the most famous men in history. Millions idolize him and even those who do not support terrorism often approve of his war against America. In order to understand his appeal, it’s essential to understand him as completely as possible, without ever endorsing his actions. Such intimate knowledge also helps to put him into his proper scale—as a human being with his own set of strengths and flaws. We blundered into this conflict because of our ignorance; the more we know about our adversaries, the better we can contend with them.

Q: After such in-depth research, what, in your opinion, is the future of al-Qaeda?

A: Al-Qaeda has already split into several distinct branches. Besides the core group, consisting of bin Laden, Zawahiri, and a few surviving members of the original organization that was formed in Afghanistan in 1988, there are affiliates in North Africa, Europe, and Iraq. Each of these formal branches has a high degree of autonomy, and yet they still pay nominal attention to the demands of the al-Qaeda founders.

Below this second tier of al-Qaeda, there are a number of ad hoc, freelance groups that identify with the organization but may not have any actual relation to al-Qaeda; i.e., they have not trained in al-Qaeda camps, fought with al-Qaeda, or affiliated with senior members of the organization. These groups, the third tier, pose a formidable problem for intelligence organizations, since they are often invisible in the societies in which they are formed, and yet the damage they might inflict is somewhat curtailed by their lack of training.

Finally, there is a fourth tier of al-Qaeda that is being formed from experienced jihadis now coming out of Iraq. Many of them have been highly trained. They are fully capable of carrying out devastating attacks in their own countries and elsewhere. I expect this fourth tier to metastasize over the next few years, drawing recruits from the freelancers and becoming a major source of terror—one that will be all the more chaotic because of their spontaneous nature, the social network they formed in Iraq, and their subsequent dispersal throughout the world. Unfortunately, it appears that there is a substantial potential for a long, bloody struggle against non-state terrorists for a considerable time in the future.

Q: Your screenplay about the life of John O’Neill has been optioned by MGM. What can you tell us about it?

A: The script has been well received by the studio, but MGM was bought out by Columbia, and now we’re waiting to see if the new entity will proceed with the filming.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m eager to write for The New Yorker again, and I’m working on a one-man play about “my trip to al-Qaeda.”


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Marvelous. . . . Not just a heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve. . . . A thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11.” —The New York Times Book Review“At once wrenchingly intimate and boldly sweeping in its historical perspective. . . . A narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel.” —The New York Times“A stunningly well-researched opus that puts the catastrophe in vibrant context.” —Entertainment Weekly“Lawrence Wright’s book is my new touchstone. None of the previous books led me to say ‘Aha, now I think I understand’ as frequently.” —Steve Weinberg, The Boston Globe“Should be required reading for every American; yes, it is that good. It is hard to imagine a better portrait of 9/11 and its causes emerging anytime soon.”—The Christian Science Monitor “Powerful and important . . . a history of a man and a movement, replete with the accidents of history and historic inevitability.” —Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch“Don’t read The Looming Tower in bed. This book requires a straight spine and full attention . . . The reporting is so good that it will matter in 100 years. Wright’s determined, disciplined work has made his book indispensable. “ —Karen Long, The Plain Dealer“A page-turner . . . encompassing religion, politics, economics and more. If you’ve been meaning to sharpen your understanding of what all led up to September 11, 2001, then Wright may have written just what you’ve been waiting for.” —Tom Gallagher, San Francisco Chronicle“Brilliant . . . describes the contorted intellectual journey that has taken place among some Muslims which allows a holy book that appears to condemn suicide and the killing on innocents to be used to justify catastrophic terrorism.” —Stephen Fidler, Financial Times“A magisterial, beautifully crafted narrative . . . This focus on character, along with Wright’s five years of fierce on-the-ground reporting (he lists 560 interviewees), pays off.” —Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Times“Deeply researched . . . immaculately crafted.” —Peter Bergen, The Wall Street Journal “What a riveting tale Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book.  ‘The Looming Tower’ is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve.  [It’s] a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today.   The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden F.B. I. agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone.   ‘The Looming Tower’ is a thriller.  And it’s a tragedy, too.”–Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review cover“Dozens of intricately reported books about 9/11 are already available; I had read perhaps half of them [before] starting The Looming Tower. But Lawrence Wright’s book is my new touchstone. None of the previous books led me to say ‘Aha, now I think I understand’ as frequently.” —Steve Weinberg, The Boston Globe“A magisterial, beautifully crafted narrative . . . This focus on character, along with Wright’s five years of fierce on-the-ground reporting (he lists 560 interviewees), pays off.” —Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Times“Deeply researched . . . immaculately crafted.” —Peter Bergen, The Wall Street Journal “A searing view of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, a view that is at once wrenchingly intimate and boldly sweeping in its historical perspective . . . a narrative history that possesses all the immediacy and emotional power of a novel, an account that indelibly illustrates how the political and the personal, the public and the private were often inextricably intertwined.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times“Important, gripping . . . One of the best books yet on the history of terrorism.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review“Lawrence Wright provides a graceful and remarkably intimate set of portraits of the people who brought us 9/11. It is a tale of extravagant zealotry and incessant bumbling that would be merely absurd if the consequences were not so grisly.” —Gary Sick"Lawrence Wright's integrity and diligence as a reporter shine through every page of this riveting narrative." —Robert A. Caro “A towering achievement. One of the best and more important books of recent years. Lawrence Wright has dug deep into and written well a story every American should know. A masterful combination of reporting and writing.” —Dan Rather“Comprehensive and compelling…Wright has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11…Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day.”--starred Kirkus review

Awards

WINNER 2007 Pulitzer Prize
NOMINEE 2006 National Book Awards
WINNER 2006 New York Times Editors' Choice
WINNER 2007 PEN/USA Literary Award
WINNER 2007 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
WINNER 2007 New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism
WINNER 2007 L.A. Times Book Prize (History)
NOMINEE 2007 Arthur Ross Book Award
WINNER 2007 Lionel Gelber Prize
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