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The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda's Road to 9/11 [Paperback]

Lawrence Wright
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2007

Brilliantly written, compelling and highly original, The Looming Tower is the first book to tell the full story of Al Qaeda from its roots up to 9/11. Drawing on astonishing interviews and first-hand sources, it investigates the extraordinary group of idealogues behind this organization - and those who tried to stop them. There is the tormented, resentful Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, who was horrified by the godlessness and decadence he perceived in America in 1948, and whose subsequent writings turned him into a martyr for Islamic extremists. There is Ayman al-Zawahiri: a devout student who, by the age of fifteen, had already helped to form an underground jihadist cell. There is the deeply contradictory Osama bin Laden: Saudi multimillionaire turned muhajideen commander, whose interests merged with al-Zawahiri's to form a global terror coalition. And there is the FBI's counterterrorism chief, the flamboyant, cigar-smoking John O'Neill, who found his warnings that 'something big' was coming continually ignored, and would finally meet his fate in the shadow of the Twin Towers.

Interweaving this extraordinary story with events including the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the first attack on the World Trade Center, Lawrence Wright takes us into training camps, mountain hideouts and top secret meetings to explore how it all fed into the planning and execution of 9/11 - and reveals the real, complex origins of Al Qaeda's hatred of the West.

Wright's brilliantly acclaimed book now includes a new Afterword which covers events that have unfolded since publication, including the death of Osama Bin Laden

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; First Penguin Edition edition (6 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141029358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141029351
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Wright's brilliantly constructed narrative is head and shoulders above the rest. He knows important parts of the Muslim world (including Saudi Arabia) at first hand, he understands the motors of Islamist militancy ... Moreover, he is a fine writer with an eye for the telling detail. Even those who think they know the story intimately will feel they are reading it anew (New Statesman)

One of the best and most important books of recent years. A masterful combination of reporting and writing (Dan Rather)

Lawrence Wright's integrity and diligence as a reporter shine through every page of this riveting narrative (Robert Caro)

From the Publisher

Chosen as book of the year by The Times, Evening Standard, Economist, Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Sunday Telegraph, The Herald, Observer, Guardian and New Statesman.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Before reading Lawrence Wright's excellent `The Looming Tower' I held the mistaken idea that its primary focus might be the 19 hijackers in the September 2001 `planes operation'. But the book is not about that; it has a more ambitious reach with a narrative deeper, broader and more enlightening.

At the heart of the book is the story of Islamist-jihadism since the 1940s: the revolutionary `Moslem Brotherhood' whose primary goal was the violent overthrow of Arab secular-nationalist governments starting with Egypt; the 18th-century Wahhabi tradition predominant in Saudi Arabia, and the Taliban movement jointly financed and supported by the Pakistani ISI & Saudi Intelligence. These detailed stories replete with revealing personal testimony (the author interviewed more than 1,000 people all over the Middle East & Af-Pak region whilst researching his material) are progressively interwoven with those of the key players in the US Government, in particular the clever but mildly eccentric Richard Clarke; the CIA and the FBI's John O'Neill, a larger-than-life cigar-smoking polygamist highly respected and popular with his staff who prophetically foresaw the Salafi-Islamist attack on the USA in 2001 and worked tirelessly to forestall it before tragically meeting his death in the World Trade Centre on 11th September.

The book starts with a chapter devoted to the austere Egyptian anti-Semitic academic Sayyid Qutb, the pious and sexually-repressed father of modern theocratic Islamism whose time spent in the USA in the late 1940s convinced him the West was irredeemably decadent and deserved to be destroyed. Qutb eventually welcomed execution by the Egyptian government in 1966 as a `martyr for Allah.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
What sets this apart from some other books I've read on the roots, history and methods of Al-Qaeda is Lawrence Wright's impressive research and his sparkling prose. He is a journalist with the reach of a historian and the narrative skills of a best-selling novelist.

There are really two stories here: one, the history of Al-Qaeda, and two, that of the American intelligence agencies that failed to prevent 9/11.

Wright begins with Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist writer who inspired the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian terrorist organization which may be seen as a precursor to Al-Qaeda. When Qutb was hanged by Nasser in 1966 it marked perhaps the essential martyrdom for the Islamic terrorists mainly because Qutb was considered the intellectual godfather of the modern jihadist movement. Another good book that examines the roots of Al-Qaeda and emphasizes the importance of Qutb is Dilip Hiro's lengthy War without End: The Rise of Islamist Terrorism and Global Response (2002). (See my review at Amazon.)

This history is important because it provides the rationale for modern jihadists who ignore the teachings of the Qu'ran (and human decency) by using suicide bombers to murder people in the name of God. Qutb is quoted in Hiro's book as saying that "once the Brothers had declared someone to be jahil (infidel), they had the right to attack this person or property, a right granted in Islam." (p. 67, op. cit.) Intensifying this rationale are the words of 13th-century Wahhabi philosopher Ibn Tamiyyah who justified killing bystanders with this logic: "If he is a good Muslim, he will go to Paradise; if he is bad, he will go to hell, and good riddance. Thus the dead tourist and the hotel worker would find their proper reward." (p.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars engrossing and sad 28 Jan 2013
By david
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An amazing amount of research, well written, hard to put down. If you need any more confirmation that U.S. "intelligence" was truly, shockingly arrogant and boneheaded, this book makes it clear as day. Bush and others could state this and that about wanting to get Bin Laden, but their appointed friends or directors were incompentant; the lack of insider knowledge in Pakistan is perhaps most irritating, and the almost complete lack of info exchange between the FBI and CIA meant 1000's died needlessly.

This book is not really about THE day, 9/11, but the people and events that created the desire to do such an evil deed. Yes, sometimes the names can be confusing, or hard to place in the timeline of events, but the narrative is clear and well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and generally reliable account 12 Feb 2013
By M. Barr
This is a very readable and generally very reliable account of the long build-up to 9/11. Its most original aspect is the way it describes the gradual development over several decades of Bin Laden's jihad on the USA, an anger which shifts focus from the rulers of his native Saudi Arabia to what he sees as the broader Western sources of their decadence. The early chapters in particular are very interesting in emphasising the importance of the writings of Sayyid Qutb (hanged by Nasser in 1966) and other events in Egypt as formative influences on Bin Laden and his followers.

It reads like a dramatised version of the 9/11 Commission report, covering in some detail the major Islamic terrorist events that preceeded 9/11. As such, a word of caution: despite its title (a well-chosen quotation from the Koran), only the last two chapters out of the twenty in the book are directly about 9/11. There is very little about the planning and execution of the attack itself. Rather, this is a history of its motivation.

As at least one other reviewer notes, Wright accepts the term "Al Qaeda" without question and uses it rather liberally. Jason Burke is a much more reliable author in terms of stressing the looseness and diversity of this supposedly official grouping which was never in any absolute sense directed or organised solely by Bin Laden.

Obviously, the absurd conspiracy theorists should be dismissed out of hand - it is inconceivable that the U.S. authorities would not have prevented 9/11 if they could, and this book is quite open about the reasons why they failed, mainly the tragically ineffective communications between the CIA and FBI. There are occasional moments, however, when The Looming Tower does lapse into blind patriotism.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars like an exciting thriller
It opens your eyes to the how Al-Qaeda was formed and it is written very well, like an exciting thriller. Highly recommended.
Published 2 months ago by Matthew Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Like a thriller
The story of how Muslim Fundamentalism grew, and how it led to 9/11. Both could have been avoided, but events spiralled out of control. Read more
Published 5 months ago by High Seas Drifter
4.0 out of 5 stars brill
this book is perfect for the course I am studying, has all the right information that I need. also delivered very quickly
Published 11 months ago by KestralH
4.0 out of 5 stars Impartial, sensitive and persuasive
This Pulitzer Prize winning book draws together the strands of several stories: the idealist who inspired Islamic terror groups; the evolution of the Egyptian Al-Jihad movement;... Read more
Published 12 months ago by John Baird
5.0 out of 5 stars Most incisive.
This is the best book I have read on Al Qaeda - origins, motivations, perverted philosophy (takfir), and how they managed to survive despite the best (and sometimes the worst)... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Philip
5.0 out of 5 stars A background to the "why" of Islamic extremism and the reasons America...
This book provides an excellent insight into the rise of Islamic extremism, how the likes of Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri came to the beliefs that helped create the Al Qaeda... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Si
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Could not have been better written in any ways at all. This is what i love about journalists publishing a book. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Pun Vorasak
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read
For anyone who has lived through the growth of the Al Qaeda phenomenon over the last eleven years, and wondered why, this book is a "must have". Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2012 by Dick Fisher
4.0 out of 5 stars 9/11 Background
This is a useful book that tells the story of Al Quaeda from its ideological beginnings in Egypt some 70 years ago. It also tells the Saudi background. Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2012 by Rf And Tm Walters
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome 9/11 book
This is perhaps the most comprehensive book on 9/11 on the market. What I like about it, is that he deals with the idealogical background of Al Qaeda as well, going back to Qtub. Read more
Published on 17 Jan 2012 by Amazon Customer
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