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The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda's Road to 9/11 Paperback – 6 Sep 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141029358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141029351
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read this book in early 2016 ten years after its publication, having read many books on 9/11 and its aftermath. The passing of time and Islamic extremism's subsequent global growth make its contribution to one's understanding even more impressive and important.

As other reviewers have noted this book is not about 9/11 though that is the culminating event. Instead it is primarily about the growth of radical Islamic thinking from the late 1940s. The Muslim Brotherhood led by Sayyid Qutb until he was executed in 1966, existed mainly in Egypt a country the author knew as an English teacher during the 1960s. Reignited by the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the vacuum created, it's diverse supporters transformed into al-Qaeda under the control of a wayward son of the Saudi based wealthy Yemen family of bin Laden.

The detailed level of research and the concise explanations of what is so often not easily understood by non-Muslims is what initially marks this book out especially in the first two hundred pages up to the first truck bomb attack on the World Towers in 1993. From then on the book runs in parallel the roller coaster history of al-Qaeda under Osama bin-Laden and the story of the US and Saudi government's growing awareness and response (or lack of it).

Lawrence Wright's prodigious research and extensive interviews with representatives from all sides fill out these stories with facets that have largely been lost post 9/11 and the subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. By telling events though a few key driven individuals, who nearly all ultimately were losers or victims in later events, Wright keeps the drama moving to its sad finale.
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Format: Hardcover
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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