What a story it is. And 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, and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. It’s an education, too—though you’d never know it—a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today.
...a book filled with dazzling insight, pitch-perfect anecdotes, and compelling context. Simply put, this is the most thorough and accessible account of the people, politics, and roiling theology behind Islamic terrorism. It 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.
One of the darker choruses of this excellent work of journalism is the success that three of those allied governments, the Saudi Arabian, Pakistani and Egyptian, have had in diverting the fundamentalist warriors away from their original prime target – them – and towards the West ... Though Wright never avoids bin Laden’s responsibility for the deaths of thousands of civilians, his portrait of the master terrorist is oddly engaging. Where Zawahiri comes across as a cold, treacherous, jealous exploiter of others, bin Laden is vain, naive, generous and idealistic – which, combined with the fact that he is a mass murderer, makes him the more sinister character ... For all O’Neill’s foresight, I get the feeling that Wright chose to follow the thread of his tragedy more for the sake of a readable, oppositional narrative than because O’Neill genuinely sat facing bin Laden across the chessboard of global terrorism, his counter-terror counterpart.
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 ... Wright seems to have found his calling: a perceptive and intense page-turner, this selection and Peter Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006) should be considered the definitive works on the topic.
Wright is a New Yorker journalist who knows how to take care of his prose and construct a seductive narrative. His book is a skilful reconstruction of the lives of the main characters involved in what is now an old story ... Wright has employed the vacuum-cleaner approach, collecting all the published material, sifting through it and then conducting dozens of interviews and doing a great deal of cross-checking ... There is a missing piece in the puzzle. What is virtually absent in The Looming Tower is anything on the al-Qaida presence in Bosnia from 1993-95. Despite the fact that one of the more important documents Wright obtained was 'a collection of memos, letters and notes that were taken from an al-Qaida computer captured in Bosnia,' he chooses not to write about it. This is a great pity.
Wright deftly evokes the jihadist milieu, but he is on less solid ground later in the book when he attempts to recast his narrative into a sort of police procedural: a race against time by the forces of good—embodied by John O'Neill, the mercurial head of the FBI's New York counterterrorism office—to thwart the evil machinations that culminated in the 9/11 attacks ... captivating as O'Neill's story is, it comes across as a somewhat distracting addendum to what at heart is a rich, finely detailed account of how bin Laden and Zawahiri, two men of vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, together launched an epic struggle more than a decade ago that continues to dominate international politics today.
At times, Wright seems to go too far, seeing bin Laden and his associates as representing the entire jihadist movement, and he has little to say about political divisions among Islamists as well as about the different goals of such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon. But he has given a finely judged account of both collaboration among terrorists and rivalry between the CIA and the FBI ... More convincingly than any other writer I know of, Wright has been able to reconstruct full portraits of the two men and the effects of their friendship on the broader goals of the jihadist movement.
[Wright] has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11 ... Wright shows with devastating clarity that the CIA’s reluctance to share its intelligence was a principal reason the FBI did not apprehend the hijackers beforehand. Bin Laden reportedly wept with joy when the planes hit their targets. Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day.