Shadowy Bookshelf: Looming Tower

Today's book du jour, is a powerful one...and a controversial one. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright.

Is it REALLY about these 19 yokels?


This is not just your run-of-the-mill, Al Qaeda-are-bad, book. This takes a sweeping look at the 20th century foundations of the jihadist movement, beginning with the strict Bedouin Wahabbi philosophy, and then through the overarching tales of Egyptian scholar Qutb, John O'Neill, Iman Zawahiri, Dick Clarke and Osama Bin Laden, tries to make sense of the greater pan-Muslim movement. To call Lawrence's work ambitious in its breadth is a vast understatement.

Not really...it's more about this guy, and the historical axes in which we're currently operating.

NYT's Review, shall we:

The Looming Tower may be the most riveting, informative, and "heart-stopping account" yet of the men who shaped 9/11 (New York Times Book Review). The focus on individuals gives the book its emotional punch, but it is also a narrative bold in conception and historical sweep. Lawrence Wright conducted more than 500 interviews, from bin Laden's best friend in college to Richard A. Clarke, Saudi royalty, Afghan mujahideen, and reporters for Al Jazeera. The result, while evenhanded in its analysis of the complex motives, ideals, and power plays that led to 9/11, leaves few nefarious details uncovered. An abrupt ending did little to sway critics that Looming Tower is nothing less than "indispensable" reading (Cleveland Plain Dealer). 

A Random Amazon Reader thinks:

 It is Wright's objective to get inside, to the very core, of Al-Qaeda's chief figures and show us how they feel humiliated by the successes of the West, including Israel, and how this humiliation, plus a great deal of sexual repression, animates their obsession with becoming "martyrs for Allah." Lawrence Wright achieves his objective masterfully and leaves a terrifying, indelible imprint on the reader. Having read dozens of "9/11" books, I can say this is my favorite. The book succeeds for several reasons. First, it shows the failure of American imagination in dealing with terrorism. Second, Wright's narratives leading to 9/11 are effortlessly woven with concrete (never academic) psychological profiles of the seeds of Al-Qaeda: We see the fastidious, sexually repressed Egyptian anti-Semite religious scholar Sayyid Qutb as he navigates post World War II America. He is disgusted by our freedom and equality for women and his disgust radicalizes him so that he returns to Egypt to support a radical theocracy movement that thrives to this day. We see Bin Laden's number two man, Al-Zawahiri, one of Qutb's acolytes, a complex intellectual who consolidates all his brilliance and energies to become a cold-blooded killer. We see of course Bin Laden himself and the historical roots of his hatred for the West.

A complex, nuanced intelligent book, The Looming Tower does not demonize Islam. To the contrary, it shows that mainstream Islam has struggled against extremists spawned by the post World War II writings of militant Islam jihadist founder Sayyid Qutb.

What is most amazing about this book is that Wright's ability to get inside the head of a terrorist with the narrative speed of thriller novel allows us to comprehend the terrorist's motivations and to wake up from a deep sleep that has imperiled us.

Some Beg to Differ:

This book is overwritten. The actual content could be in an essay. There are pointless diversions, etc., etc.,and when it gets to actual facts it jumps around. It really needs an editor who knows the subject. 

In reality, most of the critics spout some incredibly difficult to rationalize stuff...like this guy...only less sane.

Der Schatten thinks:

This book is ambitious, beautifully written, and -above all- human. If you want strict coffee table fare, this likely isn't for you, but if you want a psychic autopsy of the ideas, beliefs and humanity of the players, then definitely give it a try: the upbringing of the Bin Laden children, O'Neill's Shakespearean comi-tragic life, Richard Clarke's world-weary outsider, Zawahiri's denunciation of the medical/scholastic dynasty he stood to inherit, the ethereal Osama (far different from a mastermind), and above all the grim real politick of disgruntled, ill-educated, and underemployed young men in a part of the world that most of us refused to acknowledge before the late '90s.  There is a reason this won the Pulitzer Prize. Engaging, painful, funny, and above all, one helluva ride, despite the (oft-noted) abrupt ending.

The Verdict?

 Four out of Five Spider Monkeys.



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