Feb 28, 2006

Review of the OBL I Know in Foreign Affairs

Reviewed by L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006 Bergen, author of the acclaimed Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, has pieced together the accounts of over 50 people who have known bin Laden to construct a narrative of the man and his deeds. His sources include the Englishman who was bin Laden's teacher in an elite Saudi prep school, a boyhood friend, bin Laden's bodyguard, the few reporters of different nationalities who have interviewed him, and, most prominently, several intimate followers (and a few opponents) of bin Laden from across the Arab and Muslim world. The many different accounts, introduced with just enough commentary by Bergen to clarify the context, reveal the role of other individuals important to the bin Laden story as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and "the Blind Sheik," Omar Abdel Rahman. Such a collection of primary sources might have produced no more than a source book, but Bergen has made of it a coherent and indeed dramatic account. How appropriate that the short biographies of those cited are gathered under the rubric "Dramatis Personae." This is a compelling story well told. There is plenty of evil, but thanks to Bergen's ability to bring out the human dimensions of the individuals involved, the banality of evil is not lacking either.