Jan 05, 2012

The Essential Terror Books; Newsweek


 May 16, 2011 U.S. Edition
The Essential Terror Books; Osama bin Laden is dead. These nine titles will help you understand his life.
BYLINE: By Bryan Curtis and Nick Summers
SECTION: OMNIVORE; Pg. 58 Vol. 157 No. 20 ISSN: 0028-9604
LENGTH: 912 words
The Osama bin Laden story has always been large, suited to book-length exploration. Born into fortune and a sprawling Saudi family, he found his ardent but undirected beliefs about Islam amplified by history, with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden's zealotry both fueled and fed off increasing American involvement in the Middle East, with the attacks of September 11 just the crescendo in a career of terror that ended with his corpse, wanted by no nation on Earth, on the seabed of the Indian Ocean. If you are to fully understand bin Laden, your bookshelf must contain works of history, theology, geopolitics, and war.


Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

by Lawrence Wright

553 pages

Vintage, $17

The New Yorker writer's rich, meticulously constructed history of Al Qaeda and radical Islam.

Unforgettable: The story of John O'Neill, an FBI counterterror officer who feverishly tracked bin Laden before leaving the agency to take over security at the World Trade Center. O'Neill died there on 9/11.


An Arabian Family in the American Century

by Steve Coll

688 pages

Penguin, $18

A sprawling biography of the entire Saudi family--its Yemeni origins, vast wealth, Western ties, and deadly son.

Colorful character: Patriarch Mohammed bin Laden emerges as a rags-to-riches figure who made billions in construction and sired some 54 children before dying in an airplane crash.


The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

by Steve Coll

738 pages

Penguin, $18

An exhaustively researched history of the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan in the years leading up to 9/11.

Scoop: Operational details from a clandestine agency plot to snatch bin Laden from a farm near Kandahar in 1998. Coll also writes revealingly of President Clinton's decision not to bomb bin Laden just before the 2000 election.


by Michael Scheuer

496 pages

Free Press, $28

A prickly, corrective biography by the former CIA officer who began pursuing bin Laden in 1996.

Bold stance: Taking issue with Coll and Wright, Scheuer argues that American writers had caricatured bin Laden after 9/11 as a "messianic individual of limited intelligence." Actually, Scheuer says, bin Laden was "pious, brave, generous, intelligent"--and, thus, until his death, extremely dangerous. Scheuer thought a realistic portrait would help the U.S. defeat the terrorist. "My intention is not to praise bin Laden," he writes, "but to help bury him."


568 pages

W.W. Norton & Co., $10

A bipartisan federal panel produced this heavily footnoted account of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Unforgettable: Riveting dialogue is delivered like stage direction, as in this scene when unarmed passengers attempt to retake the hijacked United Flight 93: "At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, 'In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die!' Sixteen seconds later, a passenger yelled, 'Roll it!'?" Americans bought more than a million copies of the unlikely bestseller.


by Bob Woodward

416 pages

Simon & Schuster, $16

The first of the Washington Post reporter's three-book trilogy on the war on terror.

Scoop: In one of his more wizardly performances, Woodward provides detailed accounts of the dozens of National Security Council meetings the administration used to plan the invasion of Afghanistan. Colin Powell, in Woodward's telling, was a dove standing firm against Dick Cheney and administration hawks. Donald Rumsfeld, who was less eager to play Woodward's game, was portrayed as out of his depth. Plus, pensive takes from an expansive George W. Bush.


by Dexter Filkins

384 pages

Vintage, $15.95

A New York Times correspondent's journey to every front in the war on terror, from 9/11 to Afghanistan to Iraq.

Unforgettable: In prose that is detached yet deeply personal, Filkins writes of his guilt over the death of a Marine in Fallujah, and of his own numerous brushes with death. Filkins is such a crack reporter that after a female journalist is kidnapped in Iraq, he is asked into the CIA's supersecret Baghdad headquarters, revealing some-thing about the quality of his information vs. that of the government.


Inside America's War on Terror

by Richard A. Clarke

352 pages

Free Press, $14

The ultimate insider tale from the U.S. terrorism czar under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Scoop: Clarke lambastes Bush administration officials for ignoring the increasing likelihood of a large-scale strike and then, after the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit, for caring more about invading Iraq than going after bin Laden. Clarke, who was in the White House Situation Room on 9/11, claims that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to bomb Saddam Hussein immediately afterward, even though the dictator played no role in the attack.


The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda

by Peter L. Bergen

496 pages

Free Press, $28

A lavishly praised history of America's war with Al Qaeda, by the journalist who interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1997.

Bold stance: Both George W. Bush and bin Laden made grievous mistakes: Bush by fulfilling bin Laden's wish for an imperial adventure; bin Laden by losing his Afghan safe haven after the 9/11 attacks--a mistake that became deadly on May 1. After bin Laden's death, Bergen predicted on CNN that Al Qaeda was effectively toast. "Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror," he said.