The Essential Terror Books

By Curtis, Bryan; Summers, Nick | Newsweek, May 16, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Essential Terror Books


Curtis, Bryan, Summers, Nick, Newsweek


Byline: Bryan Curtis and Nick Summers

Osama bin Laden is dead. These nine titles will help you understand his life.

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.

THE LOOMING TOWER

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.

THE BIN LADENS

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.

GHOST WARS

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.

OSAMA BIN LADEN

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."

THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT

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.

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