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The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  29,161 ratings  ·  2,504 reviews
A sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America. Lawrence Wright's remarkable book is based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews that he conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, ...more
Hardcover, 469 pages
Published August 8th 2006 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Will Byrnes
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Lawrence Wright - from his site

Lawrence Wright looks at the players involved in the history and construction of Al-Qaeda, offering short bios of Sayyid Qtub, Ayyman Zawairi, bin Laden on the AQ side and John O’Neill of the FBI and others on the anti-terrorist teams. It is a thorough and interesting work. As someone who has read quite a bit about the players here, my expectations were modest. But I was impressed with the clarity of the story-telling. It was also impressive in the level of detail
Lawrence Wright is one of those guys who could easily put novelists out of business, and this book made me question why I read fiction at all. The locations, characters, and events in The Looming Tower are so much more fascinating than anything an author could invent, and the fact that they're real makes them seem important in a way fiction almost never does. I loved this book, and my picayune quibbles -- a few recurring awkward sentence constructions, inexplicably referring to domestic terroris ...more
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any American
What a great surprise this book was. I first read about The Looming Tower (the title comes from the Koranic verse Osama bin Laden used as a coded message to the 9/11 hijackers) in a number of political op/ed columns. Finally, though, it was conservative writer Jonah Goldberg's heavy reliance on The Looming Tower for an L.A. Times column that sent me looking for the book.

Lawrence Wright's treatment of the jihadist movement is thorough to the point of being almost sympathetic. It goes deeply into
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
there are the books that make our heads explode, that make every minute of the day a chinese water torture of waiting for the chance to get the hell home and read some more, the books that live inside us all through the day, the books that make us excited to take a crap just so we can shut the door behind us (or not) and sneak in a few pages, the books which cause horn-honking at red lights from drivers irritated we're reading at the fucking wheel... the looming tower is one of 'em. as riveting ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
"Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in looming towers" ("أينما تكونوا يدرككم الموت ولو كنتم في بروج مشيدة")
- Qur'an 4:78


A great narrative history of the rise of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Wright's journalism takes the reader from Sayyid Qutb's youth to the destruction of the twin towers and includes most of the major characters both in al-Qaeda, and Zawahiri's al-Jihad to Saudi Arabia to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. The focus of the book, however, is obviously Bin Laden and O'
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in high towers." - Quran 4:78

Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Islamic theorist, begins this saga with a voyage to the US in 1948. After a brief stay in the post war sin city of New York, Qutb attended college in small town Colorado as a well known Arabic author. On return to Cairo his ideas crystallized into a dialectical opposition between east-west, traditional-modern and religious-secular. Israel had defeated the Arab alliance and the British we
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Well, I finally found my notes and got this review finished - long overdue.

For all the energy, lives and treasure we have devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that they had nothing to do with 9/11 which became the excuse for our actions rather than the proximate rationale. We are now in a war that would appear to have literally no end, this “war of terror,” one that any sane person who recently traveled on an airplane can see the terrorists have won as we meekly surrender
Paul Bryant
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, 9-11
You can be nerdy and geeky and boring about all manner of things, railway timetables, cricket, fine wine, Marvel comics, Beatles flipsides, the confectionary you used to scoff when you were little (ah the nostalgic sweetmeats of childhood, how much of a lump in your throat were they then and still are now), campy 70s sitcoms, Jean-Marie Straub movies, the best places to go backpacking in Andalucia, bootlegs of the Velvet Underground, and so on boringly and tediously.

Turns out you can be geeky an
Paquita Maria Sanchez
People who want to be politicians are out of their goddamned minds. Attempting to clean up this mess alone—even just describing it as a single mess being, of course, a gross oversimplification—is a task of such a Sisyphean order, I have serious doubts that even a titan could manage it, let alone some dipshit human(s). I would write more about this, but "this situation" is way beyond my level of even abstract problem-solving, and probably everyone's levels of abstract problem-solving. Combined.

Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Two themes run through the book. First is the development of radical Islamist movements particularly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan culminating in the formation of al-Queda. Included in the story are detailed accounts of the lives of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their ideological predecessor Sayyid Qutb. Second is the disjointed response of the CIA, FBI and national security apparatus in Washington to counter al-Queda and similar groups. American efforts are rendered ineffectiv ...more
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a morbid fascination with terrorism and the reasons people behind it do what they do, but I have always wanted to learn more about their motivations and the ties to religion. It's crucial in today's world that more of us have an understanding of why this is happening, especially with events such as 9/11. Religion, politics and foreign policy are all of interest to me, all three feature in "The Looming Tower" in a large way.

Make no mistake, this is a challenging read! It could be categoris
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was very good and very interesting, but I want to do something different and do a double review. I like to read several books at a time and it just so happened that I read this book at the same time as I read the book "Bring the War Home" by Kathleen Belew and I was struck by how similar Al Qaeda was to the white power paramilitary in the US. There are obvious differences, but there are more similarities than you would expect. So here's what I observed of both movements:

1. Both are ru
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Paula Abdul
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Trig Palin
Shelves: own
Thoroughly, painstakingly researched, extremely readable, well-written, riveting account of the genesis of al-Qaeda and some of the reasons why we failed to prevent 9/11 and their earlier attacks, by New Yorker contributor Wright. Long on narrative and short on analysis, although what analysis there is, is good and insightful. Wright used primary and secondary sources as well as personal interviews with hundreds of people. Where accounts differ, he explains in the endnotes that he chose one sour ...more
Aug 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is really worth reading, even if you think you've had your fill of Al Queda, 9-11 et al. The histories of Bin Laden and Zawahiri are interesting and surprising, and this book really lays out how the CIA and FBI blew their chances to stop 9/11. If you're not already disgusted by them, this will get you there. Despite its depressing subject matter, the book is actually a pleasure to read, because the writing and story-telling are so good. This dude has knowledge! ...more
RJ - Slayer of Trolls
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
This Pulitzer-Prize winner encompasses a massive scope by tracing the roots of Islamic fundamentalism all the way back to the 1950s (with a few brief nods to the Crusades) and the writings of Egyptian author Sayyid Qutb as it picks up steam during the Palestinian conflict, gains traction in financing and personnel during the Russian war in Afghanistan, and rises to a fever pitch in the years leading up to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which are not the focus of the book but rather are portrayed ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This review is for the audio version.

Ugh. This was an incredibly difficult book to listen to.

When the reader got to September 11th, I had to pause several times to get my emotions under control. I remember that day. I remember being at school and watching the news and being excited. Man. Highschoolers. We were so dumb. We didn't know anything. Then my parents came to get us and we saw the actual images of people throwing themselves from the buildings and people running through the streets cover
Mikey B.
This is a very readable account of the growth of Islamic militancy. This is given from the perspective of life in the Arab states and the different personalities involved. It starts with Sayyid Qutb’s visit to the United States in the late 1940’s and the subsequent publication of his books espousing fundamentalist Islam. This version of Islam hardly recognizes any of the social transformations that have taken place in the world in the last 1200 years (since the death of Mohammed). The author the ...more
Angus McKeogh
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my second or third Wright book and I’m convinced he might be one of our best historians currently working. Another phenomenal read. Truly sad stuff. Not just the topic. But to get a glimpse of how it all came about. From the horror and absurdity of religion and the extremists it breeds to the failure of bureaucracy to communicate and share data which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands of people. If you’ve ever wondered how something so twisted was allowed to happen or how someone’ ...more
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think it is a must read. For me, it showed once again the dangers of religion, especially when it is taken to the extreme. Same goes for all ideologies. If there is one hero in the book, it is John O'Neill, the one man who could have stopped Bin Laden. There were failures of governments, religions, human beings. All of it added up to a disaster still destroying the world.

There are discussions on Goodreads where members call it all a conspiracy of false stories. Shame on those people.

For most
4.75 Stars - This is Lawrence Wright at his absolute best. Having red this prior to ’End of October’ & that fiction was almost as brilliant but it’s foreshadowing is a large part of my admiration for it, this is just pure unadulterated filthy nonfiction greatness.

As all LW, the research is stunning & akin to Caro in its thoroughness & the ability of the writer to tell the story in the most concise yet chilling way possible.

The content is that which is close to all our hearts I’m sure, and a tim
Chris Gordon
Informative. Exciting. Revelatory. Thought-provoking. Powerful. I could use a slew of words and phrases to describe The Looming Tower, but to no avail could I ever begin to satisfactorily convey to the proper extent exactly how magnificent this book was from start to finish.

The Looming Tower is unlike any other non-fiction book I have read thus far, for it read as though it were the work of one of literature's most prominent and accomplished storytellers of the same vein as F. Scott Fitzgerald
Terry Cornell
Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I read Wright's book on Scientology earlier this year and was impressed. This Pulitzer Prize winning book examines the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1950s, and how this eventually led to the founding of Al-Qaeda and their terrorist attacks around the world culminating in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. The author conducted hundreds of interviews, and with other documented sources crafts a written history that reads like an espionage thriller. Part of the tragedy is that i ...more
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you are a citizen of the USA and young enough to remember 9/11 as it unfolded, this is something you'd be pretty much gobsmacked over. Holy smokes - read this thing! It is fascinating in an awful way.

Of course, this shocking book didn't just win the Pulitzer because that section of the population can relate. The layers of secrets that are peeled back and how these events were the escalation of other attacks are just the surface. If you work for a company, say, where maybe management makes stu
George Bradford
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
On the morning of September 11, 2001, most Americans had never heard of Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. But they were very well known to the FBI, CIA, NSA and the White House. This book (which won the Pulitzer Prize) explains why.

"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright precisely details the individuals and events that lead (over the course of five decades) to September 11, 2001. The writing is crisp. The narrative is compelling. The historical context is vivid.

This is a highly readable account of the events leading up to the 9/11 tragedy. It details the activities of it's masterminds and the status of the determined men and women in the US who were putting the pieces together. There is an impressive number of interviews with key players and informed bystanders. While this has been a well covered event, still, without Wright's diligence much of what he presents could have been lost to history.

I've recently read Steve Coll's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian F
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gripping thriller and a rigorous and enthralling piece of journalism. One of the best reads of this, or any other year.
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Pulitzer Prize winning effort from acclaimed historian Lawrence Wright, this book does not disappoint. We learn of the frustrating wall that existed that prevented cooperation between American intelligence organizations and the road that led to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We learn more of Arab culture, both religious and secular, than in any book I've read previously. Overall, this book belongs on the shelf along such works as Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Directorate s, both fine studies o ...more
May 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read two books by Lawrence Wright this year, and he is one of those gifted authors who can weave the most compelling stories even from the tangled threads of mundane, real-life events.

The HBO documentary on Scientology brought me to his 2013 book “Going Clear”, which takes a sweeping look at the mysterious religion, followers of which include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and several other Hollywood celebrities.

I have been fascinated by cults for as long as I can remember, and that book explored
Anyone who wants to really understand why 9/11 happened needs to read this book. From Sayyid Qutb, the exiled Egyptian intellectual who in the 50's instituted the idea that modernity and Islam were completely incompatible, to the horrible, petty rivalry between the CIA and FBI that prevented vital information from coming to light about the 9/11 plot until it was too late, The Looming Tower delivers a huge cast of characters, spans sixty years and virtually the entire world.

I’ve always wondered w
Rohit Enghakat
May 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous account of the rise of Osama bin Laden and events leading to 9/11 terror attack. A detailed narrative of the rise of terrorism and how religious extremist leaders played a role in spreading terror in the name of jihad across the world. It was horrifying to read that the CIA was aware of the plot to attack America but chose to ignore the red flags raised by FBI and Immigration Services. A routine basic investigation by the CIA could have averted the tragedy. But it chose to stonewall t ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Update Book Cover for The Looming Tower 3 17 Jun 14, 2018 08:30AM  
Recommendation for an interesting read on the 9-11 attacks? 4 36 Mar 27, 2017 09:40AM  
Al Qaeda & Osama Bin Ladin 7 90 Jul 05, 2012 02:21PM  

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Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and fellow at the Center for Law and Security at the New York University School of Law. He is a graduate of Tulane University, and for two years taught at the American University in Cairo in Egypt.

Wright graduated from Woodrow Wilson High

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