In This Review

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

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
By Lawrence Wright
480 pp, Knopf, 2006

This is surely the most thorough account available of "Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11." It is also the most readable, a remarkable feat given that it presents a welter of individuals and incidents. An appendix identifying the "principal characters" takes up eight pages; another eight pages are needed to list the number of jihadists, scholars, antiterrorist officials, and others Wright interviewed. The result is a splendid example of what dogged historical reconstruction can achieve. An added bonus is Wright's discussion of how he worked to use, and not be used by, partisan sources, which provides sound counsel to any reporter or historian. Osama bin Laden is the principal protagonist in the account, but scarcely less prominently portrayed are those who influenced him, including the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb and the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, as well as members of his inner circle, from Ayman al-Zawahiri to many lesser lights. Wright also works in those individuals who confronted al Qaeda, from Saudis such as Prince Turki al-Faisal to the handful of U.S. security officials whose poor cooperation lost what chance there might have been to prevent the 9/11 attacks.