Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Great Book Guru, With the approach of the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I wonder if you have a book that could help me understand how that horrific tragedy came about. After all these years, I am still confused and can't get seem to put all the players and events in place. Baffled

Dear Baffled, Last week, for my Sunday evening book group, I reread THE LOOMING TOWER by Lawrence Wright. This book came out in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize that year. Wright brings together in a series of 20 chapters the biographies of the leading figures in the 9/11 tragedy. The story begins in 1948 with the arrival in the United States of an Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutub ,who soon found himself at odds with American social mores. With his return to Egypt, he fathered the movement that eventually gave birth to Al-Qaeda. Other leading figures whose early lives are documented include the pivotal Osama bin Laden , the physician/strategist Ayman al-Zawaahiri who merged his jihad organization with Al-Qaeda increasing its power ten-fold, the revolutionary Ahmed Massoud who was assassinated moments before 9/11 began, Saudi and Egyptian politicians, and numerous FBI and CIA operatives . There were especially detailed portraits of John O'Neill and Richard Clarke, a prescient National Security coordinator. O'Neill's was possibly the most painful part of the book to read. He was a larger than life FBI leader, an extraordinarily dedicated patriot, and a morally flawed character who just a few days before the attack had begun a second career as head of security for the World Trade Center. Throughout the narrative, we have warnings and insights from O'Neill that, if followed, could have prevented the 9/11 tragedy . We come to know and admire the man so it is all the more difficult to read how he is betrayed by bureaucratic blunders and pettiness. For a moment, we are given hope that he has survived the attacks, but then in an ultimate act of bravery, he goes back into the towers and perishes. The title comes from a line recited by bin Laden"…wherever you are, death will find you in the looming tower."

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