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The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, gives the reader an in depth look at the world's most notorious terrorists in the Islamic world. His purpose in writing the book was to educate the reader about these people's lives, and the life changing events that turned them into bitter, murderous radicals that have committed some of the world's most heinous crimes. He also outlines the intertwined relationships and events in the terrorist networks. These terrorist networks and alliances against the West eventually led up to al Qaeda terrorist network, which orchestrated one of the worst terrorist attacks in history against the United States. With every action, there is reaction, and this book presents to us the personal history of those who, to this day, terrorize the Middle East, the West, and the world.
The book is organized by topic, usually in reference to one person. He also does his best to keep the book chronological. There are instances in which times overlap, therefore he arranges it by who came first in the Islamist movement. For instance, the first chapter details the life of Sayyid Qutb, beginning with his visit to America, which people say completely changed him. He was the one that started the modern Islamic radical thought process, and popularized it among pious Muslims throughout the Middle East. Wright's format serves his purpose well, in that he gives a timeline history of modern terrorism and the events and people that made it what it is today.
Mainly, Wright uses primary sources, in the form of interviews from relatives, companions, and peers of the people he discusses. He also uses personal testimony of the individuals he discusses in the book such as Qutb, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Wright represents the unknown by allowing us to read direct quotes from individuals within the Islamist movement and those closely connected to it, rather than providing only sources obtained through American means.
Wright is from Texas and currently writes for The New Yorker magazine as well as freelance works. He was educated both in America and Egypt. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His book was award winning and read worldwide.
Biases are not blatantly obvious in the book. He expresses the feelings of the subjects he discusses, rather than interjecting his personal opinion regarding the matter. The Looming Tower does, however, have a slight undercurrent of pity for the major players involved in the terrorist regimes. It is as if he blames their life's events for the things they did and the ideas they possessed. In essence, these events played roles in their pathway to terror; whether its Qutb's utter disgust with American culture, or Zawahiri's horrendous torture in Egyptian prisons. There is more than just these life-shaping events that caused them to develop radical ideologies. Historical matters, current events, peers and general upbringing also adds to their hatred and martyrdom. I felt a sense of pity when reading about the lives of these monsters, and quite possibly the author felt this too. It could have been his time spent in Egypt, or with the people he discussed that influenced him to portray them in a different light.
The books strength is also its weakness. Wright details miniscule aspects in the lives of those he writes about. It is almost as if there is too much detail, and you think to yourself, "Okay, so when does the good stuff begin?" He spends most of his chapters talking about upbringing, social and professional activities, peers, spouses, children, etc. and although it is interesting information, some of it could be omitted while still maintaining the books purpose. The strength in this quality of his book is that this information is quite new and unknown to the general public. It gives the reader insight into a world we know little about, and the people that have influenced it. The book gives an intimate portrait of a life unknown to the ordinary person, and instead of most sources regarding these people, shows us an unfamiliar aspect of their lives. We know the notorious names of the people in the book: al-Banna, bin Laden, Omar, Qutb, Zawahiri; and now we know what molded and shaped their lives.
There aren't many omissions in the text, however it is helpful to have a general knowledge of Middle Eastern history prior to reading the book. Without this knowledge it is difficult to understand the events and historical influence in the modern Middle East. The book was a perfect addition to my coursework in the sense that it added the information that we were unable to cover in class. I received the basic knowledge of the Middle East and the influential historical events; and the book supplied me with an intricate look into my concentration/interest. The entire book could be introduced in class as a supplement to the core curriculum. The book could be quite difficult to read for those who do not have a general understanding of the culture and history of Islam and the Middle East.
One of the most astonishing things I learned in this book was about the life of Mohammed bin Laden. Despite his polygamy and large horde of children, he seemed like a generally good person. His humble upbringings, eventual rise to greatness, and his overall humble nature was quite interesting; and it amazes me that Osama bin Laden is his son. Also, it was appealing to find out that Osama once followed a more accepting form of Islam, and eventually turned towards the radical ideologies of Qutb.
Terrorism has always been a subject of interest to me, and this book really helped me see the situation in a different light. From an American perspective, terrorists are radical and primitive-however; this is how many people, such as Qutb, felt about the U.S. The book offered me a look into the motivations of the terrorists, as told by their closest companions. It also directed me to other material that could help me understand their ideas more; the texts written by the members within the Islamist movement, that inspired their actions. The thing I enjoyed most about the book was the application of daily lectures to a topic that has always intrigued me. Also, I enjoy the "conspiracy theory" style of the intertwined lives of these martyrs. It truly shows the tribal aspect of the Middle Eastern communities, and the connectivity within their world.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the subject and has a thirst for learning more about the complicated world and lives of terrorism and terrorists.