The planes came out of the blue, but their intentions were long in the making as New York Times reporter Bernstein (Dictatorship of Virtue, 1994, etc.) explicates in this taut narrative of the events, personalities, and circumstances surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Bernstein uses the investigative reporting of the Times staff to fashion an irresistible story of the forces that resulted in two planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He traces the roots of jihad as a doctrine, the creation of a Muslim international corps of fighters that was financed in part by the US, which was “favorably disposed to the growing band” when they were cold warriors on the front in Afghanistan. He tries to make sensible the “fetishism of martyrdom and murder” of the jihadist revival, how it evolved into a movement that targeted the corrupt, reactionary, un-Islamic regimes at home and drew a bead on the US as an important enemy, and he draws profiles of its important characters: Ayman Zawabiri, Omar Abdel Rahman, Abdullah Azzam, and Osama bin Laden. As he follows the activities of al-Qaeda, Bernstein intersperses biographical chapters on some of the people who died in the Twin Towers. Occasionally, this device feels heavy-handed, crude even in its tableau of good vs. bad, but more evident is its pathos, which can have the sting of an arrow. As bin Laden moves from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to the Sudan and back to Afghanistan—with Bernstein charting the terrorism that followed in his wake, though with unproven connection—the US intelligence and immigration authorities are also observed, with their many lapses, oversights, and failures of communication. Finally, there are eyewitness accounts of what it was like to be inside the towers when they were hit.
An excellent job of synthesizing the many voices made available through the newspaper to form a coherent and forceful narrative. (16 pp. b&w insert, not seen)