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THE LOOMING TOWER

AL-QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11

Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day.

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A comprehensive and compelling account of the events preceding and causing 9/11, with a tight focus on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and on the men who were pursuing him before the attacks.

Wright, a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of titles dealing with subjects as divergent as “recovered memory” (Remembering Satan, 1994) and Manuel Noriega (God’s Favorite, 2000), has written what must be considered a definitive work on the antecedents to 9/11. (He does deal briefly—and horrifyingly—with the attack itself.) Wright argues that the 1948 arrival of Sayyid Qutb in New York City was pivotal. Qutb saw a vast battle between Islam and the West and was disgusted by the decadence in the New World. His disciples would one day be myriad. The author shows the psychological effects on radical Islamists of the 1967 six-day war, examines the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the assassination of Sadat, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, the Soviet struggles in Afghanistan, the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the suicide attack against the USS Cole, and other ominous, sanguinary events. But at the center is the story of Osama bin Laden. Wright carefully charts bin Laden’s upbringing and gradual metamorphosis into the world’s most notorious terrorist. (In a long note at the end, Wright acknowledges the difficulties of being certain of his facts in some cases.) The author profiles, as well, the redoubtable and complex FBI agent John O’Neill, who pursued bin Laden ferociously and then retired to become chief of security at the WTC, where he died on 9/11. Wright shows with devastating clarity that the CIA’s reluctance to share its intelligence was a principal reason the FBI did not apprehend the hijackers beforehand. Bin Laden reportedly wept with joy when the planes hit their targets.

Essential for an understanding of that dreadful day.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-41486-X

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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