THE TERROR YEARS by Lawrence Wright


From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
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Pulitzer Prize winner Wright (Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David, 2014, etc.) pulls together 10 in-depth pieces he originally wrote for the New Yorker and fashions them, somewhat updated and otherwise revised, into a cohesive book.

Three of the 10 chapters constitute portraits that became part of The Looming Tower (2006), one of the most compelling investigative books published in the aftermath of 9/11. One of those three focuses on the life of Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian terror planner who at the time served as the chief lieutenant to Osama bin Laden. The other two pieces focus on agents in the FBI. The first, John O'Neill, a counterterrorism expert, more or less predicted the 9/11 attacks, but he could not persuade his superiors to react appropriately. After leaving the FBI, he became security chief at the World Trade Center and died during the attacks on the towers. The other profile explores the life of Ali Soufan, one of the few Arabic-speaking Muslims in the FBI. Like O'Neill, Soufan had gained insights into the terrorist network that planned 9/11, but he could not gain the support of the tragically negligent CIA. In the other chapters, Wright displays his top-notch reporting in stories about a disintegrating Syria, the never-ending conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, the faith-based beliefs that undergird al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and the massive failures of American intelligence agencies. In another chapter, Wright focuses on Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence during portions of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies. One of the most chilling passages in this nicely linked anthology occurs in the Prologue, in which Wright discusses his role as a screenwriter for the 1998 movie The Siege. He had no idea that the fictional plot would foreshadow 9/11 and that The Siege would morph from box-office failure to the most-rented movie in the U.S. a few years later.

Fans of Wright will have already encountered these pieces, but the collection represents yet more great work from a dedicated journalist.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-35205-5
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2016

Kirkus Interview
Lawrence Wright
September 15, 2014

Lawrence Wright has written books that investigate Scientology, al-Qaida, religion in America and the psychology of twinship, among other topics. He received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for The Looming Tower. His new book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David is about “one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century,” when an unpopular president was able behind the scenes to convince two proud, intransigent leaders of the Middle East to compromise. We ask Wright about uncovering the details of the story in this Kirkus TV interview. View video >


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