"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11"
by Lawrence Wright
Knopf | August 2006 | ISBN 037541486X
Recommended by Sidney Blumenthal: Lawrence Wright's history of al-Qaida is the single indispensable history of the movement, back to its roots in the anti-western fanaticism of Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian theorist of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wright brings to bear journalistic specificity, an understanding of historical causation, and the sheer contingency of events. There is no better portrait of the impact of Qutb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, or grasp of his relationship with Osama bin Laden, or understanding of the way in which the 9/11 plot went undetected through the incompetence of US officialdom. Wright's knowledge of his subject and of the region is so deep that he avoids all grand and ultimately distracting abstractions. Unlike presumptive experts who promote the neoconservative notion that al-Qaida is a totalitarian movement like Communist and Nazi ones - the Islamofascist theory - Wright sticks to his harrowing factual narrative.
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In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. "Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?" he wondered. "Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?" It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveler had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now. (To read more of this excerpt, click here.)
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About the author: Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, and keyboard player for the blues band, Who Do. His website is at www.lawrencewright.com.