Finally, here’s one on my best book list that’s actually been on a slew of other ‘real’ best-of lists for last year: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright.
The "New Yorker" writer provides a detailed look at the various factors, quirks, and, flukes of history that led to the Islamic fundamentalist movement as we know it, focusing mostly on Osama bin Laden. It starts with the story of Sayyid Qutb, radicalized by a trip to America in the 50s and stints in Egypt’s prisons, who authored “Milestones” in prison and was hanged by Nasser in 1966. Other characters profiled include Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mohammed bin Awadh bin Ladin
(Osama’s father), Turki al-Faisal, Ali Mohammed, FBI counterterrorism
chief John O’Neil, and Lebanese American FBI agent Ali Soufan.
This is an excellent guidebook to better understand the current geopolitical landscape.
Another great read is harder to classify. Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between is part autobiography, part Afghanistan history, largely travelogue, often current events primer, and probably a few other things as well. The Scottish academic travels from Herat to Kabul
across Afghanistan on foot. He has some tools at his disposal: a
working knowledge of the language, stamina, seemingly limitless cash, an
appreciation for detail, and a wealth of sociological and
He has some factors hindering him too, including
him being new to the country and terrain, weak bowels, and for half the
trip, an adopted dog Babur who only attracts trouble. Personally, I think he’s an idiot for bringing the dog along, but I guess it added another layer to the story, and Americans just love reading books about people and their pets.
Stewart’s a charming writer and portrays in
vivid detail what it’s like on the ground, what these people have been
through, and why foreigners can’t govern them, so it’s a good complement to the investigative reporting of Looming Tower.