The Looming Tower

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The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Hardcover, US first edition, Knopf, 2006
Author Lawrence Wright
Cover artist Chip Kidd (designer)
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf (US)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 480
ISBN 978-0-375-41486-2
OCLC 64592193
973.931 22
LC Class HV6432.7 .W75 2006

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is a historical look at the way in which Al-Qaeda came into being, the background for various terrorist attacks and how they were investigated, and the events that led to the September 11 attacks. The book was written by Lawrence Wright, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for the work.


The Looming Tower is largely focused on the people involved in the September 11 attacks, their motives and personalities, and how they interacted. The book starts with Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian religious scholar who visited the United States in the late 1940s and returned to his home to become an anti-West Islamist and eventually a martyr for his beliefs. There is also a portrait of Ayman al-Zawahiri, from his childhood in Egypt to his participation in and later leadership of Egyptian Islamic Jihad to his merging of his organization with Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden is the person described the most, from his childhood in Saudi Arabia in a rich family, his participation in the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, his role as a financier of terrorist groups, his stay in Sudan, his return to Afghanistan and his interactions with the Taliban. The 1998 United States embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya are described, as is the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Lawrence Wright also describes in detail some of the Americans involved, in particular Richard A. Clarke, chief counter-terrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council, and John P. O'Neill, an Assistant Deputy Director of Investigation for the FBI who served as America's top bin Laden hunter until his retirement from the FBI in August 2001, after which he got a job as head of security at the World Trade Center, where he died in the 9/11 attacks.

The book also describes some of the problems with lack of cooperation between the FBI and the CIA and other American government organizations that prevented them from uncovering the 9/11 plot in time.

Because The Looming Tower is to a large extent focused on telling the story of the people involved it does not describe the 9/11 plot and its execution in much detail. It focuses more on the background and the conditions that produced the people who planned and staged the attack, and information about those who were combating terror against the USA.

About the title

The words "looming towers" or "lofty towers" (بروج مشيدة) appear in the Quran 4:78 (Sūrat an-Nisā'). According to Wright, Osama bin Laden, at a wedding before the 9/11 attack, quoted the line, repeating it three times: "Wherever you are, death will find you, even if you are in lofty towers" ("أينما تكونوا يدرككم الموت ولو كنتم في بروج مشيدة" 'aynamā takūnū yadrikkumu l-mawtu wa-law kuntum fī burūjin mušayyadatin).[1]

Awards and honors

Television limited series

A television limited series based on the book will air 10 episodes on Hulu. Actors include Alec Baldwin as CIA director George Tenet, Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill, Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan,[2] and Peter Sarsgaard as CIA analyst Martin Schmidt.[3] It is set to premiere on February 28, 2018.[4]


  1. ^ Lawrence Wright Interview at The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, page 3.
  2. ^ Elavksy, Cindy (May 17, 2017). "Celebrity Extra". King Features. Retrieved August 16, 2017. 
  3. ^ Elavksy, Cindy (April 5, 2017). "Celebrity Extra". King Features. Retrieved August 16, 2017. 
  4. ^ Pedersen, Erik (14 November 2017). "Hulu Sets Premiere Dates For 'Handmaid's Tale', 'The Path' & Two New Series". Deadline. Retrieved 14 November 2017. 

External links

  • The Looming Tower on Open Library at the Internet Archive
  • The Looming Tower Reviews at Metacritic
  • AuthorViews video interview about The Looming Tower
  • Lawrence Wright Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
  • Lawrence Wright speaking at Princeton University on "Al Qaeda: Past, Present and Future". April 25, 2007
  • After Words interview with Wright on The Looming Tower, September 9, 2006
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