Larry Wright’s The Looming Tower (Knopf) is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. This is the story of how a small group of men, with a frightening mix of delusion and calculation, rose from a tormented civilization to mount a catastrophic assault on the world’s mightiest power, and how another group of men and women, convinced that such an attack was on the way, tried desperately to stop it.
The publication of this groundbreaking book in 2006 brought Larry Wright accolades from every quarter, both for his diligence as a reporter and for his ability to explore in such gripping fashion both the American and the Arab sides to this story. The Looming Tower was named a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for nonfiction, and received the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2007.
Wright conducted more than 500 interviews in five years of research around the world for The Looming Tower, ranging from bin Laden’s best friend in college, reporters for Al-Jazeera, to White House counterterrorism chief, Richard A. Clarke. Suggesting that the events of Sept. 11 were not inevitable, his book describes the confluence of bad luck, chance encounters, CIA and FBI turf wars and dereliction of duty within the government that led to the tragedy and the current state of war. Taking the reader behind the scenes, Wright broadens and deepens our knowledge of the signal event of our time. By interweaving lives of four men: the two leaders of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri; the FBI’s counterterrorism chief, John O’Neill; and the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, he reveals the crosscurrents of modern Islam and the birth of al-Qaeda.
Lawrence Wright is an author, a screenwriter, and a staff writer for The New Yorker. A portion of The Looming Tower, entitled “The Man Behind bin Laden” was published in that magazine and won the 2002 Overseas Press Club’s Ed Cunningham Award for best magazine reporting. He is a graduate of Tulane University and the American University in Cairo, where he taught English and received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics. He is the co-writer of the 1998 movie ‘The Siege,’ which stars Denzel Washington and focuses on terrorist attacks on New York City. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow at the Center for Law and Security at New York University School of Law. He is a longtime resident of Austin, Texas, where he plays keyboard in the blues band, Who Do.
Lawrence Wright was interviewed at Kentucky Author Forum by Peter Bergen, journalist, author and CNN’s terrorism analyst. Mr. Bergen has traveled the globe researching and reporting on Al-Qaeda and global terrorism. In 1997, working for CNN, he produced Osama bin Laden’s first television interview.
Mr. Bergen is the author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know. The CNN documentary “In the Footsteps of bin Laden” was based in part on Bergen’s book.
Peter Bergen is a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation and an Adjunct Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.