The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright    +    500 Days by Kurt Eichenwald

911TowersThis post should have been written in 9/11, but, as they say, better late than sorry.

I am not an American, but what happened in Manhattan in 9/11/2001 was a tragedy that opened all our eyes, and made us face an enemy we were either ignoring or unaware. 9/11 was a singular point in history when, before it, freedom was a given fact, and after it, freedom was under real threat. Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism is a threat to the world. Even though the great USA suffered the biggest blow, it concerns all of us. 

But I am not here to philosophy about 9/11. The point here is that that act of terror impacted all our lives, and it is of extreme importance that we understand what happened that day, how it happened, and why it happened. 9/11 shall not be forgotten, both because we shall honor those who died and because by forgetting history we are doomed to live it again. Thus, in order to know more about our history, I recommend two extremely well researched, informative, fast paced, page-turning and very engaging books:

Osama bin Laden in Cave with Hooka DecorThe first one is called The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Wright is a New Yorker famous journalist, who is very thorough but has the gift to write nonfiction like a novelist, and when he sets about a theme for a new book, you get to feel the power of his extensive research. Just as a parenthesis, his new book about Scientology, Going Clear, was just turned into an HBO Special, which I am eager to watch. In The Looming Tower, he decided to enlighten us on how 9/11 happened, or better said, how it came to be. He starts his research way in the past, during the days when Russia was trying to invade Afghasnistan in 1979 and the new Muslim warrior started to take shape. He then goes on to 1988, when Osama Bin Laden founded Al-Qaeda with the purpose of blaming all of Islam´s ills upon the West. And so the book gets thicker, thoroughly explaining how the terrorist organization worked, talking about Osama´s background and personality, his funding and his followers, and of course, how they planned to attack America at its heart.
Organizing and leading a terrorist group is not as simple as it sounds, it´s a complicated and flawed business that does not function like a Toyota factory, therefore, it is not impossible to catch. Wright, at the end, conjures that was it not for a tremendous fail of communication between the different American intelligence agencies, the attack could have been avoided. But what is done is done, and although we ought to look forward, The Looming Tower is the best written, most informative and interesting book to understand the events that led to 9/11.

bush 911newsThe second book is 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald. Eichenwald is also a reporter, famous for his book The Informant, which was later turned into a great spy movie. 500 Days starts exactly 19 minutes after the first plane hits One Trade Center in New York, and it finishes 500 days after that moment, when “Osama Bin Laden, the infamous mass murderer of the twenty-first century, sank silently to the bottom of the sea”. 500 Days, however, is not about the war being fought out there, by the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the SEAL Team 6 that catches bad guys in the dark of the night (watch Zero Dark Thirty for that), the book is rather about the war being fought in Washington DC, inside the White House, the Congress and the House. When the CIA found out who their enemy was, George W. Bush figured out this was the first time America was at war against a faceless enemy, there was no army or nation to fight, but crazy rebels scattered around the globe. Therefore, the White House started to take decisions that had never been thought about of before. They were figuring the way to fight terrorists in a full scale war for the very first time.
For instance, laws to engage countries that gave shelter to terrorists had to be approved by the respective channels of democracy, and a new way of convicting and imprisoning terrorists and suspects had to be created (hence Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib). In addition to that pioneering spirit, if I may call it that, Bush was adamant that America had to act strongly, decisively and quickly (which I agree). Congress, lawyers and generals were running after Bush and Cheney´s decision. It was a mess, but it had to be done, and Eichenwald goes through that extremely rough and challenging phase of America with great expertise and detail, from the inside, step by step.

Wright´s book tells you how it came to be. Eichenwald´s book tells you what happened after the fact. But I am yet to find a great book about those few horrifying minutes in the morning of 9/11.

Mr. George

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