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The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden: The Biography

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The world’s leading expert on Osama bin Laden delivers for the first time the definitive biography of a man who set the course of American foreign policy for the 21st century, and whose ideological heirs we continue to battle today. In The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, Peter Bergen provides the first reevaluation of the man responsible for precipitating America’s long w The world’s leading expert on Osama bin Laden delivers for the first time the definitive biography of a man who set the course of American foreign policy for the 21st century, and whose ideological heirs we continue to battle today. In The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, Peter Bergen provides the first reevaluation of the man responsible for precipitating America’s long wars with al-Qaeda and its descendants, capturing bin Laden in all the dimensions of his life: as a family man, as a zealot, as a battlefield commander, as a terrorist leader, and as a fugitive. The book sheds light on his many contradictions: he was the son of a billionaire, yet insisted his family live like paupers. He adored his wives and children, depending on two of his wives, both of whom had PhDs, to make important strategic decisions. Yet he also brought ruin to his family. He was fanatically religious, yet willing to kill thousands of civilians in the name of Islam. He inspired deep loyalty yet, in the end, his bodyguards turned against him. And while he inflicted the most lethal act of mass murder in United States history, he failed to achieve any of his strategic goals. The lasting image we have of bin Laden in his final years is of an aging man with a graying beard watching old footage of himself, just another dad flipping through the channels with his remote. In the end, bin Laden died in a squalid suburban compound, far from the front lines of his holy war. And yet despite that unheroic denouement, his ideology lives on. Thanks to exclusive interviews with family members and associates, and documents unearthed only recently, Bergen’s portrait of Osama will reveal for the first time who he really was and why he continues to inspire a new generation of jihadists.


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The world’s leading expert on Osama bin Laden delivers for the first time the definitive biography of a man who set the course of American foreign policy for the 21st century, and whose ideological heirs we continue to battle today. In The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, Peter Bergen provides the first reevaluation of the man responsible for precipitating America’s long w The world’s leading expert on Osama bin Laden delivers for the first time the definitive biography of a man who set the course of American foreign policy for the 21st century, and whose ideological heirs we continue to battle today. In The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, Peter Bergen provides the first reevaluation of the man responsible for precipitating America’s long wars with al-Qaeda and its descendants, capturing bin Laden in all the dimensions of his life: as a family man, as a zealot, as a battlefield commander, as a terrorist leader, and as a fugitive. The book sheds light on his many contradictions: he was the son of a billionaire, yet insisted his family live like paupers. He adored his wives and children, depending on two of his wives, both of whom had PhDs, to make important strategic decisions. Yet he also brought ruin to his family. He was fanatically religious, yet willing to kill thousands of civilians in the name of Islam. He inspired deep loyalty yet, in the end, his bodyguards turned against him. And while he inflicted the most lethal act of mass murder in United States history, he failed to achieve any of his strategic goals. The lasting image we have of bin Laden in his final years is of an aging man with a graying beard watching old footage of himself, just another dad flipping through the channels with his remote. In the end, bin Laden died in a squalid suburban compound, far from the front lines of his holy war. And yet despite that unheroic denouement, his ideology lives on. Thanks to exclusive interviews with family members and associates, and documents unearthed only recently, Bergen’s portrait of Osama will reveal for the first time who he really was and why he continues to inspire a new generation of jihadists.

30 review for The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “[Osama bin Laden] was born a young man of contradictions, and he kept adding to them: he adored his wives and children, yet brought ruin to many of them. He was a multimillionaire, but he insisted his family live like paupers. He projected a modest and humble persona…but he was also narcissistically obsessed about how his own image played out in the media…He was fanatically religious, yet he was also willing to kill thousands of civilians in the name of Islam…He inspired deep loyalty, yet in th “[Osama bin Laden] was born a young man of contradictions, and he kept adding to them: he adored his wives and children, yet brought ruin to many of them. He was a multimillionaire, but he insisted his family live like paupers. He projected a modest and humble persona…but he was also narcissistically obsessed about how his own image played out in the media…He was fanatically religious, yet he was also willing to kill thousands of civilians in the name of Islam…He inspired deep loyalty, yet in the end, even his longtime bodyguards turned against him… Al-Qaeda’s leader is one of the few people of whom it can truly be said changed the course of history. Who could have predicted that in the two decades following the 9/11 attacks he masterminded, the United States would wage various kinds of military operations in seven Muslim countries – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – at the cost of more than $6 trillion and more than seven thousand American lives? In addition, tens of thousands of soldiers from countries allied to the United States died, as did hundreds of thousands of ordinary Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Syrians, and Yemenis who were also killed during the ‘war on terror…’” - Peter L. Bergen, The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden When most people – at least most Americans – think of Osama bin Laden, they think of a terrorist, a criminal, a murderer. They don’t think of bin Laden in terms of a world-historical figure, as someone who shifted the course of future events. Yet he is. As Peter Bergen points out in The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, the September 11, 2001 attacks – which bin Laden helped to organize and finance – altered the opening decades of the twenty-first century. It changed the trajectory of the post-Cold War world in profound ways. Any hope for a peaceful century – after the calamity of the preceding 100 years – was lost forever, as America launched wars in the Middle East that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, and just about every last ounce of moral credibility the country once had. Strange as it is to think about, we live in a world at least partly molded by the millionaire scion of a Saudi Arabian construction magnate, who gave up every comfort imaginable to live in a cave and wage a merciless war on the west. It makes sense that The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden would come out now, twenty years after 9/11 and ten years after bin Laden’s death. It also makes sense that Bergen would write it. As a journalist, he has covered terrorism extensively, produced several books on the topic, and had the rare and dubious honor of meeting bin Laden in person. But just because a bin Laden biography is the natural outcome of Bergen’s journalistic endeavors does not necessarily make it a great book. The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden is what I would deem solid but certainly not spectacular. Its structure will be familiar with anyone who has read a modern profile lately. It begins with a prologue that is supposed to hook you, comprised of bin Laden in his last days in his Abbottabad compound. This teaser culminates in the arrival of SEAL Team Six. Just before bin Laden is about to come face-to-face with an HK416, Bergen cuts away to chapter one. What follows is a standard cradle-to-ocean-grave chronological recounting of bin Laden’s fateful career as a venture capitalist in holy war. The trouble with telling bin Laden’s life story – at least at this point in time – is that most of us know it already. There are no real revelations here, even though Bergen has been able to mine the intelligence that was retrieved during the Abbottabad raid. Nothing in this book will come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the news for the last two decades, or who has read the magisterial accounts of the dawning of the Age of Terror by Steve Coll in Ghost Wars and Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower. Bin Laden was the son of a wealthy father who made a fortune completing projects for the Saudi royal family. His father had over fifty children by numerous wives, and as a consequence, bin Laden only met the man a handful of meaningful times in his life. Mostly, he stayed with his mother, who was divorced soon after bin Laden’s birth. Whether this was the cause – Bergen makes no attempts to psychoanalyze his subject – bin Laden seemed somewhat estranged from the rest of his family. While many of his half-siblings moved easily in the west, enjoying all the things that money has to offer, bin Laden devoted himself to a strict interpretation of Islam. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, bin Laden found his calling. He funneled money to Afghani fighters, recruited Arabs to join the cause, and went to Afghanistan himself to fight. There, depending on who is telling the story, bin Laden was either a minor participant or a legendary warrior. In any event, his activities led to the formation of al Qaeda, a group devoted to bringing about a global jihad. The list of al Qaeda’s activities – embassy bombings, a suicide attack on a U.S. destroyer, and 9/11 – are barely worth recounting, so well are they known. Despite the lack of any new insights, The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden has its value. For one, it puts everything in one place. If you’ve read about bin Laden in bits and pieces, it is helpful to have all those strands stitched together into a coherent narrative. Though bin Laden himself remains elusive – part of his own attempts at fabricating a mystique – it’s helpful to have someone nail down the approximate timeline of his movements and actions. Another virtue is Bergen’s ability to separate corroborated facts, uncorroborated speculation, and outright myths. Despite the passage of time, it is amazing how sticky certain unfacts can be. Bergen’s writing style is smooth, readable, and consistently engrossing. He does a fine job of segueing back and forth between bin Laden and the people hunting him. He also capably integrates his personal insights into the story without claiming for himself any special ability to divine bin Laden’s character. In historical terms, twenty years is not a long time. Nevertheless, it’s enough distance to allow for the beginning of an objective analysis. Bergen is attune to bin Laden’s impact on events. Yet it is not just bin Laden’s shadow that must be grappled with, but the reactions of others to his specter. To that end, Bergen discusses the Bush Administration’s wholly regrettable decision to turn its attention from bin Laden and Afghanistan, and to set their sights on Iraq instead. The ripples from those decisions are still not known, though so far, they have not been positive. From our particular vantage, it is interesting to muse upon bin Laden’s legacy. Was he ultimately victorious? The answers are complicated. Like the Bush Administration in Iraq, bin Laden did not have a clear endgame. When he okayed the 9/11 attacks, he genuinely seems to have thought that the American response would be a few dozen cruise missiles, just like before. Leaving aside his later justifications, bin Laden was not attempting to provoke a U.S. invasion of Muslim lands. To the contrary, he was trying to leverage violence to get America out of places like Saudi Arabia. Rather than cruise missiles, however, America went to war, toppling the Taliban, destroying bin Laden’s organization, and forcing bin Laden into hiding. While he tried to continue directing al Qaeda, its ability to land another blow was stymied. In human terms, moreover, it cost bin Laden his life. Thus, we might term 9/11 a tactical success leading to a strategic defeat. On the other hand, the increased American presence in the Middle East – especially the invasion of Iraq – caused enormous blowback. Al Qaeda was replaced by dozens of other terrorist groups, many of them just as brutal as the original. Thousands of civilians were killed. Untold property was destroyed. Whatever their intentions, America was seen by much of the world as an imperialist crusader. Eventually, after an enormous expenditure in lives and dollars, the U.S. left Afghanistan to the Taliban, things having come a fully, bloody circle. Thus, instead of trying to answer the question, it might be better to reframe the question. Instead of asking whether Osama bin Laden won, we should be pondering if anybody did. The answer to that question – unfortunately – is far easier.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    https://sarahsdeepdives.blogspot.com/... There has been a lot in the news about Afghanistan recently, and the result has been a lot of people with a lot of very loud opinions. When something big happens in the world, my first inclination is to find a book about it. At least one book. My preference is 3-5 at a minimum, so I can see a full range of aspects of the subject, as well as approaches to it. I don’t like having half-formed opinions loudly online. I like to understand. I want to know. And https://sarahsdeepdives.blogspot.com/... There has been a lot in the news about Afghanistan recently, and the result has been a lot of people with a lot of very loud opinions. When something big happens in the world, my first inclination is to find a book about it. At least one book. My preference is 3-5 at a minimum, so I can see a full range of aspects of the subject, as well as approaches to it. I don’t like having half-formed opinions loudly online. I like to understand. I want to know. And in this connected world, there’s no reason not to inform myself. We have more information at our fingertips than we ever have at any moment in human history, so why not use it? I like books, rather than the internet. You can find anything to justify how you feel on the internet. Books are different, though. Books come at subjects from different angles. Books tend to be a bit more careful. They also have more room to dive deeper, and there are sources at the back, which matters to me. So all this stuff was happening in Afghanistan, and I thought, “I really want to learn more about this conflict.” I know enough, but I don’t know a lot, and it seems like a whole bunch of publishers took advantage of this upheaval over there and used it to drop some books on the region. Why not read a few of them? I love biographies, but I tend to be one of those people who thinks there really isn’t a point to a biography unless it’s 700+ pages. Also Osama bin Laden was a repugnant excuse for a human being, and I had to really amp myself up to read this biography. However, once I started, I found it impossible to put the book down. It reads almost like a crime thriller, each chapter is easy to devour, and it’s gripping, because while I know what happened, there are a ton of behind-the-scenes details here that I was completely unaware of and put events in a bit of a new light. Osama bin Laden is an interesting person, and while it would be easy to boil down his story to a narrative of extremism, and in some ways, that’s what it is, there is more to him than that. His slow, yet steady slide into extremism was fascinating. Seeing why it appealed to him was really important, because extremists still exist, and if we can understand a bit more about why it appeals them, maybe we can learn better ways to effectively combat it. What surprised me in regards to bin Laden, perhaps, was how Bergen dug deep into bin Laden’s ideology, and showed a bit of what attracted him to it. His early years, when he was just starting to find himself on this extremist road, were some of the most interesting parts of the book, because that was the point where he wasn’t so invested. He could have turned around, gone another way, and yet he didn’t. His deal was officially sealed in the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The jihad in Afghanistan was fascinating. Not only reading about what attracted him to that conflict, but it helped me fundamentally understand why Afghanistan was so important to him, something I've never known before. The battle of Jaji was really where the creation of the bin Laden the world came to know took place. From the ashes of this battle, al-Qaeda was formed. This whole region turned into a kind of weird personal holy ground for bin Laden, and he’d find himself longing for those days of jihad and heroism and returning to Afghanistan where it all began. After the Soviets left, and the US pulled their embassy out of Kabul, bin Laden started forming his ideas about the wider world. Specifically, the US, whom he viewed as a “paper tiger” because of how easily they left the embassy in Kabul. After that, he’d see the US pull out of Somalia, and then the non-reaction to the bombing of the ship off the coast of Yemen, and other events as well. While on the western side, the US pulled out of embassies and the like because there wasn’t enough invested in the region to justify the danger of keeping people on the ground there, in bin Laden’s mind, it showed how weak the US truly was. In his mind, he saw all of this happening because his people were so threatening, and the US puts up a lot of bluster but has no real muscle. It underscored his fundamental belief that the US would be easy to topple, because we are all shine and no substance. That was interesting to read about, because on the US side, where I’m at, I know why those decisions were made. I understand that there just wasn’t enough invested in places like Somalia to keep soldiers there, especially after the Blackhawk Down tragedy. I also understand that the Saudi royal family invited the US to stay on bases in their country as a jumping off point for conflicts in Kuwait and Yemen (a huge grudge of bin Laden’s was the US’s presence in the Arab peninsula.). However, what this book helped me do was see how bin Laden interpreted these events, and how he used his interpretation to justify his ideology, and his course of action. Quite frankly, it was illuminating in the extreme. In 1996, bin Laden ends up back in Afghanistan. He lives in a cave in the Tora Bora mountains, sets up a few training camps, and the Clinton administration have a holy hell of a time trying to take this guy out. The planning of 9/11 is briefly gone over, as well as the execution of the event. If there was, perhaps, one point where I wished there were more details, it was here. However, there are books that elaborate on this and I’ll probably end up reading a few of them. I will also say, if you’re a person who already knows a lot about bin Laden, you might not find a whole lot of new information here. After the 9/11 attacks, the narrative widens in scope. The book, from that point on, ends up being about 40% bin Laden, and 60% America’s actions. Bergen goes into the fallout, some behind-the-scenes discussions in the Bush administration, some of the events that happened when the US put boots on the ground in Afghanistan, some serious, serious blunders. He also talks about bin Laden’s various escapes, and how he managed to lay low for ten years before he was found. Bin Laden’s life from this point on isn’t really terribly interesting. He was on the run, but al-Qaeda sort of fell apart after 9/11 and lost a lot of its power. They were a fractured group, and all of them were in hiding. Bush’s invasion into Iraq is discussed here, as well as the justifications of it and some of the results. Al-Qaeda in Iraq ended up becoming a pretty powerful group in the region, though it always had schisms with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group and did things he was very much uncomfortable with. However, the Iraq war really breathed new life into the group, and they started coming together for this new jihad, and becoming a powerful force again. Of course, al-Qaeda in Iraq became what we know as ISIS. The finding of bin Laden was an event I’ve never read about before and I was absolutely fascinated by the entire thing, from how they found him, to the fact that the operation to get him was a complete and absolute 50/50 gamble (they didn't even really know if it was him living in that house), which I didn’t know. It brought the story of bin Laden to a close, but not the story of the war, or the troubles in the region, which brings us to today. After ISIS, and the Taliban taking over Afghanistan again, and the US pulling out troops, the region is still in a lot of turmoil and strife. Bin Laden is a disgusting human and I hope the troops that dumped his body into the ocean enjoyed doing that because I would have found an intense amount of satisfaction in that event, but the story of the man lives on to this day, both in the grieving, mourning families and ever-changing policy issues over here in the US, and in the jihad movements in the Middle East. It’s important to understand how someone like bin Laden thought, how he saw the world, and events that mattered to him. It’s not comfortable, but it is important. If we don’t want another event like 9/11 to happen, we have to know why people are attracted to ideologies like bin Laden’s, and the best way to do that, is to be informed about these horrible, awful people around which so much disaster and darkness circulates. Bin Laden might be dead, but as the back of this book says, “his ideological heirs still circulate.” The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden is a gripping narrative biography about the man around whom much of 21st century US policy has been based. He might be dead, but his jihadist movement is still very much alive. To understand a bit more of bin Laden, we understand those who currently live on, spreading his message. This is an important book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zainab

    Really tried hard to get into Osama’s mind — found out eventually that you simply can’t if it’s not an autobiography. Anyway, what I understood from Peter’s depiction of Osama is that Osama had good executive skills but poor critical analysis. He was a typical teenager looking for a thrill in something better than his rich father’s boring construction business — who wanted an identity apart from dozens of his siblings’. So, violence was naturally interesting to him. A Salafi professor at some Saud Really tried hard to get into Osama’s mind — found out eventually that you simply can’t if it’s not an autobiography. Anyway, what I understood from Peter’s depiction of Osama is that Osama had good executive skills but poor critical analysis. He was a typical teenager looking for a thrill in something better than his rich father’s boring construction business — who wanted an identity apart from dozens of his siblings’. So, violence was naturally interesting to him. A Salafi professor at some Saudi university who fled Egypt because of his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood taught him about the rightness and righteousness of his version of jihad. But Osama going rogue is not all on Mr. Professor (I’ve forgotten his name but do remember that he was the brother of famous Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutub). No, Osama can’t be absolved of his actions because of some childhood trauma (i.e. education). Sure, he was born in violent times (who isn’t?). But he was the one who chose to add to the violence of the violent times. Now, from violent times I mean, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Osama and his eventual enemy — the USA — did all they could to breed terrorists aka the Mujahideen even before the Soviet invasion through construction projects and American taxpayer’s dollars respectively. Peter refrains to comment on or hint at a possible agreement between the two. His use of language is careful. A bit too careful for my taste. Sure, Peter. Your book, your rules. But no problem, I’ll hint at such ‘possibility.’ Anyway, he kind of overplays American ‘ignorance’ about whom they were funding thousands of dollars in Afghanistan. But as he doesn’t need to be careful about what the ISI thinks of his book, he talks rather carelessly about how the ISI was the only means between the American taxpayers’ dollars and Afghan Mujahideen. As the book is about Osama, I won’t write passages on the role of the CIA before the Afghan War. I mean, you get the frustration, I hope. Funding the Afghan Mujahideen for the war was not enough for the kind of thrill Osama was seeking. So, he started leading them on the ground against Soviet Russia. Now, if you have met any war-zone guys in your real life then you’ll know how it’s difficult to settle back in normal life. Fighters and funders have a toxic yet deep relationship with warzones. So did Osama. And then there’s some haze in the book that fails to show clearly why Osama started loathing the US. Peter says something like “Bin Laden opposed the fact that non-Muslims were defending the holy land of Arabia,” after “the Saudis turned to their longtime allies, the Americans, for military support” against Iraq’s Saddam Hussain who invaded Kuwait in 1990, and who could potentially attack Saudi Arabia. Osama was adamant that he should defend Saudi Arabia against Saddam, not the USA, because…he wanted to. Also because the US troops were, well, non-Muslims. So it’s okay to accept funds for Afghan Mujahideen with filthy non-Muslim money only if the filthy non-Muslims stay out of the holy land. Genius. I mean, really? I won’t pretend to buy this reason. Maybe, Osama just wanted to be famous. Maybe, that’s not really why he had to go through all the pain. I still don’t know. No one ever ‘really’ will. But I understand one thing from all of this chaos. The chaos he contributed to is here to stay. Go on and read potential readers, if you want to know the dirty details. It’s a fine book with a lot of words. And reading a lot of words never hurts if you see things critically.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Daryll

    It was hard for me to be interested in someone who was beyond dull and full of disgusting rhetoric and dogma. The only good reason to read this was to get knowledge about his wives, children, and education. All no fault to the author who did what he could very well.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Westlake

    I enjoyed Bergen's earlier work on bin Laden; however I don't feel like I learned a lot in this book that I hadn't read before. Bergen's mission here was to explain why bin Laden attacked the US, but I feel like that a) has pretty much been answered, and b) if this is the objective of his work, he digresses a lot. If you are looking for a biography of bin Laden, and don't know a lot of background about him, this is a good book to begin with (especially since it does begin with his death). It wil I enjoyed Bergen's earlier work on bin Laden; however I don't feel like I learned a lot in this book that I hadn't read before. Bergen's mission here was to explain why bin Laden attacked the US, but I feel like that a) has pretty much been answered, and b) if this is the objective of his work, he digresses a lot. If you are looking for a biography of bin Laden, and don't know a lot of background about him, this is a good book to begin with (especially since it does begin with his death). It will connect dots that you may not have heard in popular circles or mass media.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Really Great Book on Obama Bin Laden This author is very knowledgeable and knows a lot about Bin Laden and has spent years researching him. I highly recommend this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Bailey

    Great book. Peter Bergen in the past produced great journalism and now he has created a great early history. It really puts many of the 9/11 events in perspective. My takeaways 1) We did have warnings that al-Qaeda was a major threat prior to 9/11 2) The Bush administration was obsessed with Iraq from day one and there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. 3)Not sending Rangers to Tora Bora in Dec 2001 probably let bin Laden escape. 4) The Iraq War (2003) saved al-Qaeda. 5)Torture was not the Great book. Peter Bergen in the past produced great journalism and now he has created a great early history. It really puts many of the 9/11 events in perspective. My takeaways 1) We did have warnings that al-Qaeda was a major threat prior to 9/11 2) The Bush administration was obsessed with Iraq from day one and there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. 3)Not sending Rangers to Tora Bora in Dec 2001 probably let bin Laden escape. 4) The Iraq War (2003) saved al-Qaeda. 5)Torture was not the key to finding bin Laden.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael Richter

    Peter Bergen's book is very thorough and details the complexities of Osama bin Laden as one of the most consequential individuals of the last decades. Bergen's writing is precise and efficient, and for the uninitiated reader this is an excellent biography, spanning bin Laden's entire life, with all his social, religious, and personal metamorphosis. My only reservation is that much of this material has already been known and covered in great detail, including by Peter Bergen himself, so those rea Peter Bergen's book is very thorough and details the complexities of Osama bin Laden as one of the most consequential individuals of the last decades. Bergen's writing is precise and efficient, and for the uninitiated reader this is an excellent biography, spanning bin Laden's entire life, with all his social, religious, and personal metamorphosis. My only reservation is that much of this material has already been known and covered in great detail, including by Peter Bergen himself, so those readers expecting significant new insights might be somewhat disappointed. Still, an excellent read!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

    A biography of somebody clearly who for better or worse had a huge impact on the world the last 40 years. Peter Bergen does a good job of explaining with some success how the one of many(est between 25-50) children of a Saudi billionaire contractor became so influential in the terrorist world. He is believed to have inherited about 25 million dollars which he used to support his terrorist network al Qaeda which he started around 1988. Initially he was supporting Afghans as they fought the Russia A biography of somebody clearly who for better or worse had a huge impact on the world the last 40 years. Peter Bergen does a good job of explaining with some success how the one of many(est between 25-50) children of a Saudi billionaire contractor became so influential in the terrorist world. He is believed to have inherited about 25 million dollars which he used to support his terrorist network al Qaeda which he started around 1988. Initially he was supporting Afghans as they fought the Russians but once that was over he turned his attention to what he perceived to be the biggest threat to Islam, the presence of the US in the middle East. He believed that by attacking the US in the middle East and eventually on US soil he could drive the US away. He may be right even if he didn't live long enough to see it. It was interesting to learn how he ran the network with very big involvement in some of the attacks and with a hands off approach to many. He liked to leave the planning and details in many cases to the men carryout the plan. I would have liked more attention the leadup of 9/11 in the planning and such but maybe the author could only find out so much with information about OBL and his closest people being tough. It's not like many of them are willing to do interviews and share the real inside information we would like to know. The eventual capture of OBL was also interesting with a little more information available at least from the US side as interviews with key people are available. Obama making the ultimate call to go after OBL when the CIA was pretty sure but not 100% that the target was really in the compound. One advisor put it at 95% that he was in fact there but others had it as low as 40%. Obama was obviously worried about a failed operation looking bad for him. According to Bergen, Biden voted not to go and Clinton strongly believed in authorizing the operation called Neptune Spear. All in all a good book that shed some light on where Osama came from and how he got to be in such and influential place. More details would have been great but I understand that subject made that impossible.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Those who have closely followed developments after 9/11 till after bin Laden’s death will find this book basically a refresher on OBL’s life and terrorism activities and the operation that ended the manhunt. What’s good about the book is it clears up some older errors in reporting through the 2017 declassification of documents found at OBL’s residence. For those who are just now learning about OBL this is a great book to get a solid understanding of him and his motives/actions in one place witho Those who have closely followed developments after 9/11 till after bin Laden’s death will find this book basically a refresher on OBL’s life and terrorism activities and the operation that ended the manhunt. What’s good about the book is it clears up some older errors in reporting through the 2017 declassification of documents found at OBL’s residence. For those who are just now learning about OBL this is a great book to get a solid understanding of him and his motives/actions in one place without diving deep into the history of the region and America’s foreign policy through the years in relation to the ME and Afghanistan. Bergen has been reporting on OBL since 1998, and he has the sourcing to back up his work.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    First i would like to thank #simonandschuster and #netgalley for the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Overall, i found this book very interesting as someone who studies psychology i did find it interesting his early life and how he became exile from his entire family pretty early on due to not agreeing with his beliefs And seeing how those early interactions in life caused him to think the way he did. This book follows his entire life from soon after birth essentially and his family’s life First i would like to thank #simonandschuster and #netgalley for the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Overall, i found this book very interesting as someone who studies psychology i did find it interesting his early life and how he became exile from his entire family pretty early on due to not agreeing with his beliefs And seeing how those early interactions in life caused him to think the way he did. This book follows his entire life from soon after birth essentially and his family’s life to his death. The author Peter Bergen was the first America journalist to be granted a face to face interview with him in mid 1990s for CNN, you can still find it on youtube. It was crazy to hear all the steps that were included in getting that interview which at that point he was already well known among intelligence communities. I also think it is important to note that the author is American and works for CNN and thus will have certain biases when it comes to talking about Osama…and thus can be seen somewhat but overall i thought it was pretty neutral and kept mostly to the facts. I know that this book definitely is not everyone cup of tea at all i completely understand that but i did find it interesting reading the thought process, rational, and ideals that existed. If you want to learn more about the radicalization process this is a overall pretty solid book to begin to understand it. PLEASE NOTE: Although Osama used the religion of Islam as reasoning for his actions mainstream practices of Islam rejects his interpretations and even Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship due to this fact as well. Islam is a very peaceful religion when practice correctly.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mark O'mara

    Great read. Very well researched. Succinct and well written. Timely!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Wolfe

    Extremely insightful, and a quick read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leo

    While listening to the recent news about the US exit from Afghanistan I realised that I actually have very vague idea about the man who started the chain of events that lead to the US entering Afghanistan in the first place. And 20 years is the perfect distance the view the from. Information gets declassified, the narratives lose their grip on people and politics have moved on substantially to stand in the way of information. (can't wait to read about 2020 pandemic in 20 years...) I don't know how While listening to the recent news about the US exit from Afghanistan I realised that I actually have very vague idea about the man who started the chain of events that lead to the US entering Afghanistan in the first place. And 20 years is the perfect distance the view the from. Information gets declassified, the narratives lose their grip on people and politics have moved on substantially to stand in the way of information. (can't wait to read about 2020 pandemic in 20 years...) I don't know how to rate this kind of books but it 100% satisfied my curiosity about Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    An incredibly well researched book. Detailed, clear, remarkably written. Bergen answers every question one could have about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. More relevant now than ever.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Good review of the whole life, as much as is known, as well as build-up to 9/11. Factual, not sympathetic. Recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    Great and timely overview, particularly as we revisit these events many years later. Well-researched and documented. If you've read Bergen's other books, you will recognize some of the anecdotes and interviews, but these are insightful nonetheless. Great and timely overview, particularly as we revisit these events many years later. Well-researched and documented. If you've read Bergen's other books, you will recognize some of the anecdotes and interviews, but these are insightful nonetheless.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Really good book, sober and journalistic. Deep knowledge worn lightly written in a no nonsense style but with plenty of quirky fascinating details. The domestic scenes near the start obtained from the files captured by the Seals in Abbotabad are really interesting, with Bin Ladens daughters quizzing him about his thought's, all written down in a journal. I'd have liked a bit more of this, maybe that's for a future book. Another detail that struck me was that the two courier brothers had resigned Really good book, sober and journalistic. Deep knowledge worn lightly written in a no nonsense style but with plenty of quirky fascinating details. The domestic scenes near the start obtained from the files captured by the Seals in Abbotabad are really interesting, with Bin Ladens daughters quizzing him about his thought's, all written down in a journal. I'd have liked a bit more of this, maybe that's for a future book. Another detail that struck me was that the two courier brothers had resigned and were set to leave as early as July becasue they were fed up and irritated that Bin Laden only paid them $100 a month each! This was a pattern in BL's life, two of his wives left him after tiring of the tough desert or mountain life he insisted on - he wouldn't even let them have a fridge in Sudan because it was unIslamic - even some of his sons left as soon as they could. This domestic portrait of BL and the suffering he inflicted upon his own family is an unexpectedly powerful indictment of him. Despite his simple life and Holyman airs he ostentatiously models his life on that of the Prophet and is obsessed with his image and importance. Seeing the terror he inflicted and the way allies such as the Taliban, or the Al Quada in Iraq, or Isis related to him and his legacy provides a powerful personal prism within which to see how tawdry, nasty and sad BL's life really was. Reading this book has made me less worried about the rise of radical Islamic terror after recapture of Afghanistan by the Taliban because it shows what a bunch of angry losers these people are, outcasts in their own countries, communities and even within their own families. Bergen himself even comments on the Wizard of Oz feeling he gets as he looks around the Abbotabad compound., there isn't anything of substance behind the curtain. NB: One thing I was hoping Nergen would do is provide a more up to date and definitive account of the moment BL was killed. I read quite deeply on the actual killing because of the controversy surrounding it stirred up by two of the Seal team members writing books about the raid. I read Matt Bisonette's book years ago and enjoyed it, subsequently Rob O'Neil wrote a book claiming to be the guy who actually shot BL. This is disputed by other Seals on the raid. The guy who probably actually killed Bin Laden is not speaking. As I understand it Bisonette and O'Neil had been arguing about who was going to tell the mission'sstory even before the riad and got into a fight over it. At the compound the two soldiers should have been more involved in clearing and securing the second floor rather than hurrying up the stairs to kill Bin Laden. The mystery Seal who was first up the stairs saw BL poke his head out a door and shot him twice before Bin Laden withdrew into the room, whether this hit or not is the dispute. O'Neil claims the first soldier missed and - when the first Seal rushed into the room instead of firing more shot he enveloped the women and children who were also in the bedroom in his arms and shoved them to the floor in case they were wearing a sucide vest. ONeil claims BL was still standing at this point - disputed by other Seals - and that he fired the kill shots. Bisonette is said to be third into the room but this is disputed by other Seals as well. Bergen seems to follow O'Neil's account without getting into the controversy over the two former Seals who are now persona non grata at Seal team 6.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kessler

    A well-researched biography, although not one that actually answers its own question of explaining the unique radicalization path of its subject from millionaire son of a Middle East construction dynasty to Western-hating Jihadist and inadvertent architect of the modern US imperialist security state. Author Peter L. Bergen is a leading authority on bin Laden, and I gather that the main appeal of this particular title is in its drawing on personal interviews and newly-declassified documents to de A well-researched biography, although not one that actually answers its own question of explaining the unique radicalization path of its subject from millionaire son of a Middle East construction dynasty to Western-hating Jihadist and inadvertent architect of the modern US imperialist security state. Author Peter L. Bergen is a leading authority on bin Laden, and I gather that the main appeal of this particular title is in its drawing on personal interviews and newly-declassified documents to describe the final decade of Osama's life, providing the most in-depth account yet of the Al-Qaeda leader in hiding following the attacks he orchestrated on 9/11. Personally, however, I think I've gotten more out of the earlier sections exploring the man's experiences before his global infamy, a topic with which I was fairly unfamiliar. The central takeaway seems to be that bin Laden, though a minor figure in ousting the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1988 -- our journalist writer insists there's no evidence that the CIA operatives there ever gave his mujahideen rebels any training or resources, despite longstanding rumors to that effect -- became convinced that he had brought a world power to heel, and thus set on doing the same thing to America. The original intent of his terrorism was apparently to encourage us and our allies to pull back from colonialism and military intervention in the region, which of course backfired pretty spectacularly. Later, he struggled to adapt his group's methods to the new paradigm that he had ushered in, generally inspiring similar movements rather than direct recruits to his own brotherhood, and ultimately spent his last days brainstorming how to take credit for the dawning Arab Spring. Overall I would say this is an interesting (and steadfastly unsympathetic) primer, probably worth reading for anyone looking to go beyond the news coverage of the time. [Content warning for torture.] Like this review? --Throw me a quick one-time donation here! https://ko-fi.com/lesserjoke --Subscribe here to support my writing and weigh in on what I read next! https://patreon.com/lesserjoke --Follow along on Goodreads here! https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6... --Or click here to browse through all my previous reviews! https://lesserjoke.home.blog

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Dockrill

    Peter L. Bergen cradle-to-grave book on Osama bin Laden was an extremely pleasurable read - as does an excellent job writing a neutral and easily accessible read on Osama bin Laden's life. Having never read one before I was worried about the avalanche of names, but it was handled in a very manageable way. I did feel as though this book was very much a "Osama bin Laden light version" read which isn't any fault of Mr. Bergen's as he does disclaim that many of the files taken from his Abbottobad co Peter L. Bergen cradle-to-grave book on Osama bin Laden was an extremely pleasurable read - as does an excellent job writing a neutral and easily accessible read on Osama bin Laden's life. Having never read one before I was worried about the avalanche of names, but it was handled in a very manageable way. I did feel as though this book was very much a "Osama bin Laden light version" read which isn't any fault of Mr. Bergen's as he does disclaim that many of the files taken from his Abbottobad compound and from interviews he conducted, much of Osama's life is still a mystery as the East does not exactly promote his story. But many of the antecdotes I did learn were quite interesting and definitely gave me a new perspective on Osama. I would not say that I was more sympathetic to Osama, but he was definitely made into a human rather then a silly "boogeyman" figure. I was largely left with the impression that he was a young impressionable man who was always an outlier - even in his family and that the political instability of the East caused a fragile government and Soviet Union which created a ferment, played a major role in not only giving rise to extremists sects which gave Osama a purpose but also created a vacuum that even if Osama did rise, whose to say it would not have been another man to do so. Mr. Bergen also did a wonderful job of correcting alot of the falsehoods of what happened both in DC during the manhunt for bin Laden while also righting the wrongs about many of the unsubstantiated theories following his death, with the caveat that not all of his explanations were necessarily convincing. It did leave me with the urge to look more into the period myself.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Colin Thomas

    This was a crushingly good book. Deeply researched and reported. Sentence after sentence was mind blowing. The context of bin Laden’s life is hard to really wrap your head around. One of 55 children of a Saudi construction entrepreneur whose portfolio included remodeling Mecca and Islam’s other holiest sites and who became rich in the context of the oil boom (which featured a strong cameo by America’s Standard Oil). Osama’s parents were divorced when he was two and he lives as something of an ou This was a crushingly good book. Deeply researched and reported. Sentence after sentence was mind blowing. The context of bin Laden’s life is hard to really wrap your head around. One of 55 children of a Saudi construction entrepreneur whose portfolio included remodeling Mecca and Islam’s other holiest sites and who became rich in the context of the oil boom (which featured a strong cameo by America’s Standard Oil). Osama’s parents were divorced when he was two and he lives as something of an outcast. He only met his father a few times but was clearly desperate for his approval and attention. Heartbroken when his father died, he never really inherited a real role in the family business or acceptance by the rest of the family. So he committed himself to spend his life earning the approval of another distant father: Allah. This lead at first to simply conspicuous piety, but with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan evolved in a deep seeded devotion to vanquishing all outside invaders of Islamic lands. The story gets crazier and crazier from there until you reach 9/11 when it simply becomes infuriating. The American government always underestimated and under valued bin Laden as a threat, never more starkly than in the twelve months following the attacks when all Bush and his advisors could think about was finding justification to ignore bin Laden and focus on Saddam Hussein. This is a page turner and has me chomping at the bit to pick up more books on the geopolitical history of 9/11, radical Islamic terrorism, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    I interviewed the author for my podcast. The episode will be published on 9/21/21. historyasithappens.com is where you can find it. Peter Bergen is one of a few journalists in the world who interviewed bin Laden (1997) and whose sources and research into al-Qaeda make him an authority on the subject. This short biography is comprehensive; it humanizes bin Laden. The son of a billionaire Saudi construction magnate, young Osama could have chosen to live a pampered life in the Kingdom. Instead he beca I interviewed the author for my podcast. The episode will be published on 9/21/21. historyasithappens.com is where you can find it. Peter Bergen is one of a few journalists in the world who interviewed bin Laden (1997) and whose sources and research into al-Qaeda make him an authority on the subject. This short biography is comprehensive; it humanizes bin Laden. The son of a billionaire Saudi construction magnate, young Osama could have chosen to live a pampered life in the Kingdom. Instead he became a religious zealot, believing he must walk in the footsteps of the Prophet, live like a pauper, and travel to Pakistan to assist the mujahideen against the Soviets. Islam was at the center of bin Laden's worldview; Islam was at the heart of al-Qaeda. Bergen attempts to answer how this man came to dedicate his life to mass murder to punish the U.S. for its foreign policy. I consider this book to be contemporary history -- and it's a must-read. Each page contained details about this or that event or person that I had forgotten or simply hadn't thought about for a while. The book also provoked a visceral response -- it conveyed by mind back to those days after 9/11 when the attacks and the fear and the mystery of bin Laden were all one thought about. Bergen's treatment of the Tora Bora escape and well as Operation Neptune Spear (the SEAL raid to kill bin Laden) were scintillating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    André Fonseca

    A riveting account of Bin Laden's history. Son of a wealthy Saudi Contractor, he soon showed signs of a deeply entrenched religious fanaticism. Such fanaticism gain almost a mythological value after fighting during the Afghan war against the soviets and alongside the Mujahedeen where "Al Qaeda" (the base) would be founded. He renounced to a life of riches and privilegies to fight in the name of Islam against the USA who he soon accused of supporting Israel and of trying to control and undermine A riveting account of Bin Laden's history. Son of a wealthy Saudi Contractor, he soon showed signs of a deeply entrenched religious fanaticism. Such fanaticism gain almost a mythological value after fighting during the Afghan war against the soviets and alongside the Mujahedeen where "Al Qaeda" (the base) would be founded. He renounced to a life of riches and privilegies to fight in the name of Islam against the USA who he soon accused of supporting Israel and of trying to control and undermine the Muslim world. Just like the Ex. USSR caved in and was defeated by Afghanistan, so he thought that the USA would to the same after a prolonged battle. With such goal in mind he conducted several terrorists attack against the country that he considered the "Head of the Snake" convinced that it would leave the Islam world, so poor had been the American answers to previous attacks (particularly in the time of Bush Sr. and Clinton). A stark reminder that weakness from one party will always be met with more aggressiveness from the opposing party.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bobby24

    Pretty good, the Third book in a row i have read on 9/11 and AQ, perhaps the weakest of them the eleventh hour by anthony summers and the Looming Tower were both top notch, this one i suppose is the victim that i have read so much and that it is now familiar to me. But it does not offer much new that both the other books described. The only thing it does educate me about is the role of Ayaman Al Zawayhiri ( i haven't got the spelling correct), he is often recognised as the number 2 in AQ but thi Pretty good, the Third book in a row i have read on 9/11 and AQ, perhaps the weakest of them the eleventh hour by anthony summers and the Looming Tower were both top notch, this one i suppose is the victim that i have read so much and that it is now familiar to me. But it does not offer much new that both the other books described. The only thing it does educate me about is the role of Ayaman Al Zawayhiri ( i haven't got the spelling correct), he is often recognised as the number 2 in AQ but this book suggests otherwise, he is a "charisma Black hole". There is something fairley admirable about Bin Laden, he is/was an interesting man. Worth a read however, by the way today is the 25 of August 2021 and the Taliban have just retaken Afghanistan.....this book suggest that a long war with America was not Bin Laden's plan , however both the other books suggest it was and i agree with them. He was a tactical genius........

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) This work looks to offer more insight/details into the life of Osama Bin Laden, now 10 years dead. Pulling from previous reporting but also using resources uncovered after the Abbotobad raid, we can see how Bin Laden spent the last days of his life. He tried to stay relevant, but out of the limelight, out of the public mind. He hoped to capitalize on the Arab Spring, but the US capitalized on his head first. Bergen also accounts for the aftermath of the raid, noting that ISIS became m (Audiobook) This work looks to offer more insight/details into the life of Osama Bin Laden, now 10 years dead. Pulling from previous reporting but also using resources uncovered after the Abbotobad raid, we can see how Bin Laden spent the last days of his life. He tried to stay relevant, but out of the limelight, out of the public mind. He hoped to capitalize on the Arab Spring, but the US capitalized on his head first. Bergen also accounts for the aftermath of the raid, noting that ISIS became much more powerful than even Al Qaida could have hoped. Bergen also correctly trashes the bunk from guys like Hirsch on Bin Laden conspiracies. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in the rearview mirror, it is helpful to review the life of this villain. The US could have shut him down long before, but he was beaten and relegated to history. A good read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott Delgado

    This was an in-depth and informative look at the man behind the monster Americans have loathed for 2 decades now. Learning that he was actually kind to his family was surprising to me. I've always had this image of some madman who would chop off your head if you disagreed with him. Reading that his wife wanted a divorce and he was ok with it honestly stunned me. Granted, there other parts where you're like "Aww. He's a doting father!" but then you realize the pride that is beaming from is for hi This was an in-depth and informative look at the man behind the monster Americans have loathed for 2 decades now. Learning that he was actually kind to his family was surprising to me. I've always had this image of some madman who would chop off your head if you disagreed with him. Reading that his wife wanted a divorce and he was ok with it honestly stunned me. Granted, there other parts where you're like "Aww. He's a doting father!" but then you realize the pride that is beaming from is for his son is due to his son's poem...about killing Jews. EEK! So it was interesting learning about his upbringing and religious extremism. It helps hammer in how religions may be good for people to some extent, but extremism leads to dangerous actions.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Very interesting bio of bin Laden and family. Written plainly and clearly. The book could have been better produced--bold typeface chosen for heads and page numbers is hard to read and blurs into paper. Had I not heard the author in discussion on a radio program, I would not have sought out the book. I am glad I read it, even though it recounts troubling events. Following US leaders' decision-making when it came to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan was distressing. Seeing the excessively ascetic and often Very interesting bio of bin Laden and family. Written plainly and clearly. The book could have been better produced--bold typeface chosen for heads and page numbers is hard to read and blurs into paper. Had I not heard the author in discussion on a radio program, I would not have sought out the book. I am glad I read it, even though it recounts troubling events. Following US leaders' decision-making when it came to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan was distressing. Seeing the excessively ascetic and often dangerous lifestyle bin Laden's wives and many children either accepted or eventually left was almost beyond belief.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    It probably seems odd to give five stars to a book I have put on my did-not-finish shelf. However, that is the truth. I skipped some battle scenes and some sections on early internal conflicts at the CIA over if bin Laden was a serious threat. What fascinated me was the descriptions of bin Laden's family life. He kept his wives and many children with him throughout his jihad efforts. Two of the wives had the equivalent of PhDs and were involved with his decision making. One had a degree in Koran It probably seems odd to give five stars to a book I have put on my did-not-finish shelf. However, that is the truth. I skipped some battle scenes and some sections on early internal conflicts at the CIA over if bin Laden was a serious threat. What fascinated me was the descriptions of bin Laden's family life. He kept his wives and many children with him throughout his jihad efforts. Two of the wives had the equivalent of PhDs and were involved with his decision making. One had a degree in Koranic Grammar which I assume is deep into the weeds on what the Koran means. This is a fascinating look into both the life of bin Laden and into fundamentalist religious beliefs.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Serge

    Authoritative Account of Events Bergen does a great service by correcting the many false narratives peddled by lesser journalists and talking heads for personal profit. Bergen stitches together the quarter century that saw Bin Laden's ascent at the end of the eighties to his ignominious death in 2011. The crafty and delusional heir to a vast Saudi fortune set the world ablaze with his self-serving martyr ideology and the West's reaction his threat ( the War on Terror) tilted US foreign policy awa Authoritative Account of Events Bergen does a great service by correcting the many false narratives peddled by lesser journalists and talking heads for personal profit. Bergen stitches together the quarter century that saw Bin Laden's ascent at the end of the eighties to his ignominious death in 2011. The crafty and delusional heir to a vast Saudi fortune set the world ablaze with his self-serving martyr ideology and the West's reaction his threat ( the War on Terror) tilted US foreign policy away from long term geopolitical interests. Avery readableand persuasive book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dorte Zuckerman

    A deeply interesting and carefully written document This book by Peter Bergen I happened to read during the pull-out of Afghanistan, which made it very apropos. It is an impressive and detailed story written with obvious knowledge and experience. Some events I knew of, many I didn’t. Character descriptions and small interesting details made you feel you were there in the middle of the actions.

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