Book Review: The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State
This companion to Wright's The Looming Tower offers more insight into the radical transformation of the Middle East
Reviewed by Michael King, Fri., Nov. 4, 2016
Lawrence Wright describes his arrival in the Middle East as "an accident of history" – seeking to fulfill his obligation as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, he drifted into a job teaching English at the American University of Cairo, where he began a lifelong and professional fascination with the region. The New Yorker staff writer (and Texas native) is currently best known as the author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, a journalistic tour de force on the origins, development, and meaning of the fanatical Arabist movement that dared to attack the U.S. (His 2013 history of Scientology, Going Clear, written and published under tremendous legal pressure, may well be an even more dramatic achievement.)
The Terror Years is to some extent a companion to The Looming Tower, largely derived from pieces written for The New Yorker and filling in details of much of the same ground. Here's an extended profile of Ayman al-Zawahiri, a founder of al-Qaeda who exemplifies many of the contradictions of modern Egyptian history; another of "The Counterterrorist," FBI operative John O'Neill, a brazen and brave man who could have escaped the fall of the World Trade Center but walked back into the devastation; "The Spymaster" Michael McConnell, director of National Intelligence, who waves away accusations of U.S. torture of terrorism suspects as both false and an obstacle to gathering information.
That's a very brief selection, and even those familiar with The Looming Tower will find plenty of new material and insight into the radical transformations of history sparked by both terrorist actions and the U.S. decision to spread war in the Middle East. Wright's somber epilogue is a meditation on all we have lost and may never recover.
The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic Stateby Lawrence Wright
Alfred A. Knopf, 366 pp., $28.95
Lawrence Wright will speak about The Terror Years in the session “Tackling Terrorism” on Sat., Nov. 5, 3:45pm, in the C-SPAN 2/Book TV Tent.