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

<i>The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State</i>

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 State

by 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.

READ MORE
More Texas Book Festival
Texas Book Festival
Texas Book Festival
Texas Book Festival announces its full lineup of authors for 2017

Sept. 15, 2017

Fine Print
Fine Print
Texas Book Festival brings some of the best and brightest literary minds to the Capitol

Monica Riese, Oct. 25, 2013

More Lawrence Wright
Exceeding Themselves
Exceeding Themselves
Lawrence Wright's Thirteen Days in September tells how Carter, Sadat, and Begin made an impossible peace

Robert Faires, Oct. 24, 2014

The Decoder
The Decoder
Lawrence Wright reflects on a decade spent exploring and explaining the Middle East in 'My Trip to Al-Qaeda'

Nora Ankrum, Aug. 27, 2010

More Arts Reviews
Amanda Eyre Ward's Maternal Turn
Amanda Eyre Ward's Maternal Turn
In The Nearness of You, the Austin novelist writes about her most important topic yet: motherhood

Jessi Cape, Feb. 17, 2017

Stephen Harrigan's <i>A Friend of Mr. Lincoln</i>
Stephen Harrigan's A Friend of Mr. Lincoln
This historical novel gives us an ambitious, impetuous president-to-be we grow close to

Robert Faires, Dec. 30, 2016

More by Michael King
Council: Another Quiet Dais?
Council: Another Quiet Dais?
Agenda features the CURE and a list of proposed audits

Oct. 20, 2017

“Center for Austin’s Future” in Search of Candidates
“Center for Austin’s Future” in Search of Candidates
New nonprofit plans to groom City Council members

Oct. 20, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2016, Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, Going Clear, al-Qaeda

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)