I have to say, and not without a little bit of shame, that this was the first non-fiction book I have ever voluntarily read. I know non-fiction can teach you a lot but I’ve just never felt inspired to read it. I like characters, emotion, drama- the densely factual just don’t hold my interest. It feels a little too much like schoolwork….or so I thought.
Anyway, it just so happened that I was on holiday in Morocco, having run out of reading material at the same time as my boyfriend finished The Looming Tower. I thought I’d give it a go and the result really surprised me.
Much like the fiction I love, Lawrence Wright’s story of the road to 9/11 is entirely character driven. We start with the lonely Sayyid Qutb, now the idol of Islamic fundamentalists, and we are taken behind the scenes of his life in a way that is immediately gripping. Then we move on to Mohammed Bin Laden, whose amazing success laid the foundations for his son’s identity crisis and eventual rebellion. We learn about Osama Bin Laden’s life in exile, his friendships and his frailties. Over in America, we learn about the FBI’s John O’Neill- a character so vivid and so memorable that any author would have been proud to have created him. We also learn about the deep rift between the CIA and the FBI which, Wright suggests, is at least partly to blame for the American failure to prevent 9/11.
Apart from a patch in the middle, where I felt that Wright was getting a little bogged down in endless facts and names- perhaps a period where his research failed him and better quality information was harder to come by, this book was absolutely brilliant. It had everything. It was engaging, informative and a real-page turner. The amount of research the author must have done to produce a book as comprehensive as this is completely mind-boggling. And the most incredible thing about it is that he still manages to make it read like fiction. You invest in the characters, you wait for the big finale- and when it comes, you’re not disappointed. When the towers collapse, you wonder who of the host of characters you have come to know so well will be inside. I found myself lying by the hotel pool, tears streaming down my cheeks behind my sunglasses as I read the final few pages.
So if you like well-researched, carefully-crafted and compelling non-fiction, you will love this. If you think you hate non-fiction and can’t imagine wanting to hear yet more about 9/11, put aside your prejudices. This is a fantastic read.