Synopses & Reviews
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the national bestseller Ghost Wars, Steve Coll presents the story of the Bin Laden familys rise to power and privilege, revealing new information to show how American influences changed the family and how one members rebellion changed America
The Bin Ladens rose from poverty to privilege; they loyally served the Saudi royal family for generationsand then one of their number changed history on September 11, 2001. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll tells the epic story of the rise of the Bin Laden family and of the wildly diverse lifestyles of the generation to which Osama bin Laden belongs, and against whom he rebelled. Starting with the familys escape from famine at the beginning of the twentieth century through its jet-set era in America after the 1970s oil boom, and finally to the familys attempts to recover from September 11, The Bin Ladens unearths extensive new material about the family and its relationship with the United States, and provides a richly revealing and emblematic narrative of our globally interconnected times.
To a much greater extent than has been previously understood, the Bin Laden family owned an impressive share of the America upon which Osama ultimately declared warshopping centers, apartment complexes, luxury estates, privatized prisons in Massachusetts, corporate stocks, an airport, and much more. They financed Hollywood movies and negotiated over real estate with Donald Trump. They came to regard George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Prince Charles as friends of their family. And yet, as was true of the larger relationship between the Saudi and American governments, when tested by Osamas violence, the familys involvement in the United States proved to be narrow and brittle.
Among the many memorable figures that cross these pages is Osamas older brother, Salema free-living, chainsmoking, guitar-strumming pilot, adventurer, and businessman who cavorted across America and Europe and once proposed marriage to four American and European girlfriends simultaneously, attempting to win a bet with the king of Saudi Arabia. Osama and Salems father, Mohamed bin Laden, is another force in the narrativean illiterate bricklayer who created the family fortune through perspicacity and wit, until his sudden death in an airplane crash in 1967, an accident caused by an error by his American pilot.
At the storys heart lies an immigrant familys attempt to adapt simultaneously to Saudi Arabias puritanism and Americas myriad temptations. The family generation to which Osama belongedtwenty-five brothers and twenty-nine sistershad to cope with intense change. Most of them were born into a poor society where religion dominated public life. Yet by the time they became young adults, these Bin Ladens found themselves bombarded by Western-influenced ideas about individual choice, by gleaming new shopping malls and international fashion brands, by Hollywood movies and changing sexual moresa dizzying world that was theirs for the taking, because they each received annual dividends that started in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. How they navigated these demands is an authentic, humanizing story of Saudi Arabia, America, and the sources of attraction and repulsion still present in the countries awkward embrace.
"The bin Ladens are famous for spawning the world's foremost terrorist and building one of the Middle East's foremost corporate dynasties. Pulitzer Prize winner Coll (Ghost Wars) delivers a sprawling history of the multifaceted clan, paying special attention to its two most emblematic members. Patriarch Mohamed's eldest son, Salem, was a caricature of the self-indulgent plutocrat: a flamboyant jet-setter dependent on the Saudi monarchy, obsessed with all things motorized (he died crashing his plane after a day's joy-riding atop motorcycle and dune-buggy) and forever tormenting his entourage with off-key karaoke. Coll presents quite a contrast with an unusually nuanced profile of Salem's half-brother Osama, a shy, austere, devout man who nonetheless shares Salem's egomania. Other bin Ladens crowd Coll's narrative with the eye-glazing details of their murky business deals, messy divorces and ill-advised perfume lines and pop CDs. Beneath the clutter one discerns an engrossing portrait of a family torn between tradition and modernity, conformism and self-actualization, and desperately in search of its soul. (April 1)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A fascinating panorama . . . about a man and his family [and] the powerful impact they have made on our times."
-The Washington Post
"Riveting . . . the most psychologically detailed portrait of the brutal 9/11 mastermind yet."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Stunningly researched and grippingly told . . . [The Bin Ladens] ought to be read by anyone who really wants to understand the origins of the current crisis."
-Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
"To read Coll's book is to enter a universe of perpetual movement and deal-making, but one in which little, if anything, is recorded or written down, where power and money are distributed by means of kin networks, informal gatherings of influential Saudi males, and the mobile phone. The Bin Ladens
is not so much a book about Osama bin Laden himself, or his terrorist network and political aspirations, as about the power structures of modern Saudi Arabia. And in this it is most informative." Fred Halliday, The New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
The rise and rise of the Bin Laden family is one of the great stories of the twentieth century; its repercussions have already deeply marked the twenty-first. Until now, however, it is a story that has never been fully told, as the Bin Ladens have successfully fended off attempts to understand the family circles from which Osama sprang. In this the family has been abetted by the kingdom it calls home, Saudi Arabia, one of the most closed societies on earth.
Steve Coll’s The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century is the groundbreaking history of a family and its fortune. It chronicles a young illiterate Yemeni bricklayer, Mohamed Bin Laden, who went to the new, oil-rich country of Saudi Arabia and quickly became a vital figure in its development, building great mosques and highways and making himself and many of his children millionaires. It is also a story of the Saudi royal family, whom the Bin Ladens served loyally and without whose capricious favor they would have been nothing. And it is a story of tensions and contradictions in a country founded on extreme religious purity, which then became awash in oil money and dazzled by the temptations of the West. In only two generations the Bin Ladens moved from a famine- stricken desert canyon to luxury jets, yachts, and private compounds around the world, even going into business with Hollywood celebrities. These religious and cultural gyrations resulted in everything from enthusiasm for America—exemplified by Osama’s free-living pilot brother Salem—to an overwhelming determination to destroy it.
The Bin Ladens is a meticulously researched, colorful, shocking, entertaining, and disturbing narrative of global integration and its limitations. It encapsulates the unsettling contradictions of globalization in the story of a single family who has used money, mobility, and technology to dramatically varied ends.
In The Bin Ladens
, two- time Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Coll continues where Ghost Wars
left off, shedding new light on one of the most elusive families of the twenty-first century. Rising from a famine-stricken desert into luxury, private compounds, and even business deals with Hollywood celebrities, the Bin Ladens have benefited from the tensions and contradictions in a country founded on extreme religious purity, suddenly thrust into a world awash in oil, money, and the temptations of the West. But what do these incongruities mean for globalization, the War on Terror, and America's place in the Middle East? Meticulously researched, The Bin Ladens
is the story of a remarkably varied and often dangerous family that has used money, mobility, and technology to dramatically different ends.
About the Author
Steve Coll is a writer for The New Yorker and author of the Pulitzer Prize- winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. He is president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington, D.C. Previously he served, for more than twenty years, as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and ultimately as managing editor of The Washington Post. He is also the author of On the Grand Trunk Road, The Deal of the Century, and The Taking of Getty Oil. Coll received a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism and the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for outstanding international print reporting and the 2000 Overseas Press Club Award for best magazine reporting from abroad. Ghost Wars, published in 2004, received the Pulitzer for general nonfiction and the Arthur Ross award for the best book on international affairs.