The Bin Ladens

An Arabian Family In the American Century

book | March 01, 2008

    Steve Coll

book cover

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the national bestseller Ghost Wars, Steve Coll presents the story of the Bin Laden family’s rise to power and privilege, revealing new information to show how American influences changed the family and how one member’s rebellion changed America.

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.

A sprawling, fascinating account of America’s declared No. 1 enemy, his far-flung family and the astonishing number of influential Americans who live within that family’s orbit.

BY: Melanie Jackson, Kirkus Reviews

Coll’s account of this family reflects what happened to a whole transitional generation of elites on the Arabian peninsula.

BY: Richard A. Clarke, The Boston Globe

Coll, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Washington Post managing editor, leaves the psychology to his readers. He prefers writing on economics and politics, leavening them with anecdotes and gossip; the result is a fascinating panorama of a great family, presented within the context of the 9/11 drama.

BY: Milton Viorst, The Washington Post

Close to the end of the first decade of the 21st century, more than seven years after those hijacked airliners crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center and the mighty Pentagon, ignorance of the internal realities and complexities of Saudi Arabia remains almost total among the American public and U.S. policymakers alike. Steve Coll's massive new volume, "The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century" is therefore an urgent and most welcome contribution towards lifting this veil of darkness.

BY: Martin Sieff, The Washington Times

Steve Coll’s riveting new book not only gives us the most psychologically detailed portrait of the brutal 9/11 mastermind yet, but in telling the epic story of Osama bin Laden’s extended family, it also reveals the crucial role that his relatives and their relationship with the royal house of Saud played in shaping his thinking, his ambitions, his technological expertise and his tactics.

BY: Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Life, as Kierkegaard pointed out, can only be understood retrospectively, but we must live it prospectively. It's a disjunctive paradox, as true for the lives of nations as it is for those of individuals. Steve Coll's stunningly researched and grippingly told new book, "The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century," is the kind of history that naturally gives rise to such large thoughts.

BY: Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

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    Steve Coll