Posted by: Matt Compton | April 12, 2008

Osama’s Family

The Bin Laden Family (without Osama)

The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll is easily the best piece of nonfiction I’ve read so far this year. As I was tearing through it, I kept trying to decide whether this book is actually more impressive than Coll’s last — Ghost Wars — which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Now that I’ve finished the final page, I believe it is.

Toward the end of The Bin Ladens, Coll writes:

An FBI analyst summed up the bureau’s assessment of the evidence in a breezy e-mail written in September 2003: There are ‘millions’ of Bin Ladens ‘running around’ and ‘99.999999% of them are of the non-evil variety’

Osama’s father, Mohammed Bin Laden, died in a plane crash in 1967, but his life was nothing short of remarkable. When he left home to seek his fortune, his situation was so desperate that he spent his nights sleeping in a ditch with his younger brother, but gradually, through a combination of luck and hard work, he built a career as the chief builder for the Saudi king. When he died, he left behind a construction empire and more than 50 children. Those children, led first by the London-educated Salem and then the University of Miami-graduate Bakr, extended his legacy and carved out an original place in a rapidly-changing world.

Coll manages to offer a comprehensive and engaging portrait of this entire family. To do so, he taps a mind-boggling wealth of resources and interviews — drawing from first-person accounts, government reports, even financial statements from a divorce proceeding in Los Angeles. The result is riveting and important — I’m positive that people will be reading this book for years in hopes of understanding the world as it has become.


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