Best Books of the Month, January 2011: At nearly a decade and counting, and with tens of thousands of American troops still at war in Afghanistan and Iraq
--and with Osama bin Laden still at large--we remain well within the post-9/11 era, almost to the point where we take its conditions for granted. Many of the aspects of the ongoing, often indirect battles between America and al-Qaeda have been well covered, but there hasn't until now been a full overview of the conflict, and few are more qualified to write it than Peter Bergen, the print and television journalist who, as a CNN producer, arranged bin Laden's first interview with the Western press in 1997. He has been on the story ever since, as the author of Holy War, Inc., and The Osama bin Laden I Know, but in The Longest War he synthesizes his knowledge for the first time into an insightful portrait of both sides in this asymmetrical struggle between superpower and shadowy scourge. Readers of reporters like Lawrence Wright, Thomas Ricks, and Bob Woodward will be familiar with much of the story, especially on the American side, but Bergen's rare understanding of bin Laden's world--often based on personal interviews with present and former jihadists--along with his sharp assessments of each side's successes and failures (he considers the 9/11 attacks to have been more of a failure than a success for their perpetrators), make it necessary reading for anyone wanting to understand our times. --Tom Nissley
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bergen (The Osama bin Laden I Know), CNN's national security analyst, revisits the personality and career of the al-Qaeda leader and his immediate circle, while delving into the conflict between al-Qaeda and associates and the U.S. and its coalition. Much of the narrative conforms in outline to other recent books on the conflict, but Bergen adds much detail and contour to his analyses. He finds serious miscalculations on the part of the terrorist organization, and sees the "surge" in Iraq signaling a larger decline in al-Qaeda's potency. At the same time, he argues that the widespread backlash in the Middle East against the September 11 attacks confirms it is mainstream Islam that poses the greatest "ideological threat" to al-Qaeda. The U.S., meanwhile, has let incompetence and a misguided obsession with Iraq
undermine its efforts to extinguish al-Qaeda and the enduring influence of bin Laden, who, Bergen argues, is still alive. Drawing on vast firsthand knowledge of the region and mining a huge stock of primary and secondary material, including his own interviews with combatants, the book's depth of detail and breadth of insight make it one of the more useful analyses of the ongoing conflict. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.