The rise and rise of the Bin Laden family is one of the world's great stories of the 20th century: the repercussions of that rise have, of course, already deeply marked the 21st century. And yet, it is a story that has never been properly told. Their affairs shrouded in secrecy, living in one of the most powerful, closed and unaccountable countries on earth, the Bin Ladens have - until now - successfully fended off all attempts to understand the world from which Osama sprang. Steve Coll's "The Bin Ladens" is the history of a family and its fortune: of how a one-eyed illiterate, Mohammed Bin Laden, from a harsh region of Yemen, went as a young man to the new, oil-rich country of Saudi Arabia and with remarkable speed became a vital figure in its development, building great mosques and highways and making himself and his many children into millionaires.It is the story of the Saudi royal family, who the Bin Ladens served so loyally, and without whose capricious favor they would have been nothing. And it is the story of the revolutions in a modern Islam awash with oil money: of a country founded on extreme religious purity becoming mired in the temptations of the West.
In only two generations, the men and women of the Bin Laden family moved from a desert canyon in Yemen to luxury jets, yachts and private compounds around the world. The religious and cultural pressures could not have been greater. This resulted in everything from enthusiasm for the West, exemplified by Osama's brother Salem, a free-living pilot and adventurer, to an overwhelming determination to destroy it."The Bin Ladens" - meticulously researched, brilliantly written - is one of the major works to be provoked by the current crisis. Colorful, shocking, entertaining and disturbing, it dramatizes all the strange contradictions of globalization in the story of a single family who have used money, mobility and technology to frighteningly varied ends.
Steve Coll is most recently the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Ghost Wars. He also won a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism. He covered Afghanistan as the Washington Post's South Asia bureau chief between 1989 and 1992 and was the Post's managing editor from 1998 to 2004. He is now a staff writer for the New Yorker. He is the author of five books, including On the Grand Trunk Road and The Taking of Getty Oil. He lives with his wife and three children in Maryland.