THE LONGEST WAR: THE ENDURING CONFLICT BETWEEN AMERICA AND AL-QAEDA (2011). By Peter L. Bergen. This volume by CNN’s national security analyst provides a succinct overview of the war on terror, giving the reader a sharply observed portrait of Bin Laden, whom Mr. Bergen interviewed in 1997. Mr. Bergen argues that Bin Laden over-reached with the 9/11 attacks and that Al Qaeda has a growing list of enemies, including Muslims who don’t share its “ultra-fundamentalist worldview.” The book also provides a harrowing account of Bin Laden’s escape from American forces at Tora Bora in December 2001, after the C.I.A.’s request for more troops was turned down by Gen. Tommy Franks.
OSAMA: THE MAKING OF A TERRORIST (2004). By Jonathan Randal. This book by a former Washington Post correspondent is less a biography of Bin Laden than a history of the contemporary jihadi movement, which Mr. Randal argues was inadvertently strengthened by American hubris, ignorance and missteps in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Mr. Randal chronicles Bin Laden’s combat experiences as an anti-Soviet jihadi, the role that various surrogate father figures played in his evolution, and his discovery of an “ability to talk to everyday Muslims in a simple language,” despite his family’s wealth.
THE BIN LADENS: AN ARABIAN FAMILY IN THE AMERICAN CENTURY (2008). By Steve Coll. In this family epic, Mr. Coll, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, creates a psychologically detailed portrait of Bin Laden and his relationships with his father, Muhammad, who made a fortune in Saudi Arabia as the king’s principal builder; and his older brother Salem, a British-educated, music-loving playboy, who used to organize family expeditions to Las Vegas. It also illuminates the important role that Osama Bin Laden’s relatives and their relationship with the royal house of Saud played in shaping his thinking, his ambitions and his technological expertise.
HOLY WAR, INC.: INSIDE THE SECRET WORLD OF OSAMA BIN LADEN (2001). By Peter L. Bergen. In an early study of Al Qaeda, this CNN analyst emphasizes the crucial role that the Afghan-Soviet conflict played in radicalizing many Islamic militants in the 1980s, giving fighters like Bin Laden confidence that they could defeat a superpower and replacing the notion of Arab nationalism with that of a larger Islamist movement. Mr. Bergen argues here that Bin Laden’s anger at the United States has little to do with Western culture — say, movies or drug and alcohol use — but rather stems from American policies in the Middle East, namely “the continued U.S. military presence in Arabia; U.S. support for Israel; its continued bombing of Iraq; and its support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that bin Laden regards as apostates from Islam.”
OSAMA BIN LADEN (2011). By Michael Scheuer. Mr. Scheuer, who once headed the C.I.A.’s Osama bin Laden unit, dissects the puritanical religious views that informed Bin Laden’s thinking. As he did in earlier books, Mr. Scheuer contends that Bin Laden was not an irrational terrorist, but a shrewd strategist and tactician who wanted to lure the United States into a financially draining quagmire in the Middle East.
THE LOOMING TOWER: AL-QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11 (2006). By Lawrence Wright. Based on more than 500 interviews, this book gives readers a searing view of the events of Sept. 11 and how that tragic day came about. Mr. Wright, a writer for The New Yorker, suggests that the emergence of Al Qaeda “depended on a unique conjunction of personalities” — that is, Bin Laden, whose global vision and compelling leadership would hold together the organization, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, who promoted the apocalyptic idea that only violence could change history. In Mr. Wright’s account, we see how a shy young Osama bin Laden, who loved the American television series “Bonanza,” became a solemn religious adolescent, and how under the Machiavellian tutelage of Mr. Zawahri, he grew increasingly radicalized.
IN THE GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES: AMERICA’S WAR IN AFGHANISTAN (2009). By Seth G. Jones. This book by a political scientist charts several decades of relations between the United States and Afghanistan, focusing on what went awry after America’s successful routing of the Taliban in late 2001. Mr. Jones blames the invasion of Iraq for diverting resources and attention from the war in Afghanistan, and notes that there was a spillover effect in Pakistan, which offered a haven to many Taliban and Qaeda fighters. Among Mr. Jones’s conclusions is that the United States must “persuade Pakistani military and civilian leaders to conduct a sustained campaign against militants mounting attacks in Afghanistan and the region” and threatening the foundations of “the nuclear-armed Pakistani state.”
GHOST WARS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CIA, AFGHANISTAN, AND BIN LADEN, FROM THE SOVIET INVASION TO SEPTEMBER 10, 2001 (2004). By Steve Coll. Mapping the long, mistake-filled road to 9/11, this book examines the C.I.A.’s covert role during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and America’s later neglect of the country during the post-cold war ’90s, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda took advantage of the political vacuum. Mr. Coll chronicles the failures of both the Clinton and Bush administrations to mount a serious attack on Al Qaeda and to implement a coherent counterterrorism strategy.[blog.nytimes.com]