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The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008)

by Steve Coll

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5371638,793 (3.9)15
The Bin Ladens rose from poverty to privilege; they loyally served the Saudi royal family for generations--and then one of their number changed history on September 11, 2001. Journalist Steve Coll tells the story of the rise of the Bin Laden family and of the wildly diverse lifestyles of the generation to which Osama bin Laden belongs, and against whom he rebelled. Starting with the family's escape from famine at the beginning of the twentieth century, through its jet-set era in America after the 1970s oil boom, and finally to the family's attempts to recover from September 11, this book unearths extensive new material about the family and its relationship with the United States, and provides a richly revealing and emblematic narrative of our globally interconnected times.--From publisher description.… (more)
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This book followed the Bin Laden family from 1900 to 2007. The Bin Ladens is a pretty rich family and enjoyed prominent status not only in Saudi Arabia but was also well respected by European and U.S. politicians. The rise of the Bin Laden family was closely dependent on the country's political and economic situation. (But the Bin Ladens, interestingly, are not Saudis. Their patriarch grew up in Yemen.) I learned a lot about the history, geography and politics of Saudi Arabia from 1900 to 2007 -- not enough to make me an expert, but definitely more than I ever knew! It was a fun and engaging read.

Although the most famous member of the family to the rest of the world is obviously Osama Bin Laden, he did not play an important role in this family at first, as he is merely one of the patriarch's over 50 sons, and he was one of the younger sons, without full brothers, without a mother of esteemed family background. The book started by following the life trajectory of his father, Mohamed Bin Laden, who made his fortune as an immigrant operating a construction company building palaces and roads and renovating holy cities for the Saudi royalty. After the death of Mohamed, the book focused on Salem Bin Laden, one of Mohamed's older sons and his apparent heir. After the death of Salem, the book did not focus on one single person but rather attempted to describe the many businesses conducted by the Bin Laden Group both in Saudi Arabia and worldwide. (They owned U.S. real estate and prestigious U.S. hotels!)

Mohamed and Salem had distinct personalities and shone as protagonists of the book. Osama's activities did get mentioned, and sometimes entire chapters were devote to his activities, but they did not take center stage. Even in depictions of events after 9-11, the book mostly reported how members of the Bin Laden family reacted to and recouped from the tragedy. The author identified similarities between Osama and his father and older brother: "Ambition, energy, natural talent, and a gift for managing people had made Mohamed Bin Laden wealthy. Reinterpreted by Salem, these characteristics had girded a secular life of singular creativity and financial success. Reinterpreted through a prism of Islamic radicalism by Osama, they.....prove just as transforming." ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
Obviously written with Osama in mind, but it is the other parts of the story that fascinated me. Note: published in 2008 before the death of Osama Bin Laden. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Feb 20, 2018 |
Don't get the high praise I saw this book was touted as an excellent book about Osama bin Laden, his background, family, and how he became his name became intertwined with terrorism. My interest especially picked up after his death, but I just didn't around to reading the book.
 
And yet...I don't get it. The author takes the reader through centuries of history and traces back the bin Laden family tree. I thought that was an interesting approach and not unlike some friends I knew who enjoyed long discussions of where their families were from, what regions of the Middle East/Central and South Asia, etc. And yet...it just dragged on and on.
 
I understand what the author was trying to do, but it became a tedious read. I'll admit, some of the parts (such as the history of Saudi Arabia and the connections between that country and the bin Laden family) were interesting. There is also good information about shadiness between the US, Saudi Arabians and other geopolitical players.
 
But honestly, it seems to be overhyped. It's too long and too dry. It might be that I'm not the audience for this book or I'm just not in the right mindframe to read it. Seems like people who have an interest in bin Laden, the rest of the bin Laden family, Saudi Arabia, etc. would be interested and it seems like a great reference. Otherwise I'd skip it or borrow it from the library. ( )
  HoldMyBook | Feb 11, 2018 |
An arabian family in the american century
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
A must read to place Osama in context. Interesting photographs of the clan, showing relationships among the extended family members. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Apr 9, 2011 |
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The Bin Ladens rose from poverty to privilege; they loyally served the Saudi royal family for generations--and then one of their number changed history on September 11, 2001. Journalist Steve Coll tells the story of the rise of the Bin Laden family and of the wildly diverse lifestyles of the generation to which Osama bin Laden belongs, and against whom he rebelled. Starting with the family's escape from famine at the beginning of the twentieth century, through its jet-set era in America after the 1970s oil boom, and finally to the family's attempts to recover from September 11, this book unearths extensive new material about the family and its relationship with the United States, and provides a richly revealing and emblematic narrative of our globally interconnected times.--From publisher description.

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