BookBrowse Reviews Osama by Jonathan Randal

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Osama

The Making of a Terrorist

by Jonathan Randal

Osama by Jonathan Randal X
Osama by Jonathan Randal
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2005, 368 pages

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An outstanding achievement. Biography/Current Affairs

From the book jacket: How is it possible for one middle-aged Saudi millionaire to threaten the world's only superpower? This is the question at the center of Jonathan Randal's riveting, timely account of Osama bin Laden's role in the rise of terrorism in the Middle East.

Comment: Considering how little is known about Osama bin Laden, some might think it a little challenging to produce a 300 page biography of the man.  However, by setting what is known of bin Laden's life in the context of the larger regional issues, this is what Jonathan Randal has done. Osama has received generally positive reviews; negative comments are not so much to do with his fact gathering but his presentation of the facts in a light that is not flattering to the USA government, from Clinton through to the present.  

Personally, I found it an interesting book which added considerably to my understanding of the situation as it now stands.  However, I'm not in any position to comment on the reliability of the content itself.  For this I'm going to rely heavily on Robert D Kaplan's review for The Washington Post (as he appears to be the reviewer writing with the most authority).  Kaplan opens by describing Randal (a retired foreign correspondent for the Washington Post) as representing 'a breed of journalist now gradually going extinct: the seasoned, multilingual man or woman of the world who lives overseas and has an intimate, inside-baseball knowledge of dozens upon dozens of countries and their politics, with the added advantage of being able to write about it all at reasonable length, rather than having to reduce it to television sound bites.'    He goes on to compliment Randal for describing the panoramic milieu of violence well and also for exploring many sub-issues that are often more important than the so-called big issues in the Middle East.  However, after praising Randal for content, Kaplan criticizes him for having insufficient 'understanding or empathy for the realities in which any American administration is forced to deal', and concludes by saying 'Randal the seasoned man-of-the-world is more insightful than Randal the expatriate. Nevertheless, American policymakers would do well to excuse the latter in order to glean perceptions from the former.' 

As always, you can read an excerpt for yourself.   I also recommend Jon Lee Anderson's The Fall of Baghdad.

This review is from the September 14, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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