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Another Notable Book–The Bin Ladens

I just finished another book from the American Library Association Notable Books list, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century” by Steve Coll.

I enjoyed reading it (which surprised me a little), and learned a lot about the recent history of Saudi Arabia.

Coll describes Osama Bin Laden’s story, but takes pains to provide a broad picture of the family. He begins by tracing Mohamed Bin Laden’s beginnings as a humble Yemeni, growing a remarkable fortune due to his savvy leadership of his construction firm. Mohamed’s children include Osama, but Coll spends possibly more time describing the older “first among equals” of that generation who were expected to take leadership of the family business and fortune. The family remains closely allied to the Saudi royal family. The modern history of Saudi Arabia shapes the fortune of the Bin Ladens.

I enjoyed Coll’s skill at describing the various personalities, and placing them into context. He explores the differences between male and female roles, as well as the range of experiences that people have with the West. Many Bin Laden sons and daughters were educated in America and Europe, and many live at least part of the time outside of Saudi Arabia.

I redrew the mental picture that I had of Osama Bin Laden going into this book. Coll shows how the prominent Bin Laden family distanced itself from Osama, essentially disowning him, using the courts to demonstrate their lack of financial support for him and his work.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it because I expected that it might be a little dry.  Coll’s storytelling ability kept me engaged.

I’d recommend this to people interested in the current situation in the Middle East, to those interested in other cultures, and to people who enjoy well-written and researched exploration of contemporary issues.

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