My 12 in 12 Challenge – March – Biographies and Memoirs – Book 8

My next biography/memoir for March is a book about a family. The family is The Bin Ladens and the author is a journalist called Steve Coll. I bought this book when travelling in Bristol last year because I had just finished a book about the Boston Marathon attacks and realised how little I know about the whole issue of terrorism etc. It is a pretty hefty book but as I have been confined to home for a few weeks following surgery on my foot it didn’t seem as daunting as it might have had I been as busy as usual.

The book is well written and very clear which is good as there are a lot of people to get your heads around and remember. The author has concentrated on a few key people in the family history especially Mohammed Bin Laden, the father of the current family, and several of his key sons including Osama of whom we have all heard. Mohammed Bin Laden had over 50 children and many wives so it was impossible to feature all of them in detail.

The book looks at the growth of the family following their move from Yemen to Saudi Arabia and how their fortunes became entangled with those of the Saudi royal family. The Bin Ladens are essentially building contractors and were responsible for the renovation of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina and internal roads in Saudi Arabia. They had a particular interest in aviation with two key players being killed in aircraft crashes. The author explains how they built up their riches but his main theme is how the members of the family lived in two worlds; that of Saudi Arabia and that of the Western world. Each brother and sister made a different accommodation between the two ways of life.

As well as concentrating on the men in the family the author spends time describing the lives of wives and women as far as he can – the family is very private. He also talks about those who have become involved with the family as friends, companions and business partners and how they feel about things. It is a real eye-opener to read about a family with incredible riches and how they choose to spend them.

Obviously the events of 9/11 are the most dramatic in the book but the author doesn’t actually describe them at all. He looks at how this affected various members of the family and tries to explore how involved or otherwise various members of the family and others were in supporting Osama, although he has no definite conclusions. This book was written before the death of Osama Bin Laden and it would be interesting to have it updated, although I suppose that you can’t keep doing that.

Definitely a fascinating read. I am now looking at other books about this world to get a rounded picture. As a biography of a family it is very interesting as the various dynamics are considered and explored. It is a long read but not a particularly difficult one and very enlightening to talk about the people at the heart of world events.