STANDING transfixed in front of our television screens, as many of us did on the morning of September 11, 2001, the bleakest of thoughts came to the fore.
With the twin towers burning and rumours of other hijacked planes heading for prime targets in the United States, Armageddon seemed as imminent as it must have done during the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s.
None of us then knew how this would end. None of us would have imagined that it could be good.
It hasn’t ended, of course. Blair and Bush may have given way to those of a different political persuasion, Osama bin Laden may be dead, but 9/11 still reverberates in shockwaves of violence and grief.
Journalist Jason Burke, who has reported on many of the key events following the 2001 atrocities, needs all of his 600 pages to make sense of what happened before and after – and may yet need to write a sequel.
You will learn of the humble origins of al-Qaeda and its “grand ambitions” and of the man who had the idea for the 9/11 attacks, a Kuwait-born Pakistani militant called Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.
Apparently his original plan was rejected by bin Laden but it was then “dusted off, revised and finally accepted” in the spring of 1999.
The author tells of the cheers among bin Laden’s followers when news came of the aircraft striking the New York tower blocks and the reaction in the West, where fingers pointed immediately at al-Qaeda.
The book takes us on a long and grim journey over the past decade in which, the author estimates, around 250,000 people have died as a result of the 9/11 Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world.
“If clear winners in the 9/11 Wars are difficult to find, then the losers are not hard to identify,” he concludes.
“They are the huge numbers of men, women and children who have found themselves caught in multiple crossfires.”
As you might imagine, this is not a light read. But it is an engrossing one.