The Looming Tower: Understanding the Events Preceding the 9/11 Attack

After analyzing the re-evolution of slavery in the fall, AOC juniors will spend the spring semester analyzing the novel The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, a gripping narrative that explains in unprecedented detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center.


The novel’s author, American journalist Lawrence Wright, re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Packed with new information and a deep historical perspective, The Looming Tower is the definitive history of the long road to September 11.


As AOC juniors read through Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, they will play the primary role as facilitators of our discussions and critics of the book (in a fashion similar to their discussions for Slavery By Another Name). For each class session that a chapter is due, an assigned student or group of students will act as facilitators for that chapter, focusing on a unique aspect of the chapter they covered, coming up with open ended questions to enlist classmates in our discussion about their area of focus and leading the class in a twenty to thirty minute (combined) analysis of the chapter. Students are required to employ meaningful strategies for fostering audience engagement, including the use of audience participation, facilitator movement, eye contact, and vocal inflection in both the presentation of their information and the facilitation of their discussion.


Each group must focus on one element of the historical, political, legal, social, or ideological aspects covered in their chapter, or focus on a specific literary aspect used by the author in this chapter (e.g. foreshadowing, conflict, plot, character development, imagery devices, etc.). A suggested list is provided for each chapter, along with a quick description of the chapter itself, but students are free to identify their own theme from the chapter. Students conduct detailed research on the theme as it relates to the chapter in order to establish sufficient historical context, more recent applications, or contemporary parallels of the theme. This research provides the basis for the oral presentation as well as the website. Where possible, students are also encouraged to tie their theme to other broad themes covered in this course (including, but not limited to, race relations, the evolution of democracy, gender relations, American economic history and globalization, and increased pluralism in American society).



Each student or group presents an oral lecture in which they trace the evolution of the element of focus in the chapter, and its correlation to the contemporary topic of research. Students who are presenting as a team (i.e., 2 people) are each expected to present a unique angle on the theme, either by identifying separate contemporary connections or examples relating to the same theme, or by providing a different take on the same topic and theme.


For the discussion of their chapter, each group must prepare at least two unique questions, as well as potential follow-up questions, to ask the class. These questions must be open ended and thought provoking. Students’ responsibility is to facilitate the discussion, and help their audience to think more deeply about the reading. The seminar is expected to be 15-20 minutes long.


Content has been provided by the syllabi and directions provided by AOC staff.


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