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The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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After masterminding the attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden managed to vanish. Over the next ten years, as Bowden shows, America found that its war with al Qaedaa scattered group of individuals who were almost impossible to trackdemanded an innovative approach. Step by step, Bowden describes the development of a new tactical strategy to fight this warthe fusion of intel from various agencies and on-the-ground special ops. After thousands of special forces missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the right weapon to go after bin Laden had finally evolved. By Spring 2011, intelligence pointed to a compound in Abbottabad; it was estimated that there was a 50/50 chance that Osama was there. Bowden shows how three strategies were mooted: a drone strike, a precision bombing, or an assault by Navy SEALs. In the end, the President had to make the final decision. It was time for the finish.
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In-depth interviews with Obama and other insiders reveal a White House on edge, facing top-secret options, white-knuckle decisions, and unforeseen obstacles. . . . Bowden weaves together accounts from Obama and top decision-makers for the full story behind the daring operation.”Vanity Fair
A book one with sweep and sophistication about a pivotal, secretive operation . . . smart and measured, long on transparency and short on speculation. . . . Bowden enjoyed exceptional access, but wasn't captured by it. . . . Bowden’s lens is wide, encompassing Obama’s evolution as a politician and the peculiar influence of bin Laden . . . Where the book shines is in Bowden's reconstruction and refined analysis of the intelligence operations that turned up bin Laden's location. . . . The book also succeeds in its artful portrait of Obama as commander in chief. . . . compelling drama, and Bowden has captured it with skill and style.”Seattle Times
How all the president’s men and women finally nabbed the world’s most wanted terrorist is truly a stunning story. And while parts of it have been told, Barack Obama himself has confided in only one writer about all the details. And he is Mark Bowden.”CNN
The first book, and, to date, the definitive one, that looks at the Osama bin Laden raid from President Obama’s perspective. The Finish describes a new kind of war fightingthe fusion of intelligence from vast and scattered sourcesto track and apprehend, or kill, the enemy. . . . It's a gripping tale.”The Daily Beast
The most accessible and satisfying book yet written on the climactic event in the United States' long war against al Qaeda.”San Francisco Chronicle
The death of the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks is a fantastic story. It has goodies and baddies, a long, slow build to the climax, exotic locations and lots of hardware. . . . Bowden [shows] how success in the raid last May was the culmination not just of a decade of often tedious data-crunching by the CIA and other analysts, but of a vast and ongoing effort within the American security establishment and government to develop a new range of capabilities. . . . How the Americans finally got their man is an extraordinary tale and Bowden does it justice.”Guardian
"A superb storyteller, Bowden captures the tense drama accompanying the final months of the bin Laden hunt, even as he underscores the quiet, essential work of years."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Bowden’s new book outlines the changes in warfare since the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, and the way our increasing computational power has helped capture terrorists like Osama bin Laden.”NPR
The Finish leverages access to key White House, military, intelligence, and foreign-policy officialsincluding President Obama himselfto get behind the intricate story of how SEAL Team Six was sent to Abbottabad, Pakistan, to kill Osama bin Laden. . . . Bowden reviews the evolutionary progress made in intelligence processing and military capabilities that led to the raid on Abbottabad. . . . close to a textbook example of complex national security decision-making.”The Atlantic
[A] dramatic narrative . . . the actual champion of the bin Laden hunt is a collective of mostly nameless hands within the intelligence bureaucracy. . . The Finish is at its best when Mr. Bowden goes deep into mission planning, gameboarding the choice of means of attackair strike? sniper drone? ground-force raid?”Wall Street Journal
A page-turner . . . an informative, on-the-ground account of the mission. Adept at maintaining suspense even when the outcome is widely known, Bowden also makes judicious assessments of how much credit Obama deserves -- and the impact of the assassination on al Qaeda.”Minneapolis Star Tribune
Bowden would seem like the perfect person to tell the bin Laden story. . . . There is an excellent setting-the-record-straight section at the end that has been missing in other volumes.”Washington Post
Bowden . . . reveals the details of the planning, but knows when to pull back from a close focus to give the wider view of what was at stake for President Obama, military planners and the Navy SEALS team. . . . [His] experience as a reporter and author shows.”Fayetteville Observer
Shaping up to be one of the fall’s big books.”Publishers Weekly
Bowden’s book draws back to look at the raid in strategic context. I suspect that readers who choose Bowden’s wide-angle approach will find themselves better informed.”St. Louis Today
To chart the tale of the hunt for the world’s most notorious terrorist, Bowden assembled an extensive history of the modern warfare and intelligence tactics that led to the rare, execution and deep-sea burial.” Philadelphia Weekly
[Bowden] uses his hard-earned access to focus on the decade of intelligence-gathering and decision-making that led up to the Abbottabad raid.”National Post (Canada)
The Finish paints the U.S. government’s relationship to technology and social media as integral in the capture of bin Laden. . . . Many see Bowden as one of the most respected writers covering the U.S. military and Special Forces today.”Books & Review
- Publisher : Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition (October 16, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 266 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0802120342
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802120342
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #768,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on December 22, 2012
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Admiral McRaven is given plenty of praise. The CIA analysts who hunted Bin Laden before it was popular get a ton of praise. The SEALs and pilots who carried out the mission get even more. If the book is hagiographic about anyone, it's them.
On to the review proper. At times, this book is excellent. There are moments when Bowden's clear, gripping style is in full force. Even knowing the ending, I found myself staying up late, eagerly flipping the pages to get through the narrative.
That being said, this book is also hamstrung by it's focus, and that focus is a function of the places where Bowden had access. If you want a "Black Hawk Down," eyes on the ground view of how the raid went down, this isn't that book. And it's not for a very simple reason: The SEALs who partook in the raid didn't talk to Bowden.
Bowden got extensive access to command-level military personnel, to top officials at the CIA and White House, and to Obama himself, and so that's the story he tells. He tells it well. But there is a different book - a more exciting one - to be written with the cooperation of the brave men who actually pulled this raid off. This book, then, while excellent really pales in comparison to "Black Hawk Down," - but what book wouldn't? That book is one of the best pieces of military writing ever published. This isn't, but of course it isn't trying to be. Rather than eyes-on-the-ground it's eyes-on-the-screen. It's a story about the generals, analysts, and politicians more than it is about the SEALs.
The book also feels a bit rushed and padded. There are times when the extensive quotes from Bin Laden's writings feels like they're merely filling pages. I suspect that, given the high profile of the events covered, the deadlines involved were very tight. It may well have been more important to be first than to be best. Bowden is a solid pro and delivered a good, compelling read, but it's not an eye-opening one. There may well be a better book to be written five or ten years from now, when the spotlight has faded, the SEALs are more willing to talk, and and we all have a little more perspective about these events.
But despite that, this book is engaging, sometimes gripping, and educational. It's fun and tense. It's exciting. It's a solid good-but-not-great read.
I recommend any of the SEAL books, "The Operator", "No Easy Day", "No Ordinary Dog", or "Exile" or "The Looming Tower" over Bowden's book. Bowden also can't seem to restrain his dislike for President Obama so it reads almost like a MAGA queue card.
Bowden attempts, at the beginning of each chapter of The Finish, to introduce a fiction-like moment involving the main players in his story. A chapter will begin with someone in a vividly described moment--Obama on the morning of 9/11, Bin Laden in hiding--and almost immediately launch into flashback. Bowden often used this technique in Black Hawk Down, beginning with someone in action (Sgt. Eversman lifting off in a Black Hawk opens the book) but skipping back in time to fill in the background of the bloody raid in Mogadishu, but the flashbacks in The Finish never lead back to anything. The narrative loops backward, exposition happens, and then the next chapter begins and the process repeats. Beyond descriptions of 9/11 and the raid on Abbottabad itself, there is little concrete action for Bowden to exploit, as he has done so well in other books, and so the majority of the book feels like background, exposition, detail we'll need for later.
I'd blame it on source material and a rushed timeline. The research for The Finish appears to have been primarily interviews with major political figures. President Obama's reminiscences, for instance, take up a lot of the book, and the sections dealing with him have the feel of a politician--any politician--in full PR mode. And while Bowden had obvious access to Obama and many other high-level figures involved in these events, he apparently did not get an interview with former President Bush (consulting instead his memoir for a handful of quotations), which is odd considering that the bulk of the book's background occurred during his administration, and Bush himself is discussed and/or critiqued several times. The section on the raid and killing itself is based on reports after the fact, and is therefore long on setup and very, very short on details.
The book also sends mixed signals about the whole affair. I had no idea what Bowden's politics are, and I still can't tell you. A lot of people have taken issue with his treatment of Obama's involvement in the raid, and at first they seem to be onto something--Bowden describes Obama as having refocused the energies of the military and intelligence agencies to finding Bin Laden after the Bush administration lost interest in the pursuit. But later he describes Bush as having asked, every day, what progress had been made in the hunt for Bin Laden. Likewise, Bowden describes a CIA and military that had virtually ceased to look for Bin Laden during the Bush administration, but later describes the hunt has having continued unabated, with Bush's daily questioning goading them on. The general gist for much of the book seems to be that Obama's top-down management of the hunt for Bin Laden was what finally ensured success, but Bowden undercuts even this at the end of his book by writing "that finiding Bin Laden was a triumph of bureaucratic intelligence gather and analysis, an effort that began under President Clinton and improved markedly after 9/11 under President Bush. The effort was going to continue for as long as it took. It took just under ten years" (248).
As for the titular killing of Osama Bin Laden itself, my copy of The Finish included a note inserted on a card stating that future editions "will have a slightly expanded version" of the raid included, having been reworked in light of SEAL Mark Owen's book No Easy Day, a book I have read and highly recommend. And given some of what I have read elsewhere about the timing of Owen's publication, I have to give credit to Bowden for his graciousness in handling the situation.
The end result is a book that is largely a superficial retelling of events surrounding 9/11, the 2008 election, and the raid itself, with a lot of Washington-level politicking and policy discussion. The only thing really worthwhile in The Finish is the "big picture" view of the hunt for Bin Laden, especially the intelligence gathered from detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But even this, from what I understand, has been done better elsewhere. I have not read Peter Bergen's Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden, so I can't say that it's better or worse than Bowden's book, but as often as I've seen it recommended over The Finish, I'm going to read it soon.
Very educational. Obviously, well researched.
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The problem here (and it is an unavoidable one really) is that, as in the real-time finale to the film Zero Dark Thirty, the mission to capture/kill Osama bin Laden was little more than 45 mins in length from start to finish (excluding flight times). To attempt therefore to convey the minute-by-minute excitement of the mission itself in a similar style to the 2-3 days of Black Hawk Down, leaves a sizeable chunk of this book left to fill. It is perhaps understandable, and entirely reasonable, that this book should begin by providing some context, and for the first half to two-thirds it explains the build-up to how OBL was tracked to the compound in Abbottabad. The problem is that you are really waiting for the chase and the excitement that the title of the book perhaps falsely suggests this book is really all about. In reality, "The Killing of Osama Bin Laden" describes little more than 1 page of this book. But that could never have been transcribed into anything longer, so it is no fault of the author that the denouement (which will, of course, be known to all who start this book before they beging reading) can't help but feel a little like an anti-climax, and an insufficient reward for those who have persevered with the inevitably duller earlier parts of this book.