Bookmarks Issue: 

The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It

A-PerfectSoldiersThe Los Angeles Times reporter’s clear-eyed investigation of the 19 men who hijacked history itself with their attack on September, 11 2001 explores how unexceptional middle-class men from stable families became murderous fanatics. Inspired by the U.S.S.R.’s 1989 retreat from Afghanistan, an Islamic victory facilitated by American arms, and galvanized by the U.S.-led coalition’s surge into Saudi Arabia in 1991, men throughout the Islamic world heard a call to arms. Contrary to the characterizations in the American 9/11 report, the hijackers were not desperate, disadvantaged fanatics waiting for a cause. The lack of any fundamental difference between those who heeded the call and those who did not is Perfect Soldiers’ most worrisome message.
HarperCollins. 352 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060584696

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As interesting and important as the story of the hijackers in Perfect Soldiers is the author’s ability to explain in simple terms the complicated blend of politics, religion and customs of that area of the world that spawned these radical young men. … McDermott provides a valuable and well-researched look into the minds of men who set out to do us all harm while shedding some light into the dark corners of the world that produced them." Tom Walker

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Perfect Soldiers … is bound to become one of the most insightful books ever published about Sept. 11. … Although McDermott did not set out to publish an exposé of spy-agency incompetence in the United States, Germany and elsewhere, he has accomplished that, too, as a byproduct." Steve Weinberg

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Far from feeling like old news, Perfect Soldiers … comprehensively and compellingly traces the lives of the four terrorists who piloted the doomed jetliners. … McDermott succeeds in doing his part to empathize while also being careful not to attack Islam in general." Karen Algeo Krizman

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Perfect Soldiers is remarkably insightful for readers hungry to know more about the Sept. 11 attacks, fundamentalist Islam in general and al-Qaida in particular. In a literary segment crowded with books, this one stands out."
Scott Bernard Nelson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Clearly written in good, plain English, Perfect Soldiers is a group portrait of ordinary men who were driven to do a surpassingly evil thing. … Whether they are in the paradise to which they believed their attack would deliver them we cannot possibly know, but McDermott’s well-told, meticulously researched cautionary tale makes one thing clear: There are more of them." Jonathan Yardley

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Perfect Soldiers pulls together a huge amount of personal information about the 9/11 participants, creating a richly textured narrative full of the sort of small, telling details that turn these men from faceless figures of evil into individuals with complicated emotional and familial histories. Mr. McDermott does not always succeed in explaining—as the subtitle to his book suggests he will—why all of the hijackers made the choices they did, but he does do a compelling job of tracing the trajectories of their lives and situating their stories within a historical context." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

McDermott’s background knowledge and exhaustive research inform a well-reasoned explanation of what moves seemingly normal men to undertake monstrous acts of violence. Even though most of the hijackers responsible for 9/11 remain murky figures, the important few whose lives and personalities McDermott carefully examines illustrate just who these people were and why they did what they did, on a level that official government reports never approached. Perfect Soldiers is an important book for the context it provides, a chilling book for the implications it leaves, and one of the most informative books written about 9/11 to date.