What To Read Now

Since Sept. 11, there have been numerous announcements of "instant" or quickie books related to the bombings at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Random House plans to publish a history of terrorism by Caleb Carr in November. Dennis Smith, the fireman who wrote the classic book, "Report From Engine Co. 82," has been at ground zero since the first day, working on a book about the rescue operation.

The book publisher PublicAffairs plans to join with the journal Foreign Affairs to commission an anthology, also due in November, with the title "How Did This Happen?" with contributors including Fouad Ajami, Alan Wolfe, Gen. Wesley Clark and NEWSWEEK International Editor Fareed Zakaria. But as Amazon's best-seller list has been telling us for two weeks, people want information now. To that end, here's a suggested reading list, in no particular order, on various aspects of the catastrophe, from germ warfare to the intricacies of Taliban politics.

Karen Armstrong, "Islam" (Modern Library, hardcover). A brief, straightforward introduction to the history, culture and beliefs of Islam.

Bernard Lewis, "The Middle East" (Touchstone, paperback). Possibly the best, probably the best written and certainly the most succinct history of the region over the last 2,000 years.

Fouad Ajami, "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" (Vintage, paperback). MacArthur fellow and expert on Arab politics, Ajami shows how the 20th-century push for modernism and secularism in the Middle East came to grief with the rise of militant fundamentalism.

Ahmed Rashid, "Taliban" (Yale, paperback). This Pakistani journalist brings a wealth of expertise to the radical Islamic organization that dominates Afghan politics today.

Thomas L. Friedman, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" (Anchor, paperback). Arguing that, in the wake of the Cold War, globalization is the dominant force in world events and the most divisive, Friedman explicates the tensions that underlie and provoke current hostilities.

Artyom Borovik, "The Hidden War" (Grove, paperback). The late Russian journalist supplies a brilliant look at what happened the last time a world power (the Soviet Union in its twilight) tried to invade Afghanistan.

Mary Anne Weaver, "A Portrait of Egypt" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, paperback). The title is slightly too narrow-this New Yorker reporter's book does concentrate on Egypt but is in fact a portrait of an entire region increasingly in the grip of fundamentalist Islam; as a bonus, the paperback edition contains a new portrait of Osama bin Laden.

David Halberstam, "War in a Time of Peace" (Scribner, hardcover). Tracing the impulses of Clinton, the military and the State Department back to Vietnam, Halberstam paints a picture of American foreign policy in the 1990s that amounts to ad hoc fitfulness. This is a fascinating primer on the current situation.

Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, "Guests of the Sheik" (Anchor, paperback). While her husband, a social anthropologist, was researching his doctorate in Iraq, Fernea spent two years living with Iraqi women and as an Iraqi woman. Her behind-the-scenes look at the emerging role for women in the Middle East is often surprising and always well written.

Jim Dwyer, Deidre Murphy, Peg Tyre, David Kocieniewski, "Two Seconds Under the World" (Crown, hardcover) New York Newsday's Pulitzer-prize winning team (Tyre is now a writer at NEWSWEEK) walks you through practically every second of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the subsequent investigation and the trial, and, along the way, asks plenty of hard questions about how such a thing could happen-questions that need answering now more than ever.

Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William Broad, "Germs" (Simon & Schuster, hardcover). The U.S. government knows germ warfare is a serious threat, since it, like the Soviet Union, indulged in enough R&D to bring biological weaponry to the level of a deadly art. The double question now is who among the world's powers and terrorists has access to these invisible engines of destruction, and how do you defend against them? A New York Times team sorts out the science, the hearsay and the history.

Simon Reeve, "The New Jackals" (Northeastern, hardcover). Beginning with the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Reeve takes us on a highly readable tour of modern terrorism highlighted by profiles of Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden.

David Fromkin, "A Peace to End All Peace" (Owl, paperback). A thorough-and thoroughly mordant-history of how Europe carved up the Middle East after World War I, creating what would be the modern states of Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq and sowing the seeds of the conflict that persists to this day.

James Bamford, "Body of Secrets" (Doubleday, hardcover) This is Bamford's update on his own "The Puzzle Palace," the classic examination of the National Security Agency: the military's vastly powerful-and therefore greatly troubling-intelligence agency: if it can eavesdrop on bin Laden, it can eavesdrop on you, too.

Haruki Murakami, "Underground" (Vintage, paperback). The celebrated Japanese novelist conducted oral histories with 64 Japanese-both victims and perpetrators-who survived the Aum Shinrikyu cult's sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995. His first nonfiction effort is a superb examination of the effect of terror on a population.

Thomas W. Lippman, "Understanding Islam" (Meridian, paperback). This smart, readable take on the world of Islam looks at its beliefs, its history, its modern factions and the way religion and politics mix in a variety of countries throughout the world.

Sebastian Junger, "Fire" (Norton, hardcover). This collection of swashbuckling journalism from the author of "The Perfect Storm" is relevant for its final chapter, a profile of the late Afghan guerrilla fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Mark Bowden, "Black Hawk Down" (Signet, paperback). This vivid description of a U.S. Special Forces team's firefight in Somalia in 1993 is a great read. It is also probably the best look we have at how modern wars are fought.