The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright


(Read 15/05/2017 to 17/07/2017)

I started this book because I had realised whilst reading numerous news articles and editorials that I didn’t know very much regarding the territory or how terrorist organisations started in the Middle East and North Africa. As my first book to introduce myself to the topic, the Looming Tower seemed like a good start as it had won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. This decision was vindicated as the book turned out to be both informative and a throughly engaging read from start to finish.

The first section details Sayyid Qutb and the influence his writings would have later on. This section outlines the situation in Egypt at the time and how it was reaching turmoil. This eventually led to the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood. It then explains how afterwards al-Zawahiri was imprisoned and how these prisons became a breeding ground for the seeds of 9/11. The prisoners held the west reponsible and whilst imprisoned became attracted to militancy.

The next section describes the relationship between the Bin-Laden family and the Saudi royal family. This relationship was forged initially through Mohammed Bin Laden (Osama’s father) who owned a construction company. He was initially awarded a contract by the Saudi king to build new royal palaces and by completing these contracts, Bin Laden Kaiser construction company became one of the world’s largest. After numerous contracts he received another to renovate the Grand Mosque in Mecca – the most prestigious construction contract in the royal kingdom. When Prince Faisal took over in 1958, there was less than $100 in the treasury! Mohammed bailed them out personally, a gesture which sealed the ties between the Bin Laden family and the Saudi royal family.

Osama was religious from the start. A turning point in his early life was when Soviet troops entered Afghanistan. He had an apartment in Afghanistan and he put up people in his apartment and ran special military camps. The Saudi government funded Bin Laden’s campaign there. As the tide began to turn, they began to see jihad as an ongoing battle. Zawahiri and Bin Laden met and each was pulled in a direction they never intended to go towards. Eventually both of them would create Al-Qaeda, a vector of Egyptian and Saudi forces and they would lead a global jihad. From the beginning of its creation it was an attractive employment opportunity for many and this his how they gained many followers early on. It began as a critique of the West, particularly the U.S. for the plight of the Arab world. Later when the U.S. helped to kick Iraqi forces out of Saudi, Osama saw their ongoing presence there as a crusade.

The book then switches to the FBI. It begins by telling the story of John O’Neill. He was one of the first to notice Bin Laden and consider him a threat. However he became so obsessed with Bin Laden that his colleagues began to question his judgement. This section also introduced the problems of co-operation between the FBI and CIA. The two units would keep information from each other which would be detrimental in the long run for both organisations and the U.S. when it hampered the response to al-Qaeda.

Then Bin Laden issued a war on America. Their first terrorist attack was in Kenya on an embassy. This attack caused horror around the world to Muslims around the world with the deaths of so many innocent Africans, especially Muslims.

The events right up to 9/11 once again illustrated the lack of co-operation between the CIA and the FBI and how this was ultimately one of their downfalls. I would strongly recommend this book to those who are interested in reading about political tensions throughout the Middle East but like me aren’t too aware of the formation and history of some of the biggest groups and events. The book is extremely detailed and well-paced, providing a solid history and background without becoming tedious. The rest of the book reads like a crime novel, with intricate interwoven stories and events leading to the culmination of 9/11.



Leinster 55 v Glasgow 19


The first thing to note with this game was that with Glasgow already knocked out they sent over a team without a lot of their first team stars. Despite this, Leinster could only play the team that was put out in front of them and in this regard they excelled.

Even with their weakened team, GLasgow started well, gathering possession from the kick off and putting Leinster under early pressure for the opening minutes. Leinster managed to hold them out and then score a try through Jordi Murphy. It was a soft try to give away by Glasgow. However they responded perfectly by getting Murphy sinbinned and scoring a try of their own. As things were beginning to look bad for Leinster, Nacewa scored another soft try.

Leinster had the bonus point wrapped up before half time and always looked comfortable because of their lead. Despite eventually ending the match with eight tries, we did leak three which in a tighter game could have cost us.

The game featured some really impressive handling from both teams and some really lovely tries. Both teams showed a willingness to attack from everywhere on the park. Not many games going forward in this competition will be as loose as this, so it is important that Leinster look at their defence going in to the next games.

It’s brilliant to have the home quarter-final wrapped up with a round of games to go. It would be nice to win the game in Montpellier to set us up with a potential home semi-final if we were to get through the quarter-final stage. We also haven’t won in France for a few years, so it would be nice for the new crop of players to experience a win there.

Leinster 22 v Exeter 17

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It was an incredibly bright start from Exeter. They demonstrated exactly what had made them England Premiership champions last year. They hit the game-line incredibly hard, varying it from tight rugby to spreading it wide whilst making sure they had quick and clean ball by clearing out each ruck with proficiency. They were rewarded with a converted try within the opening 2 minutes. They continued this with ruthlessness for the opening 35 minutes or so.  They were also very effective in winning turnovers and preventing Leinster building any momentum. Cian Healy didn’t help the cause by giving away a needless yellow card (which could well have been red). Fardy also got sinbinned as well for collapsing a maul when Exeter scored their second try of the game.

After that second try by Exeter they were 17-3 up with only ten minutes or so until halftime and with a man advantage. My feeling was that Leinster were hanging on by a thread and if they conceeded a game it was game over. This is where Leinster had to show their character. They showed incredible courage to start playing some rugby with 14 men and spreading it wide. They clawed and grinded two penalties out of Exeter which meant we walked in to the tunnel at halftime 17-9 down. We gave ourselves a glimmer of hope that despite being completely outplayed and outmuscled we were still in touch with Exeter.

Leinster came out of the blocks in the second half and started with real intensity and this time we continued this for the whole half. Leinster won two penalties and brought it back to 17-15. In fact Leinster didn’t allow Exeter to score in the second point. Leinster’s bench proved a significant difference as well. All the players that came in were able to maintain the same level of intensity and provide go-forward ball. Leavy especially was brilliant when he came on and provided a linebreak and assist for the Luke McGrath try which eventually sealed the game.

For me, there were 3 players who really stood out for Leinster. The first of these was Robbie Henshaw. In a game where Leinster were initially struggling to find any go forward ball, he was called upon to take a lot of crash balls which he took well and delivered consistent gainline success. In defense, he was brilliant and had to make some huge hits and put his body on the line. The second player was Isa Nacewa, he showed inspiring leadership skills. After we conceded the second try he pulled in every player and gave them a passionate team talk which spurred us in to life. He also took over kicking duties when Sexton went off, despite being 3rd choice in Leinster at the moment and he didn’t miss one kick. For me the man of the match was Scott Fardy. In the past when Leinster have been successful, we have always had a enforcer in the second row. Scott Fardy is already looking to be that exact kind of player. He was extremely physical in this game and won important turnovers at the right times.

This was a really good win going forward not just in terms of pool position but psychologically. I always think it is incredibly encouraging to beat a team when they are the better team on the day. It was also great to see a good gritty win. In 09, Leinster had to beat Harlequins playing away and I think it was an important victory en route to winning the trophy that year. I think every team needs this kind of win in a successful cup campaign.

Leinster 24 – Montpellier 17


Last Saturday saw the clash of two very different club models. The first was the highly expensive ‘galacticos’ model of Montpellier who have a very strong South African feel to them. Leinster, the home team have seen that they can’t afford the type of model that the French and English clubs have adopted and have instead relied on their Academy players.

Before the game, my main worry was the fact that Johnathan Sexton picked up an injury against Munster the week before. Johnny is one of the best outhalves in the world and it’s always a relief when his name is on the teamsheet. On top of this, O’Loughlin’s injury in the same game, meant that our backline looked rather callow.

The game started fast and had the crowd worried as Leinster were under intense pressure for the opening quarter. To make matters worse, it seemed to be a gameplan on the day for our exit-strategy kicks to remain in-field and usually kicked long to the most dangerous man on the field, Nodolo! However when we held on to the ball and got in to the ‘red-zone’, we took our chances with tries both times. The first was a beautifully worked try with Carbery accelerating into a gap and having the speed to beat Mogg to the corner. With Leinster being two tries up leading into half-time, things were looking comfortable. However just at the death, Montpellier had a 5 metre scrum, where Nodolo ran over with ease. This kept Montpellier in touch runningn down the tunnel for half-time.

The second half starting terrific pace again, this time with Leinster doing all the attacking. They got a fortunate try when Byrne’s crossfield kick was bounced off a few Montpellier defenders before Henshaw gathered and fell over the line. Soon afterwards Barry Daly scored a brilliant try when he raced down the touchline and showed great strength to ride two tackles and finish in the corner.

Leinster at this point should have closed the game off with a penalty or two to put them out of reach, however Montpellier with their star-studded side kept plugging away and got another try by Nodolo and penalty to get back within 7 points, with enough time on the board to have a stab at winning the game. When Adam Byrne got sent off for a deliberate knock-on, Montpellier should have scored a try. In fact they had a two on one overlap which they failed to convert in to a try. This eventually cost them, as they went on to lose the match but they do come away with a losing bonus point which may prove to be crucial as we near the end of the pool stages.


Leinster 37 v Cardiff Blues 9


After months of not venturing out to the RDS to watch Leinster play, I couldn’t wait in the days leading up to the match to finally watch some live rugby again.

However despite my excitement and the general feeling of excitement of the crowd, the first half of the match quickly dampened this excitement. There were countless small errors on both sides, with the ball being spilt frequently. This was partly due to the wet grass, but also I suspect because of the players trying to get back in to the swing of things. The knock-ons from both sides lead to a very stop-start half where both sides struggled to build any sort of momentum. On top of this Nacewa was very fortunate to avoid a red card for a high-tackle which could have easily seen him going off for an early shower. Tracy managed to squeeze over from a maul for the only try of the first half.

The second half started where the second half left off, with errors still occurring from both sides. The Cardiff team defended doggedly and were proving very difficult to break down. However after 60mins, Leinster managed to find another gear. Croinin picked up a loose ball and raced past everyone (as only he can) to jot down. After this, Daly juggled magnificently from a cross-field kick to score in the corner and leave Leinster one try short of the bonus point. This duly arrived when a beautiful piece of play was finished by McCarthy. The try featured brilliant handling from forwards and backs and showcased some of the skills some of these Leinster players possess.

The bonus point and quick flurry at the end papered over a lot of the cracks in this performance. As to be expected, a lot of the players were very rusty after a summer break and this culminated in the first 60 minutes featuring numerous stoppages. However it was nice to deny Cardiff any tries and also to get the maximum return in terms of points. This means that Leinster have started the season with the maximum number of points in their opening two matches.

Next up will be very interesting as Leinster travel to South Africa to take on the two new teams in the Pro14. Leinster, it’s nice to have you back!


The Forever War by Joe Haldeman



(Read between 24/04/2017 – 13/05/2017)

The Forever War is a science-fiction novel set in the future where humans are in war with an alien race. The author uses this narrative background to cleverly discuss some of the issues he lived through whilst he served during the Vietnam War. Unlike other books which I’ve read or reviewed on the Vietnam War such as ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Kerr this novel isn’t a memoir. Instead it uses science fiction themes to describe some of the horrors of warfare and the difficulties of readjusting back to civilian life when you return home afterward.

Similar to the soldiers in the Vietnam War the main character in this novel William Mandella is sent off to fight far away enemies and he isn’t entirely sure why he has to and what the enemy did. The enemies in The Forever War are an alien race called the Taurans who are said to have attacked a human spaceship. Without ruining the story for anyone who wishes to read it the main twist in the story is the effect of time dillation and the effects of relativity on the war itself and the pawns in it. Because time is warped as the soldiers travel it means many years have passed as they travel. This means that in between battles, the enemy has years to research new weapons to counter previous attacks and vice-versa. It also means that as the officers return home after each battle many years have passed on Earth and it no longer resembles anything that they left behind.

The returning home after battles, in my opinion represents the most striking sections of the novel. The dystopian world the officers return to are unlike anything they left behind and the people of Earth are either indifferent or opposed to the war they fought in. For me this clever use of relativity mirrored what most veterans returning from Vietnam must have felt. America changed radically in the time which they were away for and how people didn’t offer them a heroes welcome upon return but instead many of those they came home to were opposed to the war. Haldeman uses relativity to describe the feelings he must have been feeling upon returning from his war in a fascinating way.

It is these themes of feeling lost in your own world you fought to keep safe that resonated the most with me. For me the way the author used science fiction to discuss some of these themes was more enjoyable than the actual narrative or plot itself. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in seeing how people can use science fiction as a vehicle to convey real world issues and emotions they have experienced.

The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton


(Read Between 04/02/2017 – 23/04/2017)

I decided to read this book because it was on a number of previous year’s books of the year lists. I normally try to read one or two of these books the next year to see what leading minds think were important books of the preceding year. On top of this I was interested to see what could be done in the face of climate change. Oliver Morton decided to look at Geoengineering as a response to one of the biggest issues of our time. He has written for some of the world’s leading journals such as the Economist, Nature and The National Geographic.

The book makes you consider some of the moral dilemmas of Geoengineering and climate change. For instance, one key issue with climate change is that the people who end up suffering the worst from its effects are for the most part, people who are emitting a small amount of carbon-dioxide emissions and are typically farmers or poorer people in developing countries. Another issue is the sheer time it takes to repair the damage we have already done. For instance all big emitters would have to cut their emissions by 100 percent in order for the atmosphere to be stabilized in this century.

This harrowing fact shows the need to take corrective action is now and this is where geoengineering comes in. Geoengineering is deliberate intervention in Earth’s climate to slow down and hopefully reverse the process and effects of climate change and therefore alleviate the planet’s warming. Geoengineering itself is an idea burdened by ethical questions, such as should humans be able or allowed to play Mother Nature with our planet? Throughout our history humans have seen weather and climate being beyond us and the work of gods or forces beyond our control. Therefore many people feel uneasy about tampering in something which is ‘bigger’ than us. However when we see the effects that industrialization and now mass urbanization etc. have done to change our planet, is it not already too late to wonder whether we should tamper with climate?

Even if we were to get beyond the overall ethical dilemma of whether we should or not be running geoengineering projects, many issues would still remain with it. Imagine the issue of regulation of geoengineering projects. Would countries allow planes to fly over their airspace or boats to sail into their waters even though they were helping the planet? I think in today’s security conscious environment it is easy to see lots of countries supporting the idea of geoengineering but opposing some of its practices.

The backdrop to this book is that in 1750 pre-industrial revolution the CO2 levels were 280 parts per million, in 1950 they were 310 parts per million. Today they have reached 400 parts per million. Even after political action on climate change we still continue to rely on fossil fuels. In 2012, 15 years after the Kyoto protocols, solar and hydro generated power still only provided 3 per cent of the world’s energy needs. Whereas in the same 15 years CO2 emissions were more than half as high as they were at the time of Kyoto.

Morton notes that if the world had the capacity to deliver one of the biggest nuclear plants ever built, week in and week out, it would still take 20 years to replace the current amount of coal-fired plants. However we currently build roughly three or four a year and retire the same amount. If we tried to replace coal plants with solar panels at the rate they were erected in 2013, it would roughly 150 years. These figures are just to replace the coal plants, it doesn’t take into account gas and oil, cars, furnaces and ships.

Also renewable energy takes up a lot of room. For instance the rate at which British citizens consume electricity is roughly 40GW. To generate this at one watt per square metre would mean devoting 20 per cent of the area of the country to renewable energy.

With these points it’s easy to see that at current rates it is taking too long to replace how our energy is provided. Also by the time they are provided the emissions will have risen substantially once again. It also takes up too much space, which we are already running out of due to growth in population and the resulting use of land for either living or agriculture to feed this growing population. Against this scary backdrop Morton discusses some of the leading geoengineering ideas and outlines their pros and cons.

I don’t want to give away some of the forms of geoengineering that Morton discusses in the book in case you wish to go and read the book for yourselves. However, what fascinated me most about some of the solutions was the effects they had, not just the productive but also the destructive. Like any solution to most problems in any walks of life there are likely to be adverse effects and this is no different when it comes to geoengineering. As one solution helps one part of the world, it may effect another entirely different part in a negative way. It once again underlined the difficulties that undertaking these projects will pose. But rather than dampen the reader’s enthusiasm for geoengineering projects, it makes the reader consider that there will be have to be clever and careful planning to see which combination contribute the most whilst causing the least damage.

I found that the latter chapters of the book dragged on a little but the first half was a fascinating read and therefore I would recommend this book to readers. Even if some of the geoengineering projects mentioned are never even practiced, the book makes the reader consider how delicate our planet is and how every change can have serious unintended consequences. It also forces us to see that the longer we wait and continue the route we are on, the harder it becomes for humankind to reverse and solve it down the line.