The Current

Bin Laden's book list reveals how we judge people by their library

Osama bin Laden had an English-language reading list that spanned critiques of democracy, explorations of religious extremism, and musings on 9-11 conspiracies. Since the creation of al-Qaeda, we struggle to understand the minds of terrorists. So what can we learn about bin Laden by the books on his shelves?
Ever find you can't help but scan somebody's book shelf when you drop by to visit? The U.S. government has released a list of the books it found when they dropped in on Osama bin Laden's compound. (REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw)
I don't think he probably got any useful lessons out of what I wrote, but he might have had some deep thoughts come out of it, if he did in fact read it.- Paul Pillar, former CIA intelligence officer, who is also a writer

Paul Pillar is a former CIA intelligence officer, and writer. One of his articles, a 2004 publication titled, "Counterterrorism after al-Qaeda," was among the books and documents found in the secret compound where al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, spent his final days.

Late last week, the U.S. government declassified an intriguing list of those titles. There were apparently 39 English language books lining the shelves of the Pakistani compound where he was killed in 2011. The topics range from Islam to foreign policy, and the authors include the M.I.T professor Noam Chomsky, and the University of Calgary's Barry Cooper.

"Confessions of an Economiic Hitman" is also a book found in bin Laden's secret compound. The author, John Perkins, joined us from Seattle, Washington. 

For their thoughts on bin Laden's book list and of what the books on Bin Laden's shelves say about the man, we were joined by: 

  • Timothy Ryback, author of "Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life".  He was in Paris, France.  
  • Jonathan Kay, editor of Walrus Magazine, and the author of "Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground." He was in Toronto.
  • Shyam Selvadurai, novelist and creative writing teacher. His books include  "Funny Boy," and editor of "Many Roads Through Paradise: An Anthology of Sri Lankan Literature". He was also in Toronto.  

We'd love to see what's on your bookshelves! 

Tweet us a picture of your bookshelves, we're @TheCurrentCBC or send us a pic through email at 

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry, Julian Uzielli and Natalie Walters.


U.S. reveals what Osama bin Laden had in his private library - Toronto Star

Bin Laden's Bookshelf - Office of the Director of National Intelligence 

Will Schwalbe on forming 'The End of Your Life Book Club' 

IN 2012, we spoke to author Will Schwalbe about his memoir, "The End of Your Life Book Club." It's the story of how he and his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe bonded by reading the same books, and talking about them as she struggled with cancer... at the end of her life. The books, and conversations about books, that they shared helped him to get to know his mother even better, before she died.

Here is our conversation with Will Schwalbe: ​
Soon after his mother was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, Will Schwalbe quit his top publishing job and began reading ... with his mother. Together they formed The End of Your Life Book Club, it was his way to connect with her as he shared care-of-a-dying parent with his father and siblings. The bond they created and the insights they shared live on in Will Schwalbe's new book. We ask about the determination to live even while you are dying. 23:45