Steve Coll for The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (The Penguin Press)

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award is a biennial award given to a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in the United States during the previous two calendar years. It is intended that the winning book possess the qualities of intellectual rigor, perspicuity of expression, and stylistic elegance conspicuous in the writings of author and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, whose four dozen books and countless other publications continue to provide an important and incisive commentary on the American social, intellectual and political scene.

2009 Judges

Charles R. Morris, Elaine Showalter, and Lee Siegel

From the Judges’ Citation

“It is an honor and a pleasure to present the second PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith award to Steve Coll for The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century. It all started, as Coll writes, with an ox—an ox that died while on loan to Osama Bin Laden’s grandfather in Yemen around the turn of the 20th century. That setback led to debts and threats and the abandonment of the family farm; and the eventual emigration from Yemen of Mohamed Bin Laden, the father of Osama (and 53 other children, by numerous wives). The story of the Bin Ladens, who became wildly rich by catering to the desires of the Saudi royal family—from refurbishing Mecca, laying modern highways, and building a telephone system, to wastefulness and self-indulgence on a Promethean scale—is also the amazing, bizarre story of Saudi Arabia and a gripping window into the roots of Islamic extremism. Coll’s book succeeds in being both exhaustive and a page-turner, offering one fascinating insight after another into the personalities and events leading up to the attacks of September 11, 2001.”


Jeffrey Meyers for Samuel Johnson: The Struggle (Basic Books)
Stanley Plumly for Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (W.W. Norton & Co.)