Laurie Mylroie, Pentagon-commissioned author of a history of al-Qaida (available here), begins her work with a surprising statement. She says when she began her project she assumed al-Qaida had a history... but this assumption proved false. One gets the feeling this is partly implied in the sense that there is no truly good source assessing (especially) the first decade of the organisation's existence.
Of course, Mylroie is also well-known for her (not altogether uninteresting) proposition to consider much more of an Iraqi role in starting off al-Qaida as a powerful network, through what could be referred to perhaps as "the IBAQ theory," as shorthand for "Iraq/Baluchistan/al-Qaida" theory - copyright belongs here if you fancy this one ;-) - of Iraq having helped future joiners of AQ, like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, as Baluch, against Iran originally (find details in a shorter form here). But Mylroie also overblows this of course, spectacularly in some places. Still, as I said, it is interesting. But what about the assertion that there is no truly comprehensive, good source about al-Qaida's history? May this be just selling her work better?
In any case, I am just reading one very good book on the subject, by Jean-Pierre Filiu. Les neuf vies d'Al-Qaida. You won't find it published in English yet... But I guess this shall change now, most likely as a result of this blogpost. Cover image included below to make this blog more colorful.