Monday, September 16, 2019

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

I was drawn to this book because I have sensed the lessening of feeling in observing the anniversary of September 11 as the years have gone on. This is natural, as I know from my own lack of interest in Pearl Harbor Day which was so long before I was born. However, 9/11 wasn't quite 20 years ago and I still feel vivid remembrance every year. So I was really interested when I read a review in the paper, featuring excerpts of the people's oral stories which make up the text.

By presenting people's experiences in chronological order, with no other commentary other than that needed to place a context for orientation, this is that unusual creation - an unbiased history. They are grouped in logical sequences so that a section from people evacuating the North Tower will be followed by a section from firefighters gearing up and then one from air traffic controllers struggling to understand what just happened. In this way, the sequence of events unfolds so that the day begins to make sense in a way it didn't when events were unfolding before our eyes.

I was fascinated by the parts behind the scenes such as on Air Force One or the air traffic controllers or inside reporters thoughts, which were new to me. But the entire thing was gripping and conveyed the reality of just what an act of war that terrorist attack was - in a way that I couldn't take in when I was one of those watching in confused horror on that fateful day, struggling to come to grips with what was happening.

This book brought back my familiar feelings from that time while stitching together events and giving me the broader understanding through which I could both understand better and honor more fully the incredible losses and heroism we experienced. All through using only these oral testimonies. Extraordinary.

ALSO: My daughter Rose commented that the description sounded like the style used in World War Z by Max Brooks. That hadn't occurred to me but she's right, it is very similar.

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