People born at least a
quarter-century ago probably remember the exact details of what they
were doing on that beautiful blue September day when terror was
unleashed across the United States.
Now, 18 years later, the memories
of hundreds of firsthand witnesses tell the story of the 9/11 attacks in
their own words, providing a riveting step-by-step account of the day
that brought out the best in many Americans.
Garrett M. Graff and his team have
assembled interviews from 480 people who share their terrifying and
often inspirational memories of the day when hijackers used two
passenger planes as weapons to topple the twin towers of the World Trade
Center and another to attack the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane went
down in flames when heroic passengers fought back to bring it down in
rural Pennsylvania before it could strike another high-profile target,
probably in Washington.
The technique of letting the
witnesses tell the story does a remarkable job of bringing to life the
horrific day in a way that a writer’s narrative would have a hard time
The day starts with people going
through their morning routines before work, admiring the spectacular
September day and then coming to the realization, often haltingly, that
this would be the most frightening day of their lives.
People were just settling in for
the workday or just arriving at work when a plane hijacked from Boston
crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m.
Most people are aware of the events
that followed, but what has faded from memory over the years are the
dramatic details, like the emotional accounts of people telling their
loved ones that they were trapped in the upper floors of the towers or
on hijacked planes, the gradual realization that the towers had been hit
by passenger jets, the eventual crashing of those towers and the
suffocating clouds of dust that made it impossible to breathe and sent
legions of New Yorkers fleeing through the streets like a scene from a
sci-fi movie, and the incredibly courageous decision to overpower the
hijackers and bring down United 93 over Pennsylvania.
The oral history details the
decisions of the President George W. Bush administration on how to deal
with a terror attack of unknown dimensions, the deliberations of
passengers on United 93 to fight back, the frantic phone calls to loved
ones trapped in the towers and planes, the people leaping from dozens of
floors up to their death and, throughout, the heroism and humanity of
all involved, especially the rescue workers. It makes for a gripping