First, some long but necessary background.
On 9/11/11, I was 13. I was living in Michigan with my grandparents and being incompetently homeschooled (read: not schooled at all). No one in my house cared or talked about politics, and I was pretty sheltered. So when the planes hit, I was sitting on my grandparents’ couch, home alone, eating cereal. It was obvious from the news coverage that this was a Big Deal, but I had no context whatsoever for it. War and terrorism were totally off my radar, and I don’t think I’d ever even heard of the Twin Towers. It felt very removed from my life and frame of reference.
My experience with 9/11 was this: there was a corner store about a block away that I walked to for eggs or whatever my mom or grandparents needed. I was there all the time. It was owned by a Middle Eastern man who wore a turban, and had a couple staff members that I think were his sons, and a couple young white men. I walked to the corner store a week or two after 9/11, and there were two lines open: the store owner, and a white employee. It was a very busy time of day. The white man’s line wound through the store and almost out the door. The owner’s line was empty. I got in his line. He’d always been nice to me. He looked very sad.
All of this not to say that I wasn’t sad, or didn’t care about the victims, but I was 13 and terribly sheltered. Something that honestly didn’t mean that much to me was on the news, and on my block, a nice guy had turned into a pariah and three of my family members died that month. It didn’t hit close to home.
So all these years, I’ve felt a little numb to all the “Never forget!” and such, and a little weird about it. I felt like if it happened as an adult I would have a totally different perspective (although I think – hope – that I would’ve still stood in that guy’s nonexistent line). It’s hard to wrap your head around that many people dying. Like the Stalin quote: a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. The tallest building I’ve ever seen is under fifty stories, and it’s impossible to conceptualize a structure that massive collapsing, what that would be like. It just never felt real. It never felt personal.
So I’ve wanted to read some books to change that, and get to know some of the people lost on 9/11. This book details the 102 minutes between the first plane hitting and the second tower collapsing, and what went on inside the buildings during that time.
This book really is a masterpiece. I can’t honestly say that it was exactly what I wanted in terms of making it personal, because this really isn’t that book. It followed 100+ people in their attempts to evacuate, and a lot of the rescue attempts. The people intersect and meet, you don’t hear about someone for 100 pages until someone else passes them in a stairwell. It’s a riveting book, and the research that must’ve gone into it is absolutely astonishing. It very briefly fleshes out individuals’ lives and personalities, which for this book is probably enough. But if, like me, anyone is looking for somewhat more of a character study, this probably isn’t it. I don’t regret reading it at all though.
It’s not a very political book at all. It only very briefly touches on the inner workings of the terrorists behind the attacks. It spends a lot of time on the history of building code changes that made such a massive loss of life possible, and the total and utter breakdown of communication between rescuers. If that sounds dry, it’s not.
I absolutely recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about 9/11. It’s heartbreaking, but not exceptionally gory. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because I think the author could’ve done a little more to distinguish the people described, but then again, maybe not. Maybe focusing on fewer people and more personalization would’ve taken away from the scope and perspective of the book. I’m not sure. Read it and tell me what you think.
As discussed here, I am going to be adding a content warning at the end of my reviews so that anyone who wants to be aware of certain content can look for that. I will place it at the end so you can skip it if you’d rather, and place it lower if it could be considered spoilery. If there is anything you’d like me to add to the “Things to Warn About” list, no matter how obscure or irrational, please feel more than free to either leave it in a comment or e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be more than happy to add it.
Content warning for 102 Minutes (probably mostly a given, but still): Dead bodies (graphic but not gratuitous), descriptions of violence, family member loss, fire, plane crashes, profanity (not a ton), serious injury, being trapped/claustrophobic scenarios, suicide, terrorism.