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The Only Plane In The Sky

by Garrett M Graff

Library Journal One of the most traumatic days in U.S. history was the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda hijackings of four airliners turned into weapons of mass destruction. Graff (Raven Rock), director of Aspen Institute's cybersecurity and technology program, spent three years conducting hundreds of interviews with those who became heroes, victims, and survivors on the day when all U.S. flights were grounded, except Air Force One. Included are oral histories conducted by journalists and historians, resulting in an hour-by-hour remembrance of that day. Overarching themes are the heroism of first responders and civilians, families torn apart and trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, and the transformation of a country mired in chaos to one steeled to destroy the terrorists responsible for 2,983, and counting, deaths. President George W. Bush, who was shuttled on Air Force One from Washington, DC, to military bases in Louisiana and Nebraska, then back to the capital, all on 9/11, delivered the most important speech of his presidency that evening. That, along with the heartrendering evacuation of New York's World Trade Center, are two of many threads that will stay with readers. VERDICT This excellent oral history provides a much-needed perspective of the events and aftermath.—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

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Book list 9/11 was a tragedy before it became a symbol and dividing line in American history, an act of violence that killed almost 3000 people and deeply impacted the lives of thousands of survivors, thousands more who lost loved ones, first responders, and many communities. As it begins to recede into history, award-winning journalist Graff (Raven Rock, 2017) has gathered memories, testimonies, and transcripts into a collective oral history designed to help readers ""to hear others' stories, to know what it was like to experience the day firsthand, to wrestle with the confusion and the terror."" Drawing on a wide range of earlier oral history work and his own interviews, Graff juxtaposes the basic narrative of 9/11 the hijackings, the collapsing structures and their impacts, the response to the attacks by political leaders and the military with a diverse group of individual experiences. There are tragedies and losses, moments of heroism and survival, and fears and foreshadowings of a darker future to come. ""We were spared,"" recalls one survivor, ""but everything changed."" This book is an excellent resource for readers seeking to understand how, and why.--Sara Jorgensen Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Journalist Graff (Raven Rock) organizes first-person accounts of 9/11 from numerous sources and adds contextualizing facts and maps to produce a harrowing and powerful narrative of that day. He follows airline personnel, passengers, and their spouses; first responders; those surrounding President Bush and the rest of the nation’s leadership; media employees; and others. Graff sets the stage with seemingly mundane decisions whose significance readers will suspect, such as choosing to have a pair of glasses fixed rather than going directly to work in Tower Two, or going back to a hotel room for a different shirt before a meeting. As the crises unfold, Graff balances the reports of rescues and deaths from New York and the Pentagon with reactions aboard Air Force One; in Shanksville, Penn., where Flight 93 crashed; and in other relevant locations. Graff doesn’t shy away from describing casualties, such as those who jumped from the towers, but keeps those passages brief. By the end of the day, there are some tearful reunions, but the hospitals, braced to receive hundreds of casualties, are eerily empty. The bewilderment, fear, and courage exhibited on that day are palpable in these recollections. This vivid, moving work is painful to read but honors both those who died and those who survived that awful day. (Sept.)

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