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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Day The World Changed: Seven books to read about 9/11

To this day, people debate about what happened, and why. Questions and conspiracy theories abound. And there are literally hundreds of books on the subject

Written by Nimish Dubey |
Updated: September 11, 2021 12:15:33 pm
9/11 attackOn September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center had been reduced to a burning rubble by 10:28 am. (Source: BaseOn/Wikimedia Commons)

On September 11, 2001, at 8:46 am, people in New York were shocked to see an American Airlines Boeing 767 crash into one of the most iconic buildings of the world, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. Even as the world wondered how this could have happened and rescue worked rushed to the blazing building, a second Boeing 767, this one from United Airlines, hit the North Tower of the same building. Barely half an hour later, another passenger aircraft had crashed into the Pentagon, and no one was left in any doubt about what was happening – the US was the victim of perhaps the most elaborately executed terrorist attack in history. By 10:03 am, four passenger airlines had crashed, three into buildings, one forcibly brought down into a field. The World Trade Center itself had been reduced to a burning rubble by 10:28 am.

The final toll of that single day was 2,996 dead and over 25,000 injured. The landscape of New York had changed, and the world would never be the same again. To this day, people debate about what happened, and why. Questions and conspiracy theories abound. And there are literally hundreds of books on the subject.

So if you want to know more about the events of 9/11 and the people involved in them, here are seven books to get you up to speed about the day that many say the world changed:

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
By Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

There are many versions of what happened on September 11, 2001, but this is the official version of what happened. Yes, the 9/11 Commission did submit a detailed report of the events of the day and what the commission felt had led up to it, naming key players. The report also looked at possible mistakes that had been made that allowed the hijackers to carry out one of the most audacious attacks in human history. But the report itself is tedious to read and best suited for researchers. If you are looking for an accessible version of the official narrative around 9/11, then this slim graphic novel is your best option. The illustrations are stark and the narrative far more crisp than the report itself, and while many questions have been raised about how well the 9/11 Commission did its job (some insist it papered over many cracks), what cannot be denied is that its graphic novel variant is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting a quick, information-packed summary on the events of that fateful day.

Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
By Garrett Graf

The Only Plane in the Sky is actually the story of September 11 2001, told by hundreds of people. This includes people in the towers, people in the hijacked aircraft, people watching the event on television, and well, even the astronauts in the space station orbiting earth. The result is a large and incredibly moving book, providing the reader with snapshots of what transpired on that day from dozens of perspectives. This is not a book about introspection and analysis or finger pointing – it is simply September 11, 2001 from the eyes of those who saw what happened. There are anecdotes galore and some of them even have happy endings. The one book to read if you actually want to “feel” what the day was like.

The 11th Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden
By Anthony Summers and Robby Swann

Anthony Summers has a knack for being direct and not letting sentiment crowd his narrative. And this is what makes The 11th Day perhaps the most balanced account of the events of “The 11th Day.” Summers and Swann take a look at what happened on September 11, 2001, as well as the events that led up to it and what followed. However, unlike some others, they do not go too far from the day itself. The lapses of the US government, the conspiracy theories, the official report and its shortcomings as well as allegations of a cover up, are all covered in detail here. Thanks to the fluent narration of both authors, this is perhaps one of the most readable books on this list.

102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers
Jm Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

No book captures the sheer horror and shock of what happened inside the twin towers of the World Trade Centre as 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. The two New York Times reporters reconstruct events of the day and very poignantly point out how it was not only the terrorists who killed people. Bad coordination, poor communication and even the lack of a proper rescue infrastructure in the twin towers (there were not enough stairs) doomed several people. This is a brutally direct book and you literally can smell the fire and hear the screams of the dead and the injured as Dwyer and Flynn walk you through the 102 minutes that elapsed between the first tower being hit and the second one collapsing.

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11
By Michael Zuckoff

This is a book about those who were involved in the events of September 11, 2001. And that does not mean the likes of the hijackers and the President or Rudy Guiani. No, Fall and Rise is the story of a tragedy as seen through the eyes of many of its victims and those affected by it. Zuckoff conducted several interviews and consulted transcripts and reports to deliver perhaps the most human narration of what happened on that day. And how it changed thousands of lives. This is not a book for those looking for controversies or mysteries. It is a story of the people who perished and survived. Told by them. A huge book, and a hugely moving one too. Very similar to the Only Plane in the Sky. And every bit as important.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
By Lawrence Wright

What led up to the events of September 11, 2001? Many books have been written on the subject but none has handled it as well as Lawrence Wright’s bestselling The Looming Tower. This is a book for those who want to understand why 9/11 happened rather than what happened on that day (although Wright does describe the attacks too) as Wright goes all the way back to the 1940s and 1950s to trace the hostility towards the US and why the nation became a target. One of the key characters of the book is FBI agent John O’Neill who tracks and follows Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s story is itself told in some detail including his involvement in the attacks, and the evolution of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation that many feel laid the foundations of the ISIS. Ironically, O’Neill hiself ended up as being one of those in charge of the security at the World Trade Centre and perished on 9/11. The Looming Tower reads like a thriller at times, but what is scary is that so much of it is true.

One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001
Editors of Life magazine

Does anyone do photographic narratives better than Life magazine? This special collection of images of what happened on September 11, 2001 literally takes you back to the day. What makes it special is the fact that the book does not attempt to shock or terrify you – many of the images are those of folks who perished or survived and their stories. The pictures tell most of the stories but the little text there is in the book is superb too, with readers getting a snapshot of the planning behind the attack and the people behind it . Yes, there is a slight touch of nationalism when you read between the lines, but it is never over the top. Perhaps the best single book about the event to give to a person who is not too much into reading.

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