September 11, 2001 was one of the devastating days in modern history for the United States. What’s crazier is that young kids today don’t remember the world before it, especially they were born after that terrible day. There is so much for everyone to learn and for people who do want to learn more, there are some incredible books that really go deep into what happened before, during, and after 9/11.

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

“Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which traced the rise of al-Qaeda, to The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s definitive factual retrospective of the attacks. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through the voices of the people who experienced it.

Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard the small number of unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United Flight 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.

More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son working in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.”

9/11 and Terrorist Travel: A Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

“Nearly three thousand people died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In Lower Manhattan, on a field in Pennsylvania, and along the banks of the Potomoc, the United States suffered the single largest loss of life from an enemy attack on its soil.

In November 2002 the United States Congress and President George W. Bush established by law the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission. This independent, bipartisan panel was directed to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks, identify lessons learned, and provide recommendations to safeguard against future acts of terrorism. This volume is the authorized edition of the Commission’s final report. 

This volume is the authorized edition of the Commission’s final report.”

Unmeasured Strength: A Story of Survival and Transformation by Lauren Manning

She was a hardworking business woman, had a loving husband and an infant son, and a confidence born of intelligence and beauty. But on 9/11, good fortune was no match for catastrophe. When a wall of flame at the World Trade Center burned more than 80 percent of her body, Lauren Manning began a ten-year journey of survival and rebirth that tested her almost beyond human endurance.

Long before that infamous September day, Manning learned the importance of perseverance, relentless hard work, and a deep faith in oneself. So when the horrific moment of her near-death arrived, she possessed the strength and resilience to insist that she would not yield―not to the terrorists, not to the long odds, not to the bottomless pain and exhaustion. But as the difficult months and years went by, she came to understand that she had to do more than survive. She needed to undergo a complete transformation, one that would allow her to embrace her life and her loved ones in an entirely new way.”

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

“At 8:46 a.m. that morning, fourteen thousand people were inside the World Trade Center just starting their workdays, but over the next 102 minutes, each would become part of a drama for the ages. Of the millions of words written about this wrenching day, most were told from the outside looking in. New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn draw on hundreds of interviews with rescuers and survivors, thousands of pages of oral histories, and countless phone, e-mail, and emergency radio transcripts to tell the story of September 11 from the inside looking out. 

Dwyer and Flynn have woven an epic and unforgettable account of the struggle, determination, and grace of the ordinary men and women who made 102 minutes count as never before.”

Last Man Down: A Firefighter’s Story of Survival and Escape from the World Trade Center by Richard Picciotto and Daniel Paisner

“On September 11, 2001, FDNY Battalion Chief Richard “Pitch” Picciotto answered the call heard around the world. In minutes, he was at Ground Zero of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center began to burnand then to buckle. 

A veteran of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Picciotto was eerily familiar with the inside of the North Tower. And it was there that he concentrated his rescue efforts. It was in its smoky stairwells where he heard and felt the South Tower collapse. He made the call for firemen and rescue workers to evacuate, while he stayed behind with a skeleton team of men to help evacuate a group of disabled and infirm civilians. And it was in the rubble of the North Tower where Picciotto found himself buriedfor more than four hours after the building’s collapse.”

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

“A gripping narrative that spans five decades, The Looming Tower explains in unprecedented detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Lawrence Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat. Packed with new information and a deep historical perspective, The Looming Tower is the definitive history of the long road to September 11.”

From the Inside Out: Harrowing Escapes from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center by Erik O. Ronningen 

“Erik Ronningen was on the 71st floor of the North Tower on September 11, 2001 when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the building. After an incredible, near miraculous journey down through the acrid, smoke-filled building, Erik tried to get to the Security Command Center in the South Tower. Unable to do so, he was the last person to make it out of the South Tower alive.

Here is the story of his harrowing escape interwoven with the accounts of fourteen others who were lucky enough to be able to recount them.

Altogether, these accounts document the bravery and heroism, selflessness and generosity demonstrated by hundreds of people when their normal everyday lives were suddenly plunged into a fiery scramble for survival.

The astonishing photograph on the cover of this book was taken by survivor Jim Usher as he lay on the concrete outside the WTC losing consciousness, so his family could see what he saw during what he thought were the last moments of his life. And yes, that flag was really there! This photograph has never before been made public.”

No Day Shall Erase You: The Story of 9/11 as Told at the September 11 Museum by Alice M. Greenwald

“Published to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, this book emphasizes the highlights of the museum’s interpretation of this somber day. This book is the definitive, official companion volume to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. It provides visitors with a lasting record of their experience at the museum, and tells the story of September 11 through essays on and photographs of the installations and thoughtfully curated artifacts that serve as touchstones to the day and its aftermath. It also provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse—through photographs and planning concepts—into the evolution of the museum from idea to finished entity. By maximizing the visual impact through the innovative use of photography and design, the book immerses the reader in the visceral emotion of both the museum and the day—September 11—itself. No Day Shall Erase You offers an authoritative narrative of 9/11, as it is presented in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and as told by Alice M. Greenwald, the museum’s director, and other key staff who planned and built the museum. Focusing on the historic impact of the event, No Day Shall Erase You recognizes the central importance 9/11 has in America’s national memory, as well as putting the day into context fifteen years later.”

The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

“For most living Americans, September 11, 2001, is the darkest date in the nation’s history. But what exactly happened on 9/11? Could it have been prevented? And what remains unresolved? Here is the first panoramic, authoritative account of that tragic day—from the first brutal actions of the hijackers to our government’s flawed response; from the untruths told afterward by U.S. officials to the “elephant in the room” of the 9/11 Commission’s report—the clues that point to foreign involvement. New York Timesbestselling authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan write with access to thousands of recently released official documents, raw transcripts, fresh interviews, and the perspective that can come only from a decade of research and evaluation. Riveting, revelatory, and thoroughly sourced, The Eleventh Day is updated for this edition—with new reporting on a development that the former cochairman of Congress’s 9/11 probe calls the most important in years.”

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff 

“This is a 9/11 book like no other. Masterfully weaving together multiple strands of the events in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Fall and Rise is a mesmerizing, minute-by-minute account of that terrible day. 

In the days and months after 9/11, Mitchell Zuckoff, then a reporter for the Boston Globe, wrote about the attacks, the victims, and their families. After further years of meticulous reporting, Zuckoff has filled Fall and Rise with voices of the lost and the saved. The result is an utterly gripping book, filled with intimate stories of people most affected by the events of that sunny Tuesday in September: an out-of-work actor stuck in an elevator in the North Tower of the World Trade Center; the heroes aboard Flight 93 deciding to take action; a veteran trapped in the inferno in the Pentagon; the fire chief among the first on the scene in sleepy Shanksville; a team of firefighters racing to save an injured woman and themselves; and the men, women, and children flying across country to see loved ones or for work who suddenly faced terrorists bent on murder.

Fall and Rise will open new avenues of understanding for everyone who thinks they know the story of 9/11, bringing to life—and in some cases, bringing back to life—the extraordinary ordinary people who experienced the worst day in modern American history. 

Destined to be a classic, Fall and Rise will move, shock, inspire, and fill hearts with love and admiration for the human spirit as it triumphs in the face of horrifying events.”

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Caroline C.
FFL Cabinet Member
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