Ten years after, you wonder what we've learned. When the towers fell on September 11, Frank Rich wrote a moving column the following Sunday in the New York Times saying everything had changed—the "fat, daydreaming America" that feasted on reality shows like Survivor and Fear Factor, he said, "is gone now, way gone." Indeed, New York grieved, the country grieved, and much of the world rallied in emotional support of an effort to avenge the "evil-doers." America exploded in patriotism, with jet flyovers at ball parks, and the old chestnut "God Bless America," not to mention Lee Hazlewood, enjoying a resurgence. People talked about "the new normal."
But much of the "fat, daydreaming America" returned—American Idol and a housing boom followed, and the Dow topped 14,000 points in October 2007. Frank Rich took his share of scorn for saying things would be forever different because they just seemed to get more fun—even if we were fighting two wars. But now, it is clear to everyone, Rich wasn't so wrong after all.
A new order is emerging, in which things are nothing like they were. A decade that has endured steady conflict between the West and nonstate aggressors and witnessed the U.S. deposing a country's leader and assassinating a terrorist head, and trillions of dollars burned off of what was thought to be wealth is surely new. And as many Americans will attest, it's getting old.
However, a look at American publishing's take on those events with the benefit of 10 years' hindsight reveals that our understanding has not evolved significantly. The leading books on this anniversary are updated editions of the books that spoke to us most effectively in the early aftermath—those that rounded up the facts of various investigations and proposed reasonable narratives of what had led to an unprecedented tragedy on American soil. These are all timely reintroductions to what happened, and what happened as a result, and the debate about what happened. It is interesting to note, though, that on this 10th anniversary, much of what has also happened as a result—economic peril, the wobbling of regimes in the Arab world, heavy damage to American strength abroad, welfare at home, and a sharp political divisiveness—is not being explored at this particular time (with the possible exception of Noam Chomsky's work).
Perhaps that's appropriate. The list that follows contains several moving and new stories of survival—Lauren Manning's long recovery from her burn injuries, Michael Hingson's spectacular account of walking down 68 floors of the North Tower with his guide dog, Roselle. Then there is Laurie Garret's valuable self-published e-book, in which she details the poorly understood science about toxins released at ground zero, and Paul Lioy's study of same, in Dust, and a unusual collection of essays about life in "the terrorist decade" in Muslim Detroit. Please note, too, the noble attempts to tell this story to a generation of children who were not born when George Bush read My Pet Goat to a group of kindergarteners in Florida, on the morning of September 11, 2001.
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