cover image The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

Garrett M. Graff. Avid Reader, $30 (416) ISBN 978-1-5011-8220-4

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.)