Where were you on 9/11/01 when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City? I was in Los Angeles preparing to start my daya day in which I was scheduled to take my wife for lens replacement surgery for her eyes. My wife started shouting from the another room to come quickly...that a story was unfolding on CNN which she was unable to completely comprehend. Everyone has a story like that one...including the people who were there.
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Last week, while on a layover in London I found 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn in a bookshop at Heathrow Airport. The sub-title, which promised to tell the untold story of the fight to survive inside the twin towers, caught my attention and I was hooked.
My first thought when reading an historical account is to ask, Who is the author and what is his background? According to the biographical information provided at the back of the book, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn are both writing for the New York Times. Dwyer as a reporter and Flynn as a special projects editor. Dwyer has written before about terrorism and the World Trade Center in his book, Two Seconds Under The World, an account of the 1993 effort to collapse the twin towers using a truck bomb in the parking garage. On 9/11 Flynn was the Police Bureau chief for the Times.
102 Minutes has been extensively researched by the authors and Dwyer draws on research from his first book on many occasions. The book is well documented with extensive endnotes citing the sources. Much of the inside story is drawn from personal interviews with survivors of the 9/11 tragedy. The book also draws heavily on transcripts of police and fire department personnel caught up in the unfolding drama of the collapse of the Twin Towers.
The authors present their material organized into minute-by-minute chronological order. The story starts at 8:30 AM in the North Tower and ends 14 chapters later at 11:00 AM at Ground Zero. The myriad technical details of the story are well explained. There are 8 well done graphics depicting the impact of the aircraft, the layout of the elevator system for the buildings, layouts of stairsgraphically showing why people fleeing the building could have become confused and disoriented, and the underground escape route that many used at the end. The book begins with a list of 353 people who were in the Twin Towers on the morning of 9/11 whose stories are included in the book. The epilogue lists the names of 127 of those 353 that did not survive the tragedy.
The authors do a good job of following the actions and conversations of those 353 people. The memories that unfold on the pages of 102 Minutes will grip your attention and make the book difficult to put down. The book promises to tell the untold story of the fight to survive, and certainly there is a great deal of fresh story in this book. There is also a lot of repeating of stories you will already be familiar with. Sometimes that clouded the untold story feeling of the book. There were also times when the technical details seem to get in the way of the passion of the story...times when I felt more like I was reading case notes from an autopsy than a story that should reek with emotion. I laid that off to the authors and their newspaper background. It was obvious that they were wanting to tell an objective and well balanced story. But, this was a book that I thought needed a bit more fire in the gut to it.
I was struck by the sheep-like quality of some of the people who remained calm while blindly following the conflicting messages of the authorities...who were largely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. That snagged my own survivor instinct as I read. I wanted to shake some individuals and tell themyou gotta be in charge of your own life!. But, thatsadlyis nothing more than poor day-after leadership. I was refreshed by the accounts of ordinary people who rose to the challenge of moment and provided leadership and motivation at key moments that saved many lives.
For me, the most emotion charged parts of the book were the accounts of last phone calls to wives and family by people who knew death was only moments away. Having survived a few close scrapes myself, I have had to think through the content of that exact kind of phone call to my wife. The accounts of those brave souls calling home one last time was a bit too close to home for me.
102 Minutes is an enjoyable and stimulating read. I like reading history more than fiction, and this was certainly a good history of that tragic 9/11 day. I highly recommend it as a good one time read.