A Monitor Guide to Books of September 11

A year after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the publishing industry has produced more than 300 related books. No single event has ever generated so many, so quickly. Over the next few weeks, we'll provide summaries of a small selection of these titles.

INSIDE 9-11

by Der Spiegel Magazine

St. Martin's Press, $24.95

Deploying uncommonly vivid and balanced prose, the writers of "Inside 9-11" present a sprawling portrait of Sept. 11 with crystalline clarity. This collection of micro-events – individual moments of heroism and terror, the day-to-day actions of the hijackers and scores of different voices – adds up to a broad but detailed account of a terrifying event. Hauntingly, the voices of the living and those now missing after Sept. 11, mingle freely within the book's pages. The most poignant moments are plucked from phone calls made by those who perished in the attacks. Although the book is written by the staff of Der Spiegel magazine, it is far more than an anthology of articles. Its material is seamlessly blended and carefully organized. Featuring an appendix with clear, useful timelines, and an excerpt from the jihad manual that the hijackers consulted for guidance, "Inside 9-11" provides readers with the raw material of history. If the book suffers from anything, it's a lack of clear sources, qualifiers, and "maybes." But if you're willing to take the book's sober, gripping account at face value, it's a valuable resource for gaining a better understanding of one of modern history's turning points. (320 pp.) By James Norton

THE FALLOUT

by Juan González

New Press, $20

When the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, hundreds of tons of asbestos, lead, mercury, and plastic products were pulverized. The Environmental Protection Agency and other officials quickly assured New Yorkers that the air was safe, but both internal and external reports later cast doubt on those claims. In this compact, alarming exposé, New York Daily News reporter Juan González documents with meticulous detail the misleading statements and sometimes outright lies of environmental officials – tarnishing, among others, the reputations of EPA head Christie Whitman and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. González casts a wide net of blame and is at times both accusatory and alarmist. He backs up his claims with detailed reporting, however, and it's hard to doubt that a "massive toxic deception," as he calls it, did indeed take place. He explains the various particles released along with the health problems they can cause, and sharply criticizes the lack of protection given to rescue workers and downtown residents. This book is not for the queasy, and readers should be prepared for detailed scientific and medical writing. But if you're interested in one of the least-discussed repercussions of last September's tragedy, it makes for a remarkably pithy synthesis. (150 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

SEPTEMBER 11: HISTORICAL, THEOLOGICAL, and SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES

by Ian Markham

Oneworld, $25.95

Written by faculty members of Hartford Seminary, this compelling collection of essays establishes a context for some of the hardest questions provoked by the Sept. 11 attacks: Where was God that day? How could this have happened? Why do they hate us? What would a moral response entail? With its Institute for Religion Research and Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, the seminary is in an excellent position to provide a thoughtful analysis of the events, their causes, and consequences. And these resources have been drawn on well. Editors Ian Markham, a Christian, and Ibrahim M. Abu-rabi, a Palestinian Muslim, have selected representative views from a broad range of disciplines and viewpoints. The 12 essays are skillfully woven into a tapestry of the most complex issues stemming from the attacks, making this collection a valuable resource for anyone trying to discern the deeper implications for mankind. The interpretive approach of these scholar-authors to the subject matter adds dimension and perspective sorely lacking in general public discourse. While the writers do not promise answers, the essays skillfully establish context and provide a foundation for further exploration. (320 pp.) By Steven Savides

THE CELL

by John Miller and Michael Stone

Hyperion, $24.95

In the days following the aftermath of Sept. 11, a horrifying realization must have crossed the minds of investigators: Many of the hijackers had been known to various branches of US law enforcement, a few raising serious concerns about their plans. In the months after the attacks, further revelations suggested the disaster needn't have occurred had someone simply connected the dots. Miller and Stone suggest that the events of Sept. 11 belong to a chain that stretches back to the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York City. His killing reinforced the perception that American law enforcement wasn't ready to deal with terrorism, a belief made evident with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the successive attacks on two US embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. With each success, Miller and Stone say, the confidence of Al Qaeda grew until it culminated in Sept. 11. The story that Miller, one of the few Western journalists to interview Osama bin Laden, and Stone tell is at best disconcerting. And it likely isn't the final word of who knew what and when, given that we're still learning details of the days leading up to the terrorist attacks. Despite that, Miller's and Stone's dogged pursuit of the story is a worthwhile read if only for the story of what we do know now. (304 pp.) By Steven Martinovich

A NATION CHALLENGED

by The New York Times

Callaway Editions, $34.95

It should come as no surprise that this is among the very best of the dozens of photography books now available on the World Trade Center disaster. Howell Raines, executive editor of The New York Times, writes in the introduction, "It happened in our city. It was our story." On Sept. 11, the Times immediately mobilized its staff to a level that approached the days of World War II. Within a week it had added a special daily section devoted to the photographs, graphics, and words they were producing. "A Nation Challenged" continued for more than three months and was recognized with six Pulitzer Prizes. Although most of the material in this book comes from that section, its presentation here looks nothing like the newspaper. Only the best 250 photos are included – none are redundant. Glossy paper, rather than newsprint, preserves the great detail in these images. And more than 30 of the photographs are reproduced at maximum size over two facing pages – much larger than when originally printed. The presentation is chronological and inviting. Individual subjects – ground zero, rescue workers, world reaction, the Taliban, and refugees – are each illustrated with two to six photographs and 100 words of text. Six of the Times's outstanding informational graphics and even some of its front pages are also reproduced. (240 pp.) By Tom Toth

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