9/11: Is there any more to say?
As many observers have noted, the 9/11 attacks were probably the most watched and chronicled events in the history of the world. Hundreds of books, documentaries, theatrical plays, and feature films later, the flood of words and images about that day has hardly abated.Skip to next paragraph
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Now comes the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and what Publishers Weekly deputy editor Karen Holt calls "a big publishing event."
At least a dozen major books about 9/11 are arriving on store shelves as the anniversary approaches. But can there be anything more to say?
Absolutely, says Ms. Holt, whose publication has given strong reviews to a handful of the new offerings.
"The most interesting ones are not necessarily anniversary books, not just a look back five years later," Holt says. "They're really an attempt to advance the story ... to give some insight."
Indeed, many of the 9/11 books try to capture "untold" stories seen from new perspectives – those of photographers and cameramen, pilots and airline employees, rescue and recovery workers, and 9/11 widows.
Only one major new 9/11 book – the bestselling and well-reviewed "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright – harks back to the time before the attacks, revealing how Osama bin Laden reached a pinnacle of world power and influence in the first place.
It may be that there isn't much more to say about the causes of the attacks because there's little that seems unknown about the hijackers and their motives. By contrast, other terrorists in American history – the men who killed Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, for instance – continue to fascinate readers today.
"When it comes to assassination and terror, the ingredient that seems to keep people talking is the mystery or the idea that important questions were never answered," says historian Michael Kauffman, author of "American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies."
But historian Joyce Appleby, professor emerita at the University of California in Los Angeles, predicts that future generations will find things to puzzle over, even if 9/11 "isn't connected to a great story like the Civil War or a great person like Lincoln.
"It was an attack on a whole range of values in America," she says. "Here were two buildings that represented modernity, success, power. Then you have those pictures. They're going to be powerful for a long time."
Indeed, images are crucial to three of the most talked-about and top-selling 9/11 books:
Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive, by Joel Meyerowitz: This stunning (and pricey, at $75) coffee-table book has won widespread praise for its photos of the wreckage left by the World Trade Center attacks and the ensuing cleanup effort. Mr. Meyerowitz's grand images reveal the eerie beauty of toppled and wounded buildings, dwarfing the workers looking for victims' remains. His nine-month stint at ground zero almost didn't come to pass because of bureaucratic snarls. But charm and moxie took him and his wooden camera past the barriers into a strange world where "I cried with men on the site almost every day," Meyerowitz writes.