9/11 books: Which should you pick up?

When it comes to 9/11 books, you may need help digging your way through the stack – the piles of new titles, old titles, and re-released anniversary titles – to figure out what works for you.

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    Publishers are flooding the market with books released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
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We're all thinking about 9/11 this week – like it or not – and anyone who says he isn't is either in very deep seclusion or probably not telling the truth.

And book publishers obviously hope that, in addition to thinking about the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, we will also be reading about them.

A huge stack of books has been released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Many are actually re-releases of successful titles published earlier this decade. Several are updates on lives and situations forced into new courses by the events of that day. Only a handful actually contain any new material about the attacks themselves although some have a lot to say about the way that life (or individual lives) have changed since that day.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Wondering which, if any, you should pick up? Try checking out some of the lists popping up all over the Internet this week. For starters, there's The New York Times list, the list compiled by Steve Pond at TheWrap, and the 11-book "best of" list from Flashlight Worthy.

If you're looking for a novel, you might want to see how Monitor book critic Yvonne Zipp rates the 9/11 fiction offerings of the past decade. (There's not yet any standout 9/11 novel in her opinion, but there are several near-misses.)

If you prefer nonfiction, here are eight titles that make up sort of a "9/11 sampler" – some new books; some older ones; some works looking back to the attacks; several looking forward to the future. Some are journalistic, others are more personal.

All intend – in some fashion – to help us try to make sense of what happened that day. They may or may not succeed. But those of us who are readers cannot resist. At difficult moments like these – when all else fails – we read.

So for those looking for that right book, here are eight worthy options:

1. WHAT WE SAW:
The Events of September 11, 2001 –
in Words, Pictures, and Video
by CBS News
Simon & Schuster, 144 pp.
A new edition of this CBS anthology of article excerpts, essays, and personal narratives – packaged with a DVD full of clips from CBS News archives – offers a compelling overview of the events of 9/11.

2. THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT:
The Attack from Planning to Aftermath
by the National Commission
on Terrorist Attacks,
updated by Philip D. Zelikow
W.W. Norton & Co., 640 pp.
This bipartisan report – now updated with a new afterword – is still one of the most essential reads on the attacks and their impact.

3. 102 MINUTES:
The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers
by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
W.W. Norton, 224 pp.
This harrowing reportage of what happened inside the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11 by investigative reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn is being re-released with a new postscript.

4. THE ELEVENTH DAY:
The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden
by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
Ballantine Books, 603 pp.
With the benefit of 10 years of research and access to recently released documents, journalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan offer a fresh and comprehensive account of the events of 9/11.

5. TOP SECRET AMERICA:
The Rise of the New American Security State
by Dana Priest and William Arkin
Little, Brown & Co., 320 pp.
Is America’s security system getting better – or simply bigger – since 9/11? Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin tackle this question in a book built from a provocative series of their articles published last year by the Post.

6. AFTER THE FALL:
New Yorkers Remember
September 2001 and the Years That Followed
edited by Mary Marshall Clark, Peter Bearman, Catherine Ellis,
and Stephen Drury Smith
The New Press, 263 pp.
In their own words, a broad cross section of New Yorkers – taxi drivers, school teachers, artists, religious leaders, immigrants, and others – talk about 9/11 and its impact.

7. THE LEGACY LETTERS:
Messages of Life and Hope from 9/11
Family Members
by Tuesday’s Children, edited by Brian Curtis
Penguin, 272 pp.
This collection of letters by family members of 9/11 victims honors those lost in the attacks even as it celebrates individual lives moving forward.

8. THE LOOMING TOWER:
Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
by Lawrence Wright
Knopf Doubleday, 576 pp.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning work by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright remains the best 9/11 backgrounder available.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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