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. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, we're providing summaries of a small selection of these titles. Previous lists ran Aug.22 and 29 .


by Jim DeFede

Regan, $23.95

This book tells the unique story of what occurred in Gander, Newfoundland, on Sept. 11. Thirty-eight airplanes carrying 6,595 travelers were diverted to this Canadian island city marked by hardiness, desolation, and high unemployment. From now on, Gander will be associated with the spirit of welcome and brotherhood, seen in its demonstration of true humanity. As the waylaid "plane people" received news of the terrorist attacks in the United States, an immediate outpouring of support from unsuspecting hosts welcomed these strangers into their homes. They donated carloads of food and supplies, comforted them, and went to extraordinary efforts to meet individual needs. In this journalistic narrative, compiled from 180 interviews, readers follow these stranded travelers – a family who has just brought a newly adopted daughter from Kazakhstan, Moldovan refugees about to make the US their home, a top executive of a fashion house, an intelligence agent, and others – as they place their pushpins, representing over 40 countries, on a map in a makeshift encampment at the local school. Despite the circumstances, this is a warm account of how these travelers became companions, some even becoming friends and planning reunions at Gander in the future. (244 pp.) By Leigh Montgomery


by Mitch Frank

Penguin Putnam, $16.99

If a young student asks for help on a history-class project about the events of Sept. 11, keep this short volume handy. It frames terrorism in broader world issues, explains who Osama bin Laden is and how he has successfully inspired his followers to use violence against Americans. The author smoothly breaks down a complicated discussion of differing religious views among believers of Islam, the history of terror as a political tool, and the negative impact American culture has had on developing nations. Across the bottom of each page marches a Sept. 11 timeline that discreetly unfolds the day's horrific events. Written by a Time magazine reporter who heard the impact of the first attack on the World Trade Center from his Brooklyn Heights apartment, the introduction shows a journalist in action: "I sat in amazement for five minutes before I remembered ... it was my job to go out there and find out what happened." The book also has a useful glossary of Middle Eastern terms like Al Qaeda, burqa, and Islamism. Of course, such brevity runs the risk of oversimplification, but it will whet the appetite of any young scholar. (160 pp.) Ages 10 and up. By Kendra Nordin


by Dean E. Murphy

Doubleday, $22.95

Thirty-seven stories of narrow escape from the Twin Towers, the streets around the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon serve to remind readers of all the people who did not survive on Sept. 11. While all these accounts share the same images of fire, black smoke, and death, they differ from one another eerily. Murphy, a New York Times reporter, tells some of these stories as the media have portrayed them – heroes helping others survive. But other accounts he offers describe chaos, selfishness, and breakdowns. While the idea of reading about survivors sounds uplifting, their stories of that day only serve to remind us of how many did not make it out of the buildings and the agony they experienced in their last moments. Reading the details of this horror inspires an uncomfortable voyeuristic feeling. Many of the accounts are far more gruesome than the live television coverage. The story of a woman who survived for hours after a 1,000-foot fall onto the pavement is typically haunting and tragic. This is a book for the history shelves – a reminder for the years to come. But for now, the memories may be too fresh to be relived. (224 pp.) By Mary Kuhl


by Max Protetch

Regan Books, $29.95

Only two weeks after Sept. 11, Protetch was organizing an exhibition at his art gallery in Manhattan. Viewing architectural possibilities for the World Trade Center site, he felt, would be cathartic for the public and a way to help ensure what was built would be a "lasting monument to human creativity and resilience." He invited 125 architects from around the world to submit designs, including big names like Zaha Hadid and Michael Graves. The designs reproduced here, from the 60 who accepted, span the spectrum of opinion on the symbolic towers. A few architects vocalized their dislike of the "flat-topped extrusions," some wanted the site to remain a memorial, but most felt that returning it to a bustling part of the metropolis would be a greater tribute to the dead. Each illustration is accompanied by the architect's explanation of the concept. They range from simple, but subtle copies of the towers to total flights of fancy. Will Alsop suggests building towers twice the height of the originals and leaving one empty as an aviary. Samuel Mockbee wants a pit 911 feet deep beside the new taller towers with a memorial reflecting pool at its bottom. The designs overall have a futuristic feel – many look as if they might not survive a strong rainstorm. But the boldness of vision is invigorating. (160 pp.) By Susan Llewelyn Leach


by James B. Stewart

Simon & Schuster, $24

"Heart of a Soldier" is a book framed by war. Rick Rescorla led the evacuation of Morgan Stanley's 2,700 employees at the World Trade Center but died when he stayed to look for others. He showed the same steely calm commanding troops in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley, a battle made famous in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Born in a working-class English village as World War II began, Rescorla served as a British soldier and a colonial police officer as Africa descended into violence. In his last command decades later, he headed security at Morgan Stanley, chillingly predicting truck or plane attacks against the twin towers. Pulitzer Prize-winner Stewart also weaves in lighter details about Rescorla, a man who quoted Kipling in foxholes and spontaneously danced on sidewalks. There's a touching buddy story about his four decade-long friendship with fellow soldier, Dan Hill. And a love story of how Rescorla only recently found a soulmate, Susan Greer, while running barefoot in a New Jersey suburb. By the end of this beautiful and moving book, it's hard to imagine Rescorla doing anything else but staying behind to help others. You'll just wish his adventure through life didn't have to end so soon. (336 pp.) By Seth Stern

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