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.
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.
Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11, by David Friend: Hundreds of professional and amateur photographers preserved 9/11 on film. The Associated Press alone distributed 1,700 frames in the 18 hours after the attacks.
Mr. Friend, an editor at Vanity Fair magazine and former director of photography at Life magazine, offers a fascinating day-by-day account of how both still photographers and television cameramen flew into action over seven days.
Friend explores how 9/11 reflected – and brought about – changes in the technology of photography. And he carefully mixes the stories behind the images in the book – both famous and obscure – with perceptive commentary on their power to dispense "ripples of compassion, sorrow and valor."
The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón: Some critics have mocked this comic-book-style recap of the 9/11 Commission's report, rapping its supercharged dialogue and sound effects reminiscent of "Batman" (including the words "Whoom!" and "Blamm!") in panels depicting the attacks.
But 9/11 commissioners Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean supported the book by writing its foreword, and the Houston Chronicle wrote this week that it "manages at once to be accessible and intelligent, and marks an important publishing experiment."
Other new books about 9/11 on store shelves include:
Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, by Messrs. Kean and Hamilton: The two leaders of the 9/11 Commission reveal their struggles with government ineptitude and stubbornness.
Aftermath: Unseen 9/11 Photos by a New York City Cop, by John Botte: A retired police detective chronicles the ground zero cleanup in grainy, gritty, black-and-white photos of weary workers. (The book has stirred controversy over who owns the photos, Mr. Botte or the city, since Botte took them while working as a police officer.)
Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow, by Kristen Breitweiser: In this often-angry memoir, the wife of a 9/11 casualty tells the story of her mission to understand why the attacks happened.
Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship, by Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes: Four women whose husbands died in the World Trade Center attacks create a deep bond through "The Widows Club."
Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying, by Tom Murphy: An aviation trainer finds inspiration in the air industry employees who were on duty on Sept. 11.
Closure: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Recovery Mission, by William Keegan and Bart Davis: One of the men who oversaw the recovery effort describes the moving struggles of those who sifted through ground zero remains.