Cover Story: The Fine Print

Books written about Sept.11, 2001

Sep 5, 2002 at 2:06 pm

This edition of Fine Print is dedicated to the memory of Michael McCabe and the hundreds of other former neighbors and fellow commuters who lost their lives at WTC.

Even after months of research, it's impossible to track exactly how many books have been, or will soon be, published about Sept. 11, 2001. Checking on various title searches, there are 133 books with Ground Zero in the title, 144 with jihad, 408 with terrorist and 933 books with 9-11. Depending on your range of subjects, it's fast approaching a 1:1 relationship between victims of the attacks and books on the day and aftermath.

When considering all these books en masse, it moves quickly from therapeutic (the solitary act of reading can help heal emotions) to understandable (most of the terrorism took place in NYC, media capital of the world, so with all the resident writers, photojournalists, magazines and newspapers such an outpouring is not surprising) to banal (where do we cross the line between trying to understand religious extremism and chronicling human compassion and courage over to someone simply taking advantage of a horrific situation to make money).

Ultimately, if you have any hope of emerging with perspectives enlarged and moral balance intact, you have to find a book or two that makes a personal connection. The two or three qualities offered up by the best of this crowd of titles is that they create a lingering memorial for those who died, they increase our knowledge of the humanistic how and cultural why the events transpired and/or the proceeds benefit a charity or victims' organization.

With space constraints, it's literally impossible to just list the 1,515 titles noted above, and at times I considered it to simply reflect the sheer mass. Instead, what follows is a culled list of books that have deepened or broadened readers' sense of sadness, resolve and support for those directly affected by the attacks.

· My personal favorite is still NEW YORK SEPTEMBER ELEVEN TWO THOUSAND ONE, edited by Giorgio Baravelle. A testament to both victims and heroes, the book, with proceeds donated to the Robin Hood Fund, blends photos with commentary from Salman Rushdie, Bill Moyers, Robert Kennedy Jr., Noam Chomsky, Thomas Friedman and more. The names of those killed in the World Trade Center and aboard all four flights give emotional gravity to the work; quotes from 911 calls placed that morning provide a forum for some of the victims' final words.

· Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion, by Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba, is a powerful collection of first-person stories told by female firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs and others who responded to the trauma. Through their stories, the voices of female rescue workers and their contributions at Ground Zero are finally heard.

· Published for kids everywhere, but especially NY schoolchildren, This Place I Know is a collection of poems of grief and comfort to help with the sorrow stirred by Sept. 11, as compiled by Georgia Heard. Each piece is accompanied by an original, full-page illustration by a picture-book artist. The finely-wrought words of Wendell Berry, Langston Hughes, Karla Kuskin, Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks and 14 other poets are paired with the original visual art, intended to get children talking about things to hold onto when times are hard; proceeds benefit Save the Children.

· In Out of the Blue, New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein weaves together the lives of heroes, victims and terrorists. He takes us inside the Al Qaeda and the lives of the terrorists, from their indoctrination into radical Islam to their terrible destiny. Cops, firefighters, Trade Center workers, ordinary citizens and national leaders are profiled, ending with the nation's response in the aftermath.

· Above Hallowed Ground, benefiting the New York Police Foundation, pulls together photographs taken by members of the New York City Police Department who were on the scene moments after the first plane hit and who were behind the scenes during the entire rescue and recovery effort. Never before published, these images make a moving visual tribute to the Sept.11th tragedy and its aftermath.

· Dean E. Murphy's September 11: An Oral History gathers eyewitness accounts into one volume, from those who rushed to the scene to people around the world who watched as events unfolded on television and waited for news of friends, family and acquaintances. As an oral history, the voices of people from all walks of life capture the grief, disbelief, rage and fear of Sept. 11 in a very direct way.

· With Theater of War: The Innocent American Empire, Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's, speaks out against the recent imperial behavior of the United States government. Following the destruction of the WTC, the voices of dissent have been few. Lapham, alone among mainstream political commentators, has the courage to question the motive and feasibility of the Bush administration's crusade against evil.

· So Others Might Live, by Terry Golway, focuses on the events of the newest day of infamy, but also covers a 60-year history of the NY Fire Department. Proceeds go to the New York Firefighters 911 Disaster Relief Fund. A second NYFD title is Richard Picciotto's Last Man Down (benefiting the Fund for the Fallen Firefighters of Manhattan's Battalion 11). A much more personal story, it singles out a fire department bureaucracy that puts firefighters at risk while offering up a heartfelt remembrance of firefighters' courage and humanity.

· Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie's Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy, Saudi Arabia and the Failed Hunt for bin Laden details how U.S. national security was compromised by corporate oil interests and Saudi Arabia. The authors, who also wrote the first intelligence report on the Bin Laden financial networks, reveal that the FBI had clear and unambiguous information about the 20th hijacker and Al Qaeda.

· Jere Longman's Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back memorializes to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who had saved hundreds of lives by rising up against the terrorists in mid-air to stop the planned return to Washington D.C. At a time when the United States appeared defenseless against an unknown foe, this group accomplished what all the security guards, soldiers and government officials could not — thwarting the terrorists and sacrificing their own lives so that others might live.

· The Age of Terror: America and the World After September 11, edited by Strobe Talbott and Nayan Chanda, theorizes that the new age of counter-terrorism will be one of the highest priorities of national governments and international institutions. In pondering the dilemmas that burst into our lives on Sept. 11, a knowledge of history is essential. Four historians, a diplomat, a law professor and a political scientist collectively explore the premise that the unforgivable is not necessarily incomprehensible or inexplicable.

· The Heart of a Soldier: A Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th by noted author James B. Stewart illuminates a life of bravery under fire, loyalty to one's comrades, and the miracle of family. In charge of security for Morgan Stanley, Rick Rescorla successfully got 2,700 of its employees out of the World Trade Center, then went back and began climbing the tower stairs, looking for stragglers.

· The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan is the tale of one of the first Western journalists, Jon Lee Anderson, to get into Afghanistan post Sept. 11. Since most of the country had no electricity or phone lines, communication takes place via satellite phones powered by gasoline generators, hence a high-technology conflict in a feudal terrain. Distinguished by on-the-ground observations and interviews, this is war reporting that captures the pivotal moments and crystallizes the precariousness of Afghanistan's future.

· Father Mychal Judge, by Michael Ford, supports the World Trade Center Fund in telling the life story of Father Judge, who died while administering "last rites" to a WTC victim. The New York City fire chaplain was beloved by many, while infuriating others; a recovering alcoholic and an acknowledged homosexual who struggled with living a chaste, celibate life, Father Judge was known to those he served as a passionate advocate of the downtrodden and suffering. With a penchant for attracting and even seeking the limelight, friends recall him as a humble man in touch with his own humanity.