Readers who emerge dry-eyed from the text should check their pulses: Something is wrong with their hearts.

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THE ONLY PLANE IN THE SKY

AN ORAL HISTORY OF 9/11

Wrenching, highly personal accounts of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Former POLITICO and Washingtonian editor Graff (Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan To Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die, 2017, etc.) returns with an impressive feat of organization, editing, and balance. He begins the story early in the morning of 9/11, proceeds through the entire day, and then follows up with comments from people about the ensuing weeks, months, and years. He spent three years collecting stories from a wide variety of people—survivors, responders, politicians, witnesses, family members—and then assembled the pieces into a coherent and powerful re-creation of the attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and (perhaps) the Capitol, an attack that failed when the passengers aboard Flight 93 fought back, their plane crashing in a Pennsylvania field. Some of the storytellers’ names are well known—e.g., Katie Couric, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush—but most of them are not. Graff also does an admirable job of maintaining focus on the personal stories and does not drift off into political commentary—or engage in placing blame—or arrange the material so that some of his interviewees look good and some bad. Pretty much everyone emerges looking good, from President George W. Bush on down the political ladder—not to mention the stunning heroism of the fire and police departments and the unnumbered, and sometimes nameless, others who rushed to help. Graff excels at re-creating the anxiety and terror of that day: What is happening? What’s next? Who did this? Most affecting of all, of course, are the accounts of those who survived, the responders who struggled to help (and who lost so many of their colleagues), and the families who learned a loved one would never be coming home. Pair this with Mitchell Zuckoff’s Fall and Rise (2019) for a full, well-rounded perspective on this monumental tragedy.

Readers who emerge dry-eyed from the text should check their pulses: Something is wrong with their hearts.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8220-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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