Two New York Times reporters take us inside the World Trade Center on 9/11 to give us a more capacious view of heroism.
Dwyer (Subway Lives, 1991, etc.), who won a Pulitzer as part of the group that covered the 1993 WTC bombing, teamed with special-projects editor Flynn to interview scores of survivors and their families; the pair also studied e- and voice-mails from those inside. From these sources they’ve pieced together a powerful account of the disaster that hesitates neither to confer laurels nor point fingers. Their technique is not novel: we move around the buildings, getting to know some folks employed there and learning names and histories of rescue workers. We know the buildings will fall; those inside do not. (Most people fleeing the north tower didn’t discover until they got outside that the south had fallen.) The authors lard their tale with surprising and alarming detail. The Marriott swimming pool caught fire. A man carried a disabled woman 54 floors down to the street. A fireman was killed by a falling human being. Molten aluminum from a melting airliner poured from an 80th-floor window. A dead cop’s gun went off in the searing heat. Their account of the rescue efforts is equally disturbing. The various agencies were unable to communicate with one another; firemen carrying 57 pounds of equipment struggled slowly up stairs choked by smoke, heat, and debris; 911 dispatchers gave mixed messages to those inside; about a hundred firemen died in the north tower because they had stopped to rest on floor 19 and didn’t hear the evacuation order. The authors conclude that most of the rescuing was done by civilians helping one another, not by policemen and firemen. Flynn and Dwyer do not seek to diminish what the safety officers did; instead, they celebrate the extraordinary capacities of ordinary folk.
Swift, photographic prose defines the dimensions of hell—and of humanity. (8-page photo insert)