Saturday 11 September 2021

The Only Plane In The Sky

The Only Plane In The Sky: The Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

Hardback, 512 pages
Published 10th September 2019 by Monoray

better-than-expected, books-i-own, favourites, historical, lasting-impression, non-fiction, read, read-in-2021
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Only Plane in the Sky is nothing less than the first comprehensive oral history of 9/11, deftly woven and told in the voices of ordinary people grappling with extraordinary events. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, new and archived interviews from nearly five hundred people, historian Garrett Graff skilfully tells the story of the day as it was lived.

It begins in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, where we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights. In New York, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable chaos at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker beneath the White House, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice watch for incoming planes on radar. In the offices of the Pentagon, top officials feel the violent tremor as their headquarters come under attack.

We hear the stories of the father and son working on separate floors in the North Tower, the firefighter who rushes to the scene to search for his wife, the telephone operator who keeps her promise to share a passenger's last words with his family, the chaplain who stays on the scene to perform last rites, losing his own life when the Towers collapse, the teachers evacuating terrified children from schools mere blocks from the World Trade Center; the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try and rescue their colleagues.

The Only Plane in the Sky is a unique, profound and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history and all of our lives..

Once again it is that infamous date in the calendar - the day where we all rightfully remember those who lost their lives during the horrific terrorist attacks against America. I find 9/11 extremely fascinating and wanted to take the opportunity to read a book about the events. There are several books on the topic and I am so glad that I chose to purchase and read a copy of The Only Plane In The Sky: The Oral History of 9/11

It is truly incredible to see how things quickly unfolded, from the people of New York awaking to a beautiful, bright, cloudless day to witnessing the complete destruction of a city complex and the consequential deaths of thousands only hours later. This book is informative and raw, documenting so many important moments. This book effectively captures the atmosphere, the fear, the strength and the spirit of America on that fateful day. I have learned so much from reading this collection.

As the title suggests, this book is an oral history of an absolutely unforgettable day in history. The book begins with some very helpful maps, flight plans and illustrations that allow you to envisage the following stories that are told and this context really helps as you progress through the events of the day. Through these illustrations and the provided photographs it is relatively easy to get quite a precise, firm idea of what was happening, where and when, despite the distressing and shocking events that occur.  Graff has created such a vivid account of the day through the words of those who lived it. 

The story is told through a multitude of first hand accounts including but not restricted to direct interview quotes, phone calls and transcripts. We hear from all sorts of people - on land, in the air and even in outer-space - and that's what makes this book so special and effective. We hear from the president, top government officials, pilots, emergency service workers, those who worked in the towers, those who awaited news from loved one and even kids in the city who thought that they were just going to school on another normal day. Each individual adds so much personality, so much gravity and it truly feels as though no stone was left unturned, no person unrecognised, when Graff decided to compile this extraordinary book. 

I can honestly say that I found every single part of this book to be compelling and thought provoking. Though I personally expected to find the survivors stories to the most interesting sections, I was equally fascinated by the story of the Bush administration and how the government attempted to handle the unprecedented situation that day. I particularly found the story of the events upon Air Force One thrilling and emotive as well as educational. 

Without a doubt, The Only Plane in the Sky is one of the most incredible non-fiction books I've ever read. There is so much that can be said about this book but it really is an experience that needs to be personally read by everyone who can get their hands on a copy. The multitude of perspectives bring a multitude of emotions - some hopeful, many distressing but each and every recollection deserves to be there. Despite what may be an initially daunting book of over 500 pages, I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone (in fact, I feel like I already have)!