NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“This is history at its most immediate and moving…A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham
“Remarkable…A priceless civic gift…On page after page, a reader will encounter words that startle, or make him angry, or heartbroken.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Visceral...I repeatedly cried…This book captures the emotions and unspooling horror of the day.” —NPR
“Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric
The first comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001—a panoramic narrative woven from the voices of Americans on the front lines of an unprecedented national trauma.
Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which traced the rise of al-Qaeda, to The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s definitive factual retrospective of the attacks. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through the voices of the people who experienced it.
Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.
Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard the small number of unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United Flight 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.
More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son working in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try to rescue their colleagues.
At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The tragedy and heroism of 9/11 is starkly revealed in Garrett M. Graff’s oral history, The Only Plane in the Sky. Compiled from over 400 interviews—with people ranging from First Lady Laura Bush to New Yorkers who were on their way to work—Graff revisits that Tuesday morning in 2001, from its ordinary early hours to the full-blown horror of the attacks. Heartbreaking transcripts of cockpit recordings and phone calls from passengers aboard United Flight 93 are woven into the recollections of those who fought to survive and rescue others. At times we had to put it down for a few moments to process the grief and pain of some of these stories, but what emerges at the end is a sense of hope and heroism, told in honest and sensitive terms.
Journalist Graff (Raven Rock) organizes first-person accounts of 9/11 from numerous sources and adds contextualizing facts and maps to produce a harrowing and powerful narrative of that day. He follows airline personnel, passengers, and their spouses; first responders; those surrounding President Bush and the rest of the nation's leadership; media employees; and others. Graff sets the stage with seemingly mundane decisions whose significance readers will suspect, such as choosing to have a pair of glasses fixed rather than going directly to work in Tower Two, or going back to a hotel room for a different shirt before a meeting. As the crises unfold, Graff balances the reports of rescues and deaths from New York and the Pentagon with reactions aboard Air Force One; in Shanksville, Penn., where Flight 93 crashed; and in other relevant locations. Graff doesn't shy away from describing casualties, such as those who jumped from the towers, but keeps those passages brief. By the end of the day, there are some tearful reunions, but the hospitals, braced to receive hundreds of casualties, are eerily empty. The bewilderment, fear, and courage exhibited on that day are palpable in these recollections. This vivid, moving work is painful to read but honors both those who died and those who survived that awful day.
Customer ReviewsSee All
An amazing account
A book everyone should own. A history not to be forgotten