By Elizabeth R. Hayford
With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks quickly approaching, several upcoming books look back at that day and at the years since, taking a range of approaches, from the personal and emotional, to the academic and analytical, to the contrarian. As a group, these books show what we have learned‚ and can still learn‚ from those tragic events.
Benfante, Michael & Dave Hollander. Reluctant Hero: A 9/11 Survivor Speaks Out About That Unthinkable Day, What He’s Learned, How He’s Struggled, and What No One Should Ever Forget. Skyhorse, dist. by Norton. Aug. 2011. c.256p. illus. index. ISBN 9781616082857. $24.95. INT AFFAIRS
This fast-paced, moving story of 9/11 and its aftermath presents the experience of the hard-working Benfante, who became a national hero after helping colleagues in the WTC north tower to the staircase after the building was hit and, with a coworker, carrying a wheelchair-bound woman down 68 floors to safety. He writes of how for years afterward he struggled to make sense of the tragic events and his unfamiliar celebrity status. He became depressed and embittered, unable to resolve the stress from his survival while the nation, as he saw it, returned to corrupt and cynical behavior. He says that only his love of his family helped him to move forward and focus on the lesson that we‚ individuals, families, Americans‚ have to work together and support one another. Benfante and journalist Hollander present an appealing story of personal and national trauma and the difficulty for the individual, and the nation, of moving forward. Showing the unhappiness behind what looked like one of the triumphant images of 9/11, this is recommended reading.
Dekkers, Rudi. Guilty by Association. Brio. Aug. 2011. c.212p. tr. fr. Dutch by Miriam Jacobs. ISBN 9780982668733. $22.95. AUTOBIOG
Dekkers, a Dutch immigrant, owned Huffman Aviation International, a flight school in Florida where two of the 9/11 hijackers learned to fly. After the attack on the Twin Towers, the FBI, the department of transportation, immigration officials, and the press besieged him and his business, demanding to learn what he knew and trying to uncover further links between the school and terrorism. Dekkers had no connection with any source of terrorism, but nevertheless, he felt harassed, his business was driven into ruin, and he believes an attempt was made to kill him. This memoir presents extensive information on his life in the Netherlands before coming to the United States and describes his limited contact with Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, as well as the atmosphere of fear and hatred that affected his post-9/11 life. He still lives in Florida. Dekkers’s connection with 9/11 is peripheral‚ and only about a quarter of this text is 9/11-related. Still, it will interest readers seeking every perspective on 9/11.
Rossmiller, Shannen with Sue Carswell. The Unexpected Patriot: How an Ordinary American Mother Is Bringing Terrorists to Justice. Palgrave Macmillan. Sept. 2011. c.256p. index. ISBN 9780230102552. $25. INT AFFAIRS
Stunned by 9/11, Rossmiller, a wife, mother, and municipal court judge in Montana, undertook to do her part to make America safe. In an informal style, she relates how she put her knowledge of computers and the law to work identifying and tracking potential terrorists on the Internet. While citing her efforts to gain an understanding of Arabic and Islam, she doesn’t give any specifics to indicate depth of knowledge or how much Arabic she learned from an online course and a two-week program. The alleged terrorists she writes about here, describing several major efforts with the FBI to identify and prosecute them, were English speakers. Her focus is the need to respond to the threat against America and the importance of every citizen in playing a part, but the tone of her narrative emphasizes her emotions and personal development more than substantive issues of national security. Some readers are likely to feel that she exaggerates her own importance. An optional purchase. Richard Barkun, reviewed below, substantively examines our pervasive post-9/11 fear of potential threats.
Collected Personal Responses
After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed. The New Press. Sept. 2011. c.288p. ed. by Mary Marshall Clark & Others. maps. ISBN 9781595586476. $26.95. HIST
The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH) is committed to building “repositories of living memory,” and after 9/11 began to gather narratives from a variety of New York survivors and witnesses, eventually collecting over 600 histories. The skilled interviewers, led by Clark (director, CCOH), are trained in oral history methods and richly summon forth from interviewees the repercussions of the attack on individuals, families, and communities. Those interviewed reflect a variety of perspectives, including both professional and unskilled workers in the Twin Towers, neighbors, first responders, and many of New York’s immigrant groups, including Muslims. Many recent and new 9/11 books include quick snapshots of the human response to the tragedy, but this volume is especially recommended for the length (ten to 20 pages each) and thoughtfulness of the interviews. A nice complement to the shorter interviews and historical framework in Charles B. Strozier’s book, reviewed below.
The Legacy Letters: Messages of Life and Hope from 9/11 Family Members. Perigee: Penguin. Aug. 2011. c.272p. collected by Tuesday’s Children. ed. by Brian Curtis. photogs. ISBN 9780399537080. $22. INT AFFAIRS
Tuesday’s Children is a not-for-profit organization that supports 9/11 families and well as survivors of other global terrorist acts. The group solicited these letters, written by family members‚ children, spouses, parents, siblings, and grandparents‚ to their deceased loved ones, presenting memories of their relatives, and thoughts on their struggles to rebuild their lives, and on their hopes for the future. This collection of 100 letters will be of particular interest to public library collections, especially in the New York metro area.
Smith, Dennis with Deirdre Smith. A Decade of Hope: Stories of Grief and Endurance from 9/11 Families and Friends. Viking. Sept. 2011. c.256p. photogs. ISBN 9780670022939. $26.95. SOC SCI
Smith, a retired New York City firefighter and bestselling author (Report from Ground Zero), has assembled reminiscences of 25 individuals who lost loved ones on 9/11, turning apparent interviews (he does not explain when, where, or how the actual interviews took place) into narrative chapters. Most of the subjects are surviving firefighters or relatives of first responders. The stories focus on the day of the attack, the months of recovery, efforts to support bereaved families, create memorials, and other measures to honor those who died, and thoughts about structural and personal safety and national security. Many of the still-grieving men and women he writes of maintain fears of Muslims and/or further attacks. The chapters provide moving reflections of ongoing personal pain; some also offer practical explanations of technical issues, such as building collapse, and discuss medical concerns. Because Smith does not provide any analytical framework for what he presents, the value of the book is diminished. An optional purchase for 9/11 collections.
Tribute WTC Visitor Center. 9/11: The World Speaks. Lyons: Globe Pequot. Aug. 2011. c.256p. illus. ISBN 9780762777990. $24.95. INT AFFAIRS
The Tribute WTC Visitor Center opened in September 2006 just south of Ground Zero to provide visitors with information, videos, and interactive guidance to the Twin Towers site. About 500,000 visitors from around the world have stopped there each year, with many writing on the center’s visitor cards (which request, “Please share your thoughts with us…”). From the simple “why?” of a visitor from England, to drawings and longer reflections in many languages (translations provided in the book), this volume displays a selection of the reactions and WTC memories that people have shared. Recommended for public and school libraries.
Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade. Wayne State Univ. Sept. 2011. c.424p. ed. by Nabeel Abraham, Sally Howell, & Andrew Shryrock. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780814335000. pap. $24.95. SOC SCI
The Arab and Chaldean neighborhoods in Detroit, comprising different national groups, languages, religions, and communities, have grown in population, prosperity, and political visibility since 9/11, even as they’ve been threatened by prejudice, suspicion, press and police scrutiny, and threats to individual civil liberties. Three scholars here follow up on their 2000 study, Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream, with a new assemblage of 16 essays about this varied group, depicting its demographic and ethnic nature, its increasing cultural and economic vitality, and the demeaning assaults upon it in the name of security. The range of contributors is impressive, including not simply academics, but activists, writers, artists, and thoughtful citizens both young and old. As America tries to assess its relations with the Arab world, these insights into our major Arab American community are an important resource for serious readers.
Barkun, Michael. Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11. Univ. of North Carolina. Apr. 2011. 224p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807834701. $32. INT AFFAIRS
Barkun (political science, emeritus, Syracuse Univ.) looks back at the fear of terrorism that surged after the 9/11 attacks and explains it within a theoretical construct in which unseen dangers are subject to exaggeration by a fearing public, the government, and the press. The public easily panics at the threat of invisible terrorists, as it does in response to other potential threats such as possible SARS or N1H1 flu pandemics. Barkun points out that government experts who failed to prevent the 9/11 tragedy make preventing terrorism the highest priority, yet their new tactics are more about political spin than effective policy. The press gains readership by repeating fears rather than presenting grounded information. Meanwhile, other real threats, such as Katrina or the 2007 economic crisis, should have received more attention. Barkun cites interesting perspectives from scholars and journalists in his analysis, raising serious points, but not always in an especially readable manner. For specialists in 9/11 or security studies.
Gray, Richard. After the Fall: American Literature Since 9/11. Wiley-Blackwell. May 2011. 224p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780470657928. $34.95. LIT
Gray (literature, Univ. of Essex), a British specialist in American literature, looks over our body of work since 9/11 and describes a “failure of language,” an inability of writers and intellectuals to know how to write about the 9/11 American trauma. He provides a theoretical framework for close examination of novels written after 9/11, along with discussion of essays, poetry, and drama. He also notes how American writers after the Civil War, World War I, and other national disasters had similar difficulties. He describes the tension between works that emphasize American exceptionalism and others that stress the transnational context of American culture. This is recommended for serious readers in 21st-century American studies.
Markert, John. Post-9/11 Cinema: Through a Lens Darkly. Scarecrow. Sept. 2011. c.392p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780810881341. $59.95. SOC SCI
Films can both reflect and shape social values. Markert (sociology, Cumberland Univ.) examines over 200 films depicting American concerns after the 9/11 attacks. In the first few years, films tended to focus on the attacks themselves and on America’s enemies. By 2004, post 9/11 films‚ both dramatic and documentary‚ looked at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well, and were more critical of American actions abroad and Bush administration policies. Working from his sociological approach, Markert also provides an overview of American films since World War II that have been related to issues of war and security. This volume does not focus specifically on the details of 9/11 itself, but will be of interest to readers interested in cultural, communication, or film studies.
Smithsimon, Gregory. September 12: Community and Neighborhood Recovery at Ground Zero. New York Univ. Oct. 2011. c.296p. illus. index. ISBN 9780814740859. pap. $24. SOC SCI
Smithsimon (sociology, Brooklyn Coll.) has combined a serious academic analysis of the development of Battery Park City in lower Manhattan with a poignant depiction of the impact of 9/11 on its residents, so close to the World Trade Center. As he introduces us to the perspectives of spatial sociology he explains how Battery Park City has always benefited from public support as an exclusive, “suburban” community in crowded Manhattan. He shows how, after this community suffered both emotional and physical damage from the 9/11 attack, the residents’ efforts to preserve their privileged neighborhood led to clashes with the needs of 9/11 victims’ families over how to honor their losses and how access to Ground Zero should be mediated. A very successful academic micro-study of one community’s response to our nation’s greatest shock. For sociologists, students of urban affairs, and serious readers in general.
Strozier, Charles B. Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses. Columbia Univ. Sept. 2011. c.304p. illus. index. ISBN 9780231158985. $26.95. SOC SCI
Strozier (history, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, CUNY), a practicing psychotherapist, furthers our understanding of the consequences of 9/11 by interviewing a number of survivors of the New York attacks and compiling their detailed reminiscences, organized by zones of proximity to the Twin Towers. The focus is on the day itself and the following 100 days that fires smoldered at the site. His interviews with those directly affected by the attacks vividly portray the survivors’ perceptions of emotional and physical destruction and their prolonged sense of fear and horror. Strozier’s training as a therapist and his academic knowledge of other mass tragedies help him offer important insight as he examines the unusual, often poetic, use of language by the victims, both in his own interviews and in transcripts of interviews conducted after other mass disasters. He also focuses on the impact of 9/11 upon religious views and family planning. Although he writes with the deep knowledge of a scholar, this is highly recommended to a broad range of readers interested in gaining a fuller cultural perspective.
Disputing the Facts
Griffin, David Ray. 9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes Against Democracy Succeed. Olive Branch: Interlink. Sept. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9781566568685. pap. $20.00. INT AFFAIRS
This is the tenth book by Griffin (philosophy of religion & theology, emeritus, Claremont Sch. of Theology) attesting to the many ways he and others he cites‚ witnesses, reporters, and third-party analysts‚ believe that the truth of the 9/11 attacks has been kept from the public so that they will not recognize the Bush administration’s role in the disaster. Surely the most prolific of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, he may appeal to those who share his views, but may be avoided by all others unless they are collecting post-9/11 analyses comprehensively.
Naiman, Arthur with Gregg Roberts & AE911 Truth for WTC Technical Help. 9/11: The Simple Facts: Why the Official Story Can’t Possibly Be True. Soft Skull. Sept. 2011. c.112p. illus. index. ISBN 9781593764241. pap. $12. INT AFFAIRS
The prolific Naiman here provides “simple facts” on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings and asks questions that he asserts challenge the official explanation for the 9/11 attacks and demonstrate the need for a “new, independent investigation” of what really happened. He cites many websites, some which feature dramatic videos, to corroborate his assertions and lists engineers, academics, government officials, journalists, and entertainers who support his position. While provocative, the breezy style and lack of analysis or context for the dramatic statements keep this work from meriting serious attention.
Elizabeth R. Hayford, who teaches at Northwestern University’s School of Education & Social Policy, is former president of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and a veteran reviewer of books on higher education, history, and international affairs for LJ.
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