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Book review: 102 Minutes

Posted on: October 17, 2011

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks on America have been dissected and examined in myriad ways political and civil. Reports, papers, articles, op-eds, books and documentaries have each endeavored to explain the many aspects of the tragedy that befell us that day. Only one attempt has been made to tell all of the human stories from within New York’s World Trade Center.

102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers is the telling of the chronology, events and personal stories occurring between the striking of the first airliner on the North Tower and its collapse. In that time, another plane assaulted the South Tower, and thousands of both buildings’ occupants fled to safety while thousands more did not or could not.

Authors Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn support their book with now-proven truths about the building codes, construction and maintenance of the towers both for context and silent advocacy for greater design safety. But in the main, this book is about people from the inside.

This book impresses throughout with the massive volume of work put into it before fingertip ever touched keyboard. Testimonies public and private, transcripts of 9-1-1 calls, voice-mails left for loved ones, were assembled to paint thousands of pictures of lives at ground zero.

Not all are candidates for sainthood, however. Along with the many stories of bravery and heroism are accounts of poor judgment and of the dysfunctional relationship between departments charged with emergency response; of communications breakdowns and of the resulting — and stunning — absence of awareness of most rescuers regarding the dire conditions surrounding them. We, who were watching on television, knew volumes more than almost all of the people in peril.

It would have been overwhelming had the writers used emotional terms to describe these personal experiences. They did not, opting instead to respect the reader’s ability to overlay emotion upon the facts presented. This is by no means a dry read; quite the opposite. It’s a page-turner that requires occasional pause to process information and one’s own emotions.

Originally published in 2005, the version released in 2011 is supplemented with fresh information in a newly-written postscript. 102 Minutes stands as an exhaustive portrayal of human experiences on an American day that gripped all the world. It has my highest recommendation.

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