Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn – 102 Minutes: The untold story of the fight to survive inside the Twin Towers.

At 8:46am on Tuesday 11th September 2001, American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. 102 minutes later both towers had collapsed and 2749 lives were lost. This book tells the story of the people inside the towers, those trying to escape and those that went there to help.

Everyone knows where they were on September 11th 2001. In a way it’s like the JFK moment for my generation. I remember that day as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was not personally affected but I knew people that were. I was at university at the time (about to start my second year). The husband of one of the mature students on my course had been in New York working on that day. He had in fact been scheduled for a morning meeting in the World Trade Center. Luckily for him the meeting got cancelled the night before so he was safely in his hotel room elsewhere in the city when the aircraft struck. His wife was unaware that the meeting had been cancelled, so she had no idea if he was still alive, and because of communication issues it was days before they were able to contact each other. At work, one of the secretaries had a cousin who was working in the World Trade Center at the time. She survived but lost a leg. There are so many stories like these we will only ever hear a fraction of them.

I’m fascinated by the events of that day. It feels wrong to say that but nonetheless it’s true. Channel 4 always show good documentaries around the anniversary of the attacks which I make an effort to watch so when I saw this book I had to get it. I had been planning to read the book ready to review for September 11th but I got behind with my reading so I’m a little late. The book actually took me almost two weeks to read which is quite a long time by my standards (I read most books in under a week). It was heavy going, I found I was mostly only able to read one chapter at each sitting. It was a lot to take in, both in the amount of information contained in the text and the emotional side to it as well.

I found the book to be well written and easy to follow. Because it followed the stories of so many different people it did on occasion become a little difficult to remember who was who, but on the whole the authors did a good job of making sure that the reader knew whose story was currently being told. The ones that particularly stood out for me were Doris Eng and Christine Olender, trapped on the top floors of the North Tower in the restaurant, Windows on the World with no way of escaping. Ed Beyea and his friend Abe Zelmanowitz. They were below the impact zone in the North Tower waiting for help, Ed was a wheelchair user so could not use the stairs and Abe wouldn’t leave him. Roko Camaj, a window cleaner in the South Tower and Firefighter Orio J Palmer who was the first rescuer to make it to the impact zone in the South Tower. These are just a very small selection of those whose stories are told in the book. The stories were obtained from interviews with survivors and relatives of those who died and also from recordings of telephone calls made to the emergency services and messages left on the answer phones of loved ones.

As well as telling the human side of the story the book also looked at the reasons why the towers collapsed so quickly and why the planes caused such devastating damage preventing everyone above the impact zone in the North Tower from escaping. Most people above the impact zone in the South Tower also died as despite there being an intact stairway only 18 people managed to find it and escape successfully.

One thing that annoyed me slightly about the book was the continual references and comparisons to the sinking of the Titanic. I can see why the authors may have wanted to draw comparisons but once or twice would have sufficed. I actually find the sinking of the Titanic quite interesting as well, but if I want to read about that then my husband has plenty of books on the subject that I can read.

I liked the diagrams that were included in the book. They helped to give a better idea of the damage such as were the impact zones were and how the stairways and supporting columns were damaged.

I felt at times the book was needlessly political. Whilst I did find it interesting it didn’t really seem to fit all that well. The book is marketed as a story about what it was like inside the towers and the content about the whys of it all did seem to detract from that a little.

That said the book was good and very interesting, although also emotionally draining as can be expected from a text dealing with such a subject. I have picked up more information from the book than I have from the documentaries, I think the information sinks in better when I read it. If you have an interest in the events of September 11th 2001 then this book is definitely worth a read.

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