Reporters chronicle personal stories of terrorGuards and secretaries, stockbrokers and janitors, a clerk in a wheelchair and a restaurant host, firemen and cops, people from Manhattan, New Jersey, Mexico, India and beyond, rich executives and poor workers, mothers and fathers.
These otherwise anonymous citizens, among thousands of others, faced the catastrophic fury inside the World Trade Center when the buildings were struck by hijacked jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001.
The stunning terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists ranks with the end of World War II, the Kennedy assassination and the collapse of the Soviet empire as one of the most powerful events and greatest news stories of our lifetimes.
Following the attacks on the Trade Center and Pentagon ― the symbols of American economic and military might in the world ― The New York Times undertook an ambitious project to make a brief record of the lives of every person who was killed in New York, Washington and in the four passenger jets that were commandeered and then crashed.
The series, which ran for weeks to account for the more than 3,000 people who died in all of the attacks, became morbidly addictive for many readers of The Times. Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, New York Times reporters, have followed up those thumbnails of the victims, selecting a few dozen individuals for a reconstruction of events inside the World Trade Center from the time the buildings were hit until 102 minutes later, when they had both collapsed.
Their story ― “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers” ― is an almost minute-by-minute account that follows both survivors and those who didn’t make it out. Some 12,000 people escaped; 2,749 did not.
Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Flynn bring the chaos into frightening focus as the people themselves begin to understand the scale of the disaster and the reasons for it. The accounts of those who failed to escape were pieced together from interviews with family members who were in touch with loved ones by phone or text message before they were engulfed by twin infernos or who died as one tower fell after the other.
But the story is not all about individual misery, cowardice or enormous heroism, though there was plenty of all three. The authors make a case that beyond the terrorists, other culprits in the horror were New York City’s building code revisions over the past 30 years and a deep unwillingness on the part of the police and fire departments to work together.
That turf war and the greed of New York City developers, who were looking for ways to make construction of big buildings cheaper and, in so doing, sacrificed safety, played key roles in why so many died in the attack on the towers.
“102 Minutes” is a masterwork of relentless reporting and harsh criticism about an event that perhaps couldn’t be stopped, but that could have been far less deadly.
The tragic minutes after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers are recorded in detail from the perspective of survivors and victims.
by Charles D. Sherman
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