11 of the Best Books About 9/11

shelved under History, New York City, and Travel & Places

As someone who adopted New York as my home just two years before 9/11 — and who watched the first tower fall with his own eyes — I debated whether to create this list. In the end, I think that no matter your literal or emotional distance from Ground Zero on September 11, there's at least one book on this list for you. (Oh, and it's no longer a list of 11 books. A few more have turned up so now it's 13.)

 

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

by Kevin Flynn, Jim Dwyer

As someone who's made his home in New York for the last 9 years — and literally watched the first of the Twin Towers fall — reading about 9/11 can be extremely difficult. This title — a literal minute-by-minute account from the moment the first plane struck to the moment the 2nd tower fell — strikes me as the perfect balance of dispassionate, inspiring and honest.

 

Firehouse

by David Halberstam

This was a small but important book. One of last Halberstam wrote (or maybe the last?) before he died, it covers the lives and motivations of the firefighters from a particular Manhattan firehouse... almost all of whom died on 9/11.

 

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center

by William Langewiesche

As a New Yorker who watched 9/11 happen out my window, I'm pretty sure this is the first 9/11 book I read. Why this book? Because it bypasses the human tragedy and focuses on the massive engineering task involved in cleaning up the debris and preparing the site for new buildings. It sounds a little dry I know, but it moves quickly — the pages fly by.

 

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

by Ernie Colon, Sid Jacobson

If you're like me, the thought of sitting down to read the 9/11 Commission report — as important as it is — makes your eyes glaze over. No matter how important the topic, let's face it, it's a government report. Fortunately this graphic novel takes the most important parts of the report and sets them to a visual depiction (still, with plenty of words) that makes the entire report not only palatable, but downright gripping.

 

9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

by National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

For a government report, this "book" was a best-seller for months. I'll admit, I never read it — I expect that as a New Yorker I already knew all I needed to know. But then I read the Graphic Novel adaptation and I now recognize that I was hasty. The report seems to read like a gripping thriller.

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Ann Byrne from Melbourne, Australia says:

I saw this book at a second-hand sale and it made me buy it. I picked it up and put it down about five times, reading the brief description and glancing at the first few pages. When I read it I couldn't put it down. It captures the mind of a certain type of 9-year-old boy extremely well, frighteningly well! And yes, a boy in Manhattan might indeed do all those things... I would LOVE to see it made into a movie.

 

Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times

by The New York Times

Every day for the year or so following 9/11 the New York Times ran a photo and a brief biography/obituary of some of the individuals killed on 9/11. As you can imagine, this feature ran for some time before they worked their way through the thousands of victims. While I found the material a little dry, many New Yorkers were moved to tears on a daily basis. For those looking for the human side of what happened, take a look at this book.

 

The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

by Lawrence Wright

Rick Umali from Arlington, MA says:

The Looming Tower is an important book outlining the context of the attacks, from the point of view of Al Qaeda, and the important people within that group. The book provides a necessarily sweeping look at Islam and focuses on the difficult relationships between the FBI and the CIA, and how political infighting stifled knowledge sharing. Finally, the book brings to light the efforts of John P. O'Neill, who understood the nature of terrorism, long before it was manifested in the attacks of 9/11. (Editor's note: this book was widely considered one of the best non-fiction books of 2007 and won the Pulitzer Prize that year.)

 

Falling Man

by Don DeLillo

Pierre L. says:

A very interesting book about the tragic events of 9/11, in which the personal stories mix up with the general history: the absence of a friend at the weekly poker games, the performance artist hanging himself from ruined architectural structures or the kid watching the sky for more planes. A poignant description of a deep wound in the hearts and heads of many, rendered more powerful by the different view point adopted by the several characters: those who were in the towers, those who were not, some who were not even in New York, and even some of the terrorists themselves.

 

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey

illustrated by Maira Kalman

Karen Fowler from TX says:

"WOW, WOW, WOW" is the best way to sum up how my son and I felt about this fabulous children's book. I read this to my son years ago and enjoyed it so much, we donated a copy to the library of his school.

 
 

American Widow

by Alissa Torres, illustrated by Sungyoon Choi