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American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  464 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Selected as one of the best books of 2002 by The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Sun-Times

Within days after September 11, 2001, William Langewiesche had secured unique, unrestricted, round-the-clock access to the World Trade Center site. American Ground is a tour of this intense, ephemeral world and those who improvised
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 11th 2003 by North Point Press (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 867)
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Sep 30, 2012 Mickey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that you read at a feverish pace for a few days and then, when finished, promptly search for other books by the same author. This book is unbelievably good. It focuses on the removal efforts of the debris in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This book reminded me a lot of another book by a journalist following another big story: Dave Cullen's Columbine. Both present an honest and in-depth picture of a national tragedy.

In my opinion, this book deserved a
Michael Chinigo
Sep 25, 2015 Michael Chinigo rated it it was amazing
"My unwillingness to participate in the public displays of grief was partly just personal. But I also believed that the emotionalism surround the [World Trade Center] site, though at its origins genuine and necessary, had grown into something less healthy—an overindulgence, sustained by political forces and the media, that rather than serving as a catharsis only deepened the social anguish. And I thought that if American Ground was to have lasting value, readers should not be manipulated; they w ...more
Brittany Goldfield
Nov 04, 2014 Brittany Goldfield rated it liked it
Read for school but I learned a whole lot.
Jul 06, 2014 Robert rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Langewiesche presents a straight forward account of the aftermath at the World Trade Center after 9/11. What I found interesting about this is that it touches upon a lot of information I didn't previously know and also present an entirely new perspective of the events. Langewiesche discusses the construction of the buildings, what caused their collapse, the leaders that emerged, the tribalism that developed between officials (police/construction/city hall/fire department), and even discusses loo ...more
Jan 22, 2014 Maureen rated it really liked it
What an interesting read! Langewiesche shared a new perspective I have not read or seen in a documentary before. It reads very academic, but what great information. It touches on how individuals rose into leadership roles, the angst between the various parties (firemen/police/civilians/construction workers/politicians), the actual construction of the buildings, true cause of the collapse, the looting, delicate removal of everything, and how the United States responded in its first true attack si ...more
Tiffany Hawk
Sep 02, 2010 Tiffany Hawk rated it it was amazing
I am not the typical reader of 9/11 lore. Although my own experience with the tragedy was personal enough that I can’t read the words September 11, 2001 without getting chills, I probably know less about the event and the aftermath than most Americans. Until now, eight years later, I have purposely avoided most discussion, related news reports, anything to do with the days and hours surrounding the attacks. For the first few years, every time I was in New York, I averted my eyes from all of lowe ...more
Sep 13, 2011 Mallory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A less emotional, more analytical look at all that happened at the World Trade Center site after the towers fell – but no less compelling. This account follows the main players who rose to the occasion and took charge in the unbuilding of the WTC and presents the sense of urgency felt by all to recover as much as possible from the wreckage in the immediate days and weeks following the attack. Langewiesche does not shy away from writing of the conflicts that occurred amongst the various groups wo ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Terrorist planes plunging into the World Trade Center, workers trapped in the inferno, people jumping to their deaths, and the Towers collapsing are scenes etched in our memories. It was brutal, swift, and personal. The attacks symbolized a loss of innocence because our homeland was hit. How could this happen to us?

This book is important for several reasons. Its main theme focuses on ordinary Americans responding to the calamity at the WTC. The second theme concerns the conflict and challenge of
Elizabeth Ward
Jan 20, 2014 Elizabeth Ward rated it really liked it
My introduction to Langewiesche was viewing American Experience. His technical narration of the planes hitting the Twin Towers had me hooked. With American Ground – he manages to take a world changing event – 9/11 attacks, focuses on one aspect – the recovery operations – and drills down into the humanity of everyone involved. This book is worth reading. Since 9/11 – he has given interviews criticizing the culture of grief following the attacks. With all due respect – the collective anguish is a ...more
May 19, 2014 Peter rated it it was amazing
As one who enjoys history and logistics, I found this book fascinating. Written in late 2002, the author goes on site at Ground Zero and shows how the recovery effort was organized.
Apr 21, 2014 Beachg1rl53 rated it really liked it
A fascinating story of how people come together and rise to meet an unspeakable challenge. And no, it was't perfect but their determination to get the job done respectfully was inspiring.
Nathaniel Smith
May 15, 2011 Nathaniel Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best nonfiction pieces I've ever read. Langewiesche manages to be sensitive to all impacted sides of the tragedy of the Twin Towers, and I admire that he doesn't get mired down in who caused it, and what America's response was. This is really an elegy to the structures themselves - a detailed, physical description of what happened to them, what Ground Zero was like for months afterward, and real portraits of the men and women who worked to clear the site. The language is refre ...more
Dec 20, 2008 William rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008
Langewiesche is not prolific but very multi-talented as a writer (I particularly enjoyed his book "Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert"). His "American Ground" is no travel narrative, of course, but his sense of adventure -- often when venturing into the ruins of the World Trade Center -- is keen. Langewiesche touches upon all aspects of the strikes on the towers and especially the aftermath (the cleanup). Some of the narrative is still very disturbing even after all these years, whethe ...more
Tom Kammerer
Aug 09, 2015 Tom Kammerer rated it really liked it
Interesting story on a background dimension to the 9/11 tragedy
Jill Pfuetze Schmidt
Nicely written, informative account.
Apr 30, 2014 Bill rated it it was amazing
Excellent description of the World Trade Center deconstruction that did not get drawn into the terror attack.
To me this book does a great job of representing the real American spirit, of getting the job done regardless of circumstances.

Well done Mr. Langewiesche.
Collin Rogowski
Nov 28, 2010 Collin Rogowski rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very interesting book about how the destroyed World Trade Center was removed. I learned much about the construction industry, albeit in a very special context. It's interesting to see how fast politics between different factions (police, fire department, construction companies) came into play after the catastrophe.
Interesting factoid: The fire that melted the steel and brought the WTC down was mainly fueled by the masses of paper that were present in the offices. The jet fuel alone would not hav
Erik Grotz
Dec 20, 2015 Erik Grotz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly lucid, moving document of the logistical and emotional toll of "unbuilding" the WTC site. A stunning book that is completely impossible to put down for very long.

I read a bit of this in the Atlantic originally, and always meant to return to it but over time I lost track of the copies. At the time I thought WL's emotionless style was cold, but it's not. It's to-the-point and factual, something that must have seemed a near impossible task due to the circumstances.
Nov 20, 2013 Larry rated it it was amazing
Langewiesche's account of the aftermath of 9/11 on the site of the twin towers (the "unbuilding" of 1,500,000 tons of ruins and the recovery of more than 1200 bodies) is a tremendous piece of writing. He was embedded with the work force, the only journalist to be so situated, and he captures the personalities, challenges, and conflicts of the process. It is one of the two or three best books about 9/11 (along with Anthony Summers's "The Eleventh Day, which has a much larger scope).
James Carmichael
Jan 03, 2009 James Carmichael rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A truly fascinating look at the reality of the clean-up after the 9/11 attacks; human, detailed, unforgiving and very very loving. It's been somewhat controversial because of its unheroic depiction of a lot that happened on the site, but nothing felt disrespectful; it read to me like a journalistic report of a unique, tragic, and still inspiring ad hoc effort to take something back from the literally lethal rubble.
An illuminating and edifying tale of the men who worked "the pile" -- complete with concise backstories of how it and they came together as they did in September 2001. At 200 pages it's almost too brief, but that's forgivable because it was originally a trilogy of Atlantic Monthly articles, and it makes up for its size by packing in tons of engrossing details and fascinating anecdotes.
Mar 24, 2008 Andy rated it it was amazing
This majestic piece of work is an unsentimental account focusing chiefly, as the title suggests, on the disassembly efforts subsequent to the September 11th attack on the WTC. It brings much of the New York history surrounding the WTC, and the players involved, into sharp focus. Some of the images evoked will stay with you long after you close this rather small volume.
Bryan Trandem
Sep 29, 2011 Bryan Trandem rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hall-of-fame
A controversial book in some quarters (see Amazon reviews for examples), largely because Langewiesche shows NYC firefighters with a few of the warts showing. This story about the politics and ingenuity that went into the ground Zero cleanup effort is one of the finest pieces of investigative journalism you'll find.

Also try Fly by Wire, from the same author.
Daniel Morris
Jul 14, 2009 Daniel Morris rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books ever. This is the story of the deconstruction of the world trade center. We're talking the guys in the trenches that were responsible for dredging the river so the tug boats could make it out, deciding how to dismantle it without flooding NYC, who was in charge, how the contracts were doled out, the role of the Mayor and much more.
Nathaniel Smith
Apr 04, 2016 Nathaniel Smith rated it it was amazing
I have not read another piece about the events of 9/11 as sensitive, well-written, thought-provoking, and genuinely human as Langewiesche's "American Ground." This should be assigned reading for every American citizen.
Sep 12, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
This was a great book about the deconstruction of the towers after 9/11. I'm not usually a 9/11 book fan, but this one was really interesting as it looked at those that tore the piles down rather than those who brough the towers down. I would really recommend this for anyone interested in what happened after 9/11.
Doria Abdullah
May 27, 2011 Doria Abdullah rated it it was amazing
it's a very graphical book. bit-by-bit description of what happened and the aftermath. pair it up with the visuals you remembered about that day...

to the lives long gone, you're still in our thoughts.
and to the living who strive on during the aftermath, you're our hero.
Paolo Gianoglio
Aug 19, 2013 Paolo Gianoglio rated it it was ok
Mi aspettavo di più, un punto di vista inaspettato e originale, che non ho trovato. Ho invece trovato un'inchiesta onesta, molto "americana" nel suo fotografare con neutralità gli eventi, a tratti interessante e curiosa, godibile nella lettura. Nulla di più, nulla di meno.
Mary Ann
Feb 24, 2013 Mary Ann rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author does a great job of giving the reader an insider's view into the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks - the daunting task of deconstructing the ruins of the Twin Towers and the powerful emotional toll it took on the workers.
Aug 17, 2007 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in construction
so, this book was a bit boring in the beginning - describing in minute detail, the unbuilding of the world trade center. eventually, emotion was shown, and 'characters' were known. i guess i just didn't feel like reading about the world trade center...
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William Langewiesche is a journalist who has written for Vanity Fair and The Atlantic Monthly.
More about William Langewiesche...

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