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The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

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The first comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001—a panoramic narrative woven from the voices of Americans on the front lines of an unprecedented national trauma.

Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which traced the rise of al-Qaeda, to The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s definitive factual retrospective of the attacks. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through the voices of the people who experienced it.

Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard the small number of unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United Flight 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.

More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son working in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.

485 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2019

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About the author

Garrett M. Graff

15 books319 followers
Garrett M. Graff, a distinguished magazine journalist and historian, has spent more than a dozen years covering politics, technology, and national security. He’s written for publications from WIRED to Bloomberg BusinessWeek to the New York Times, and served as the editor of two of Washington’s most prestigious magazines, Washingtonian and POLITICO Magazine, which he helped lead to its first National Magazine Award, the industry’s highest honor.

Graff is the author of multiple books, including "The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House," which examined the role of technology in the 2008 presidential race, and "The Threat Matrix: The FBI At War," which traces the history of the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts. His next book, "Raven Rock," about the government’s Cold War Doomsday plans, will be published in May 2017, and he's currently on an oral history of September 11th, based on his POLITICO Magazine article, "We're The Only Plane in the Sky."

His online career began with his time as Governor Howard Dean’s first webmaster, and in 2005, he was the first blogger accredited to cover a White House press briefing. Today, he serves as the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s cybersecurity and technology program.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,982 reviews
Profile Image for Jayme.
1,081 reviews1,655 followers
September 13, 2022
As both a flight attendant, and a woman born in NY, I will never forget 9/11.

I was getting ready to drive to work, on a day when I would be working as member of our Interview Team...interviewing applicants for open Flight Attendant positions.

My phone rang, and it was my Dad calling from FL., hoping he would find me at home and not flying.

He shared what he had heard on the news, and I turned on my TV, in time to watch United Flight 175, crash into the South Tower. My airline went on lockdown...Interviews of course were cancelled, and I watched the news, RIVETED to the TV screen.

Nearly all of my friends were on airplanes, which were being ordered to land at the airport nearest their present location, a remarkable feat on its own 💗 BUT until all had safely landed, you didn’t know which plane could be hijacked next to be used as a weapon by Al-Qaeda.

Crews ended up stuck in hotel rooms, away from their families, for days, until the ground stop was lifted.

I felt so relieved, and lucky, that I had NOT been scheduled to fly that day.

I have read The 9/11 Commission Report, the Government’s factual retrospective of the events of that day, and it was fascinating.

We all watched, mesmerized and terrified.

But this book, draws from never before published transcripts, recently declassified documents, and original interviews from nearly 500 People from 9/11 who personally EXPERIENCED this horrific event. The SIGHTS, the SOUNDS...

You will hear from the actual First responders, Government officials, Military Personnel, Crew members and Passengers on board the doomed flights, the Ticket Agents who checked the terrorists in, Witnesses, Survivors, Family members and Friends of Victims.

I listened with AUDIBLE, and HEARD stories from 45 narrators, in their own voices and it was POWERFUL and HEARTBREAKING! 💔

I followed along by reading the transcripts in the book, and viewing some of the photographs provided, including those of The North Tower burning, The South Tower about to be hit, The Falling Man, and The First Victim-FDNY chaplain Mychal Judge, to name just a few...

How could I read a book like this now?

Because it reminds me of the resiliency of New York...and of all of the Americans involved-who pulled together during 9/11 in 2001.

And, again during “The Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009, when US Airways flight 1549 lost all engine power and ditched in the Hudson River off of Midtown Manhattan, as NY ferry Captains raced to the rescue.

And, yet again, as NY has become the epicenter of Covid-19 in the United States, ( as of April 8, 2020) with medical personnel working around the clock to care for those afflicted.

And, it gives me HOPE that this too shall pass...

This book is a wonderful TRIBUTE to those who were brave enough to relive that historic day for us by sharing their stories...

I am grateful to them, humbled and deeply moved! 💖

And, I am also glad to see that readers are STILL finding this review, as each year ticks by, and that this day has NOT been forgotten.

I revisit this review each year, and cannot believe that 21 years have now passed.
Always remember.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
376 reviews2,828 followers
September 15, 2022
The Best Audiobook of The Year?

The Only Plane In the Sky is a reconstruction of the events of September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Centers/The Twin Towers were hit by two different commercial airplanes. Additionally, there was an airplane that crashed into The Pentagon, and another plane was hijacked but the crew overpowered the hijackers, crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania.

On September 11, 2001, I was in Mrs. Neale’s biology class, a sophomore in high school. We were watching the TV after the first plane struck the tower. It was eerie watching the second plane, stalking its target. Then, it flew right into the building. At that point, we knew that this was no accident. It was a coordinated attack. The news channels only covered the feed from New York, and all of the other plane crashes were minor footnotes.

The author went through 5,000 audio clips and selected the best to put together the narrative of 9/11. It has been nominated as one of the best audiobooks of the year and has a large cast of 45 different speakers. And it rightly deserves this praise.

The bravery of the people was astounding. About seven years ago, I was working at a client site, reviewing the tax section of their financial statements. Then, the fire alarm started going off. I stood up, announced, “I’m not dying for taxes today,” and sprinted towards the stairwell to exit. The tax team doesn’t mess around. All of the flight attendants on these ill-fated flights made distress calls to the authorities. There were so many firefighters who entered the tower, even after one of the towers fell. Some estimated that 500,000 people were evacuated off of Manhattan by boat. A team of ten people carried a disabled man down almost 100 flights of stairs.

It is really a miracle how many people survived the attacks on the World Trade Center. When I worked at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the building was 15 stories tall, and I worked on the 13th floor. During fire drills, there was one stairwell. It would take us an hour to get outside. My co-worker told me that during one fire drill they waited for hours in the stairwell. They never made it outside. They were just told to go back to their desks. Keep in mind that was only 13 floors. The World Trade Centers were 110 stories each. The first tower fell 56 minutes after impact and the second 102 minutes after impact. I couldn’t get out of 13 stories in that timeframe.

This was really gut-wrenching because you can hear the messages from people who were on the planes, knowing that they were going to die. You also heard from people who were above the impact zones. They were told to wait for help, but none ever came. The building collapsed, and everyone stuck above the impact zones died.

It was also difficult to “time travel” back to 2001 because our country wasn’t so divided. Politics weren’t so polarized. There wasn’t as much hate. People could disagree, but they were respectful. I’m not even sure why we are still called The United States. Maybe it should be The Divided States of America. Sorry, this book got me really emotional, and I question what has become of our country and what can be done to change it.

2022 Reading Schedule
Jan Animal Farm
Feb Lord of the Flies
Mar The Da Vinci Code
Apr Of Mice and Men
May Memoirs of a Geisha
Jun Little Women
Jul The Lovely Bones
Aug Charlotte's Web
Sep Life of Pi
Oct Dracula
Nov Gone with the Wind
Dec The Secret Garden

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Profile Image for JanB .
1,114 reviews2,177 followers
August 7, 2020
If we are old enough to remember 9/11 we have a story to tell, even if that story is simply where we were when we heard the news. How could we forget the hours and days we spent glued to our tv sets as the horror unfolded before us? Most of us know someone, or know of someone, who was there that day, however tenuous the connection.

However, regardless of where we were, or how much we’ve read, we have an incomplete picture. There was so much I didn’t even know that I didn’t know, and this book gave me the missing pieces.

This is not a dry reciting of the facts, but an oral history from people told in their own words, giving us a perspective we’ve not before seen. We hear from those closest to the President that day, both on the ground and on Air Force One. We hear from the ticket agent who checked in the terrorists, the air traffic controllers, government officials, those at the Pentagon, first responders, survivors, the families of both victims and survivors, eyewitnesses, the lone American who was in space that day, average Americans, the fighter pilots who were given the task of bringing down any hijacked airliners if they had to....and many, many more.

Recently unclassified documents and never before seen transcripts are included. I had forgotten in this age of instantaneous and constant communications that there was no satellite, cable tv, or e-mail on Air Force One. The President literally knew less than most of us who were in our living rooms watching the news channels.

It’s not an easy book to listen to, and there were many times I had to shut it off and cry. Yet, amid the horror, the courage, bravery and kindnesses displayed by so many people inspired me and gave me hope for humanity and for the future.

In an unprecedented moment, my husband overheard an excerpt and from then on we had to listen to it together. One evening when we sat down to watch TV, he asked that we listen to this book instead. This has never happened, and probably never will again. He won’t even listen to audiobooks when we are on road trips. That is how powerful this narrative is.

The words I’ve used to describe this book are inadequate. Read it. Better yet, listen to it, as the audio is outstanding with a full cast of narrators and archival audio from the President, in-flight communications, and air traffic controllers. Nothing can take the place of hearing these words spoken.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the author for the priceless gift he has given us and future generations. For the millions of people born after 9/11 this book will ensure the event doesn’t one day become simply a dry statistic in a history book.

Also recommended: Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews177 followers
July 31, 2020
In September 2001 my wife and I were on holiday in Spain. We decided to explore the next town on from our resort.
Sitting at an isolated bus stop on a hot, dusty roadside I notice a crumpled newspaper left on the bench next to me. I idly picked it up as it was in English. The entire front page was taken up with a grainy black and white photo. Two tall indistinct blocks, one with a gaping black hole filled with smoke and flames. That was the first I heard of the attack on the world trade centres and the Pentagon. The newspaper was three days old!
We didn’t have a tv in our hotel room and had bizarrely missed the event completely.
Maybe it was a good thing that we didn’t spend the first few days glued to the television with the rest of the world, watching each terrifying, heartbreaking image but I’ve always felt I wanted to know and understand more about this worst of terrorist attacks.
I knew that one day I would read a definitive account of the attrocity and The Only Plane in the Sky - The Oral History Of 9/11, seemed to fit the bill.
It’s an exhaustive, chronological history of the events of 11th September 2001, based on the oral testimony of those caught up in the mayhem - employees, fire fighters, police, politicians, pilots, the military, air traffic controllers, broadcasters, bystanders, relatives. A massive patchwork of heart stopping anecdote and observation, some a few lines long, some a couple of pages, coming from all angles that build up to a graphic, minute by minute account of that day.
The book begins on a calm note - a crisp autumnal Monday morning, perfect blue skies, an unremarkable start to the week ......... and then the first plane hits.
The confusion and disbelief are palpable as people try to understand the nightmare that’s occurring around them, all seen here through a prism of stories, random thoughts and sense impressions.
Throughout the hours that follow we hear of terrifying tales of escape, examples of great bravery, unbearable grief and the best of humanity.
It was fascinating to see how the government and security services coped, grouping and regrouping, planning, changing plans, basically making it up as they went along. They had no idea what was happening and had no template in place to help. This was an attack of a scale beyond anyone’s imagination.
The Only Plane in the Sky is a gigantic project meticulously compiled by Garrett M. Graff and is an unforgettable reading experience. I read this book, but it also won the best audiobook award 2020 (Audie Awards), so I imagine this too would be a powerful experience.
The content is tough to read, very moving and sometimes overwhelming - I made the mistake of reading before bed and found it haunted my mind more than expected.
So ........ much recommended but proceed with caution.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,691 followers
November 24, 2020
Wow . . . just wow . . .



I have read other 9/11 books and watched 9/11 specials – they are all very powerful. So, I will not say that this one is “better” or “more powerful”, but it certainly might be the most complete and thorough coverage of all the various events in one place. Pulling from hundreds of interviews with people directly involved, or who had family and friends involved, it is a very moving portrait of that fateful day.

This should be read by everyone, but it will not be easy for most people. However, not forgetting means that sometimes there are hard truths. We have a choice to remember or not, but there are many people who had no choice that day – they were fated to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One thing about this particular book compared to other 9/11 books/shows is that it was the most complete retelling of the events at the Pentagon that I have seen. In the afterward, there is mention of a book that was written specifically about the Pentagon, but I have not read that one. Also, I knew very little about the events around the government response, the journey of Air Force One, etc. This really is a very complete picture of the events of that day.

I think the story that got to me the most was near the very end I was left speechless by that story. It is one of the saddest but also ironically laughable (not funny laughable – more like shake your head laughable) stories I have heard from that day.

Again – check this book out. We owe it to the heroes who saved many lives that day and the innocent people who were not expecting to lose their lives just doing their daily routine. Let’s keep their memories alive.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,851 reviews34.9k followers
September 11, 2021
Hard to believe it’s been 20 years!!!
This is the most complete, comprehensive, phenomenal, audiobook I read last year —-
Fo Audiobook lovers - it’s impossible to go wrong with this one.

5+++++

Brilliant...
F#c#ing...OUTSTANDING!!!!!

Thanks Paula!!!!!

Would not have wanted to miss this book for ANYTHING!!!

Some things - we remember
Some things - we forget
Some things - we re-evaluate - fill in missing holes

Some TIMES..... it’s VERY IMPORTANT- VALUABLE- to hear the missing stories!!!!
THIS IS THAT BOOK!!!

2020 comes to an end soon....
Covid-19 does not....

One day ... we will get ‘another’ masterpiece about Covid-19... as masterfully written as this one is!!!

Today.... we are BLESSED with “The Only Plane In The Sky”....An Oral History of 9/11.

The audiobook is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!!!
March 18, 2021
5+ stars!

Most powerful audio book I’ve ever listened to.

I have no words to adequately describe how impactful this book is. I’m emotionally drained after listening to this. The audio was outstanding. The cast of 45 narrators was extremely powerful and heart wrenching. This book should be required reading in history classes.

Thank you to my local library for the audio loan.
Profile Image for Johann (jobis89).
615 reviews4,243 followers
January 3, 2020
"We met when we were only 16, at a high school dance. When he died, we were 50. I remember how I didn't want that day to end, terrible as it was. I didn't want to go to sleep because as long as I was awake, it was still a day that I shared with Sean. - Beverly Eckert"

The Only Plane in the Sky tells the story of 9/11 as it happened - in the words of those who lived it.

I almost can't put into words how incredible this book is. It was clearly impeccably researched with hundreds of oral histories pieced together to give a narrative of events - from those working in the Towers, to the firefighters, to the generals at the Pentagon, to the relatives of those who lost loved ones. No stone is left unturned.

The audiobook is simply fantastic with all the different voices telling the story. It's harrowing and heartbreaking, I cried at numerous parts, but the bravery of those caught up in this nightmare is equally inspiring. It's a powerful read and one I would recommend to everyone. Believe the hype for this one! 5 stars.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,700 followers
September 8, 2021
*Re-read/-listen in September 2021 to commemorate 20 years since 9/11/01.*

The title The Only Plane in the Sky refers to Air Force One on September 11, 2001, as all aircraft over US airspace were grounded except the one carrying the president. Author Garrett M. Graff wanted to document what it was like aboard the plane on that fateful day, and the result was a 2016 moment-by-moment account for “Politico” that can be found here: https://www.politico.com/magazine/sto...

Given the tremendous response to that article and a desire to more exhaustively document 9/11, Graff expanded his research to include eye witness accounts by survivors, communications from those that perished, and first person accounts of what it was like to be an American citizen watching life as you knew it crumble on a Tuesday morning that started out just like any other. The result is a truly staggering work of journalism that receives my highest recommendation, and I am not alone in my praise. Its average Amazon rating is a full 5 stars, and Goodreads stands at 4.72.

The Only Plane in the Sky is a chronological oral history, so it unfolds as the day did. You’re taken from what was happening in any given moment from the World Trade Center site, to Air Force One, to the Pentagon, to United 93. The audiobook does contain real recordings of communications between air traffic control and flight attendants (most notably Betty Ong on American Airlines flight 11) that will bring you to your knees, as well as speeches by George W. Bush and Barack Obama (in an epilogue, when Osama bin Laden was killed). The print book in turn has diagrams, maps, and heartbreaking photos (including The Falling Man).

One standout aspect of the accounts is how many people noted what a beautiful morning Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was before 8:46am. It will make you want to step outside, look up, and marvel at the glory of the mundane.

Please read this profoundly moving and important book.
Profile Image for Swrp.
561 reviews89 followers
November 4, 2021
|•| Hair-raising, breathtaking, literally gives shivers.

|•| An exemplary and exhaustive narrative!

|•| CW :: Not for the weak hearted. The contents are disturbing and highly emotional.

"I will always be in awe in the way he faced death."

This is a thorough account and an incredible way to memorialize the deeply impactful and hurtful incidents of September 11, 2001 in the United States. It also depicts the heights of sacrifice, kindness, empathy and most of all, hatred.


[nytimes.com]
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,016 reviews555 followers
September 12, 2021
Early in this book the author muses that everyone in America (of a certain age) can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they first heard news that the North Tower had been struck by an aeroplane, on that fateful September morning in 2001. I’d go further than that, I live more than three thousand miles from New York City and not only can I recall precisely where I was and what I was doing, just about everyone else I know can describe their personal experience of that moment too.

For the record, I was in Swansea, South Wales and had just come out of a meeting when a colleague rushed up to me and garbled a rapid message to the effect that the twin towers had both been hit, had both subsequently collapsed, that the Pentagon had also been attacked and it was thought further planes were still in the air and expected to wreak similar carnage. I know I just stared at this person unable to comprehend that this could all have happened in the space of time (not much more than an hour) I’d been in this meeting. I decided to head home, a journey of around three hours by car. I listened to the radio news coverage of these totally shocking events throughout my journey. Some of the reporting was confused and I was struggling to bring up a mental picture of the twin towers – just how big were these buildings? Of course, when I eventually arrived home and saw the images on the television the true horror hit home, viscerally.

In drawing together first-hand accounts of many people's vivid recollections from the day, the author attempts to tell the story of 9/11 not as an accurately documented record of events but as a compendium of their experiences. All of the contributors here were either personally caught up in events due to proximity, were required in some way to take resultant action or had a connection with at least one person directly impacted by the attacks. For the most part, it follows a rough timeline from early morning to the end of day on the 11th, with a short section at the end covering the aftermath. Each contribution is short: maybe just a few words or sometimes a sentence or two, but seldom more. But stories evolve from these scraps, powerful and compelling stories.

I listened to an audio version and it’s one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever come across. I don’t mind admitting that I felt tearful on numerous occasions as I listened to the experiences of these people. The accounts cover the full gamut: from people trapped in one of the towers or the Pentagon, passengers and crew on one of the aeroplanes, fire fighters and police attending the sites, relatives of those in peril and officials trying to manage the chaos of the day. The individual stories, once knitted together, are sometimes inspiring but more often they are simply heartbreakingly sad.

I’d previously listened to The Voices of 9/11: The Story of the FAA and NORAD Response to the September 11, 2001, Attacks an account of events told through voice recordings of exchanges between air traffic controllers, military aviation officers, airline and fighter jet pilots, which proved to be pretty emotional stuff in its own right, but this book I found even more emotionally draining. It’s an important piece of work and brilliantly put together by the author with the help of a veritable army of others, but please be forewarned if you’re planning either read or listen to this book – it includes material that’s likely to be with you for some time after you’ve finished working through it.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,286 reviews637 followers
September 18, 2021
“What was it like on 9/11?”

Garrett Graff took on the ambitious and bold project of providing an oral history of the events on the tragic day of Sept 11, 2001. “The Only Plane in the Sky” began as a Politico magazine article about the experiences of those aboard Air Force One on 9/11. He teamed with Jenny Pachucki, an oral historian, to produce one of the most inclusive narratives of the chaos, panic, frustration, and horror of that very long day.

The novel is 512 pages, which is chock-full of details of that day. The audio, which is the format I chose, is almost 16 hours long. The audio bonus includes archival audio from the presidential addresses, in-flight communications, and air traffic control. It is an ethereal experience to relive that day. Everyone alive on that day recalls the overwhelming emotions of that day. This audio provides the moment-by-moment events of all the key players. We also learn of the changes made; improvements made after that horrific day. Over 5,000 oral histories were conducted, and the audio provides these histories to be read by actors.

Graff set out to provide a means to explain and to educate those too young to have remembered that day. It’s a pivotal day, one that should NOT be forgotten. This is an amazing audio, and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Karen.
552 reviews1,084 followers
September 10, 2022
Well, tomorrow marks the 21st anniversary of this unthinkable tragedy…
Hard to believe it’s been that long.
On that day I just got back to my desk from a meeting.. I was a radiology medical coder and we spent all our days coding one report after another and while us gals did this, we always listened to our radio stations on our headphones.
When I returned to my desk one of my coworkers said “put your headphones on” she had told me about a plane hitting the twin tower… as the morning went on we just could not believe it… it happened a second time.. and then a third with the plane hit at the Pentagon.
How could this happen here in America? Total disbelief, and fear!
This is an amazing audio account.. really remarkably well done!
Many personal stories.. and things I didn’t know.. like all the boats in the harbor evacuating survivors away from the site… the effort to land every airplane in the United States at that time.
Emotional and still horrifying!
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,382 reviews521 followers
May 29, 2022
When the first tower collapsed, I was running down 5th Avenue. Running, because I was near the Empire State Building and people were yelling that it was the next target. Straight ahead of me, downtown, the whole sky filled with a black explosion. All of us in the street were panicked. At a pay phone line a woman cried that her son worked at the World Trade Center. No answer from my husband who worked in a building near the towers. I didn’t know if all of downtown had blown up. Eventually we found each other and joined the stream of refugees walking uptown. We made it home late that afternoon and I asked my 13 year old son what his day at school was like. He replied, "I thought you were both dead."

Reading this book was an emotional experience, bringing back details I remember from the day and filling in gaps. At the time, I was so focused on New York and our collective loss, that I was barely aware of the Pentagon losses and rescue efforts. The amount of interviews and information is comprehensive and very well presented.

While I was reading this, the US ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan. So many lives lost! I thought of the heroes who prevented Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol - and that nearly 20 years later domestic terrorists, supported by a US President, attacked the Capitol.

This may be the most powerful and painful book I've read. But I'm glad I read it. And I'm so glad it exists. Because this is an oral history, I strongly recommend the audio production.
Profile Image for Brandice.
800 reviews
August 19, 2021
A review can’t possibly do this one justice — The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a compilation of stories from this horrific day in U.S. history. Sad and moving, it’s a powerful story that Garrett Graff has taken great care to compose.

For those of us who remember the devastating day and for future generations who need to learn about it, this is the story — Highly recommend the audiobook which includes dozens of narrators bringing together several emotional accounts of the day.
Profile Image for Bharath.
547 reviews424 followers
September 11, 2022
Some books are not easy to read, and I knew that this one especially would not be. Many have recommended the audio version, but Audible does not yet carry this in India – hopefully can listen to it sometime in the future. This book is so well written that much of the pain I had felt in the past resurfaced.

As the author says, this is one day where everyone remembers where they were and how the day progressed (for those in Mumbai, India - 26 Nov & 12 Mar are other such dates). This book does an exceptional job of recounting the experiences of many of that day – those in the administration, and also many ordinary people in their own words. There are stories of incredible courage, resilience and also tragedy. The book traces the events right since the morning – the hijackers checking in, confusion as the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, followed by the South Tower, the Pentagon and the crash in a field in Pennsylvania. Much of it makes for very painful reading - the guilt of the airline staff who checked in the hijackers, people trying to escape from the twin towers, firefighters / law enforcement / political leadership and ordinary people stepping up to help & rescue people, the US President and other senior leaders being taken away to secure locations. The stories of people who suffered loss of near & dear ones, people trapped on the higher floors of the twin towers calling emergency services and seeking advice and a nation of edge not sure of what is to come next, all on one of the most terrible days the world has seen.

The book is organised as small snippets of voices from a wide range of people with very little leading commentary from the author to provide a context. Initially, I found the frequent character switch a little difficult but got used to it quickly and appreciated why it was organised like that. I liked that the focus of the book for the most part was on the events and the people, with only sketchy references to the plot.


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I very well remember my day then – I had arrived in New Jersey just a month prior, and my wife only a few days back. We had moved into an apartment only on 1 Sep and we had yet to settle down (we did not also have a television yet). I travelled by cab to a place from where I used to catch a company transport. On that day I reached the place a little late, missed the company transport and it was a little before 9 am. There was a cab fleet outlet right there and I asked for another cab – was told it will be a wait of 10-15 mins. The TV there was showing CNN with the headline that a plane had hit the WTC. It never crossed my mind that this was anything serious and I assumed it was a very small plane. There were a few others there and almost nobody was paying attention, an exception being a lady who was on a call with somebody talking about this. Suddenly, as the second plane hit, the mood changed and everybody rushed to face the TV set. Somehow, that it could be terrorism still didn’t strike me, and I was very confused. My cab arrived and I reached the office of the client I worked for in about 10 mins. The horror of the day became apparent and after about an hour, everybody was asked to leave.

In the absence of a TV, it was tough to follow what was happening. One of my college-mates lived in the same complex and we went over to their place and watched as more and more depressing news kept coming in. Over the next days, the country was still on edge and there were heartrending stories coming out. I did return to work within a week. The senior-most leader at that location addressed their employees as well as people like us who were their technology partners. He recounted the impact to the company, people and what the steps they are taking next. The company had offices in Manhattan, and many employees were often at the WTC. He made it a point to look at some us who had only recently joined and said that some of you may feel you are different – you are one of us and you are helping us in our business, we need you and if you should need anything, please tell us. That gracious remark in the face of an unprecedented tragedy, is a memory which still stays. Many contributed in the crisis – manning helplines in the evenings, contacting others they had not heard from and with anything else they could do.


----------------


As the author mentions at the end of the book, we are at a stage when a new generation who were not around at that time are joining the mainstream, and may find it difficult to understand the sacrifices made and the freedoms which were lost. The tragedy brought about a unity among nations like never before – quite a bit of which has been lost over time.

Terror has had its victories on days like 9/11, where some tried to destroy the back of free society and demoralize a people. This book is a tribute to the amazing people who faced evil that day with great courage. We must remember.

A book I strongly recommend - but be ready for many painful stories and memories.
Profile Image for Kay ❦.
1,885 reviews587 followers
September 6, 2021
Twenty years later.

I was looking forward to listening to this. I borrowed it from the library and was about to start then saw on the news that the US started evacuating from Afghanistan. I read comments on social media and some baffled me that many people don't know or forget why the US was there. I was upset and didn't want to listen to this book with the thought that it would make me more miserable than I already was. Finally, I did start and I'm glad that I did. In the midst of the tragedy, it's consoling to hear stories about strangers helping one another, providing support, and show unity.

This is an incredible collection of stories. Every year close to the anniversary of 9/11, I would watch documentaries on TV. This book includes several familiar stories and many more, according to the blurb close to 500 people were interviewed.

It's not a normal day at the office when one feels relieved to see a fully loaded F-16 flies over your building. This was a story from a man at the Pentagon. Some stories are very short, a sentence or two while others are longer. The author did a wonderful job putting this together. These stories will stay with you.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,153 reviews447 followers
September 11, 2022
We remember 9/11 today. Can't believe it has been 21 years now. I listened to this audiobook in 2020 and it is fantastic.

Why listen to a book about the most traumatic day in our nation's history in the midst of a pandemic and racial unrest? For me, it was a cathartic experience that gave healing and hope. That attack on 9/11 affected all of us who were alive and the memory lives on. We all have a story. Hearing a comprehensive account of that day in chronological sequence utilizing a wide cast (with some live audio and also contributions by key players like Anne Compton and Andy Card) brought that day back to me in technicolor. This is without a doubt the best audio book I have ever listened to. The emotions evoked were much like a visit to the 9/11 Museum, but I could portion it out--a bit each day--to really savor it in a meaningful way. What is your 9/11 story? As we share our stories, we gain empathy and divisions are healed. My story from that day was far from the center of the chaos and danger, yet I watched my 5-year-old son draw planes flying into buildings for months afterward. He and I had been watching the coverage on TV after the first plane hit and saw the second plane crash live. We all saw things that day that are now a part of us. May this book be for you, as it was for me, a reminder of what our country can accomplish when we work together.
Profile Image for Maede.
264 reviews374 followers
May 23, 2022

منِ هفت ساله جلوی تلویزیون ایستاده بودم و با دهان باز به هواپیمایی نگاه می‌کردم که یک راست به سمت این برج بلند مستطیلی رفت و منفجر شد. یادمه بارها و بارها نگاه کردم و برام قابل درک نبود. چطور باید درک می‌کردم که این برج‌های در حال سوختن و ریختن زندگی من و میلیون‌ها آدم دیگر رو برای همیشه تغییر میدن؟

ساختمون‌ها اصلاً خالی بودن
هواپیمایی که به برج‌ها خورد مسافربری نبود که
پنتاگون رو خودشون با موشک زدن
برج‌های دوقلو رو خودشون بمب‌گذاری کرده بودن
یازده سپتامبر کار آمریکا برای حمله به افغانستان بود

سال‌ها تصویر من از یازده سپتامبر، همین برج‌های درحال ریختن و این جملات بود‌. جملاتی که همه به نحوی مسئله اصلی رو پنهان می‌کنند

اینکه ۲۹۹۷ نفر به تلخ‌ترین شکل ممکن جونشون رو از دست دادند. ۲۶۵ نفر در چهار هواپیما. ۲۰۶۰ نفر در برج‌های تجارت جهانی. ۱۲۵ نفر در پنتاگون

آدم‌هایی که یازده سپتامبر رو مثل هر روز دیگه‌ای شروع کردند. روزی که آسمان از همیشه آبی‌تر بود. سوار هواپیما شدند و به محل کارشون رفتند. اما فقط چند ساعت بعد، با چاقو کشته شدند. با هواپیما سقوط کردند. به دو ساختمان کوبانده شدند. آتش گرفتند. زیر آوار له شدند و یا از بیش از صد طبقه به پایین پریدند. آدم‌هایی که قربانی هدف‌ها و سیاست‌های کثیف شدند و پشت سرشون موجی از غم و درد رو به جا گذاشتند

تئوری‌های توطئه یازده سپتامبر شاید به اندازه خود این واقعه معروفند و محدود به هیچ کشوری نیستند. آیا مستقیماً کار آمریکاست؟ یا غیر مستقیم با استفاده از القاعده برنامه‌ریزی شد؟ یا اصلا مسلمانان تندرو القاعده مسئول این اتفاق هستند و آمریکا در عمل انجام شده قرار گرفت؟ حقیقت چیه؟
برای من حقیقتی که دنبالش بودم این نبود. چون می‌دونستم پیداش نمی‌کنم. می‌خواستم بدونم اون روز از ساعت هشت صبح چه اتفاقاتی افتاد که جهان پس‌لرزه‌هاش رو تا همین امروز تحمل می‌کنه. می‌خواستم بدونم هزاران آدمی که اونجا با چشم‌هاشون این اتفاق رو دیدند و خاکش رو نفس کشیدند، چه تجربه‌ای داشتند که راضی شدند عزیزانشون رو هزاران کیلومتر به این سمت کره زمین بفرستند تا بجنگند و خرابی و مرگ پشت سرشون بگذارند

و این کتاب دقیقاً همین کار رو کرد. تاریخ شفاهی یازده سپتامبر از زبان آدم‌هایی روایت میشه که این روز رو تجربه کردند. این تکه‌ها با مهارت فوق‌العاده‌ای کنار هم چیده شده و پازلی رو کامل می‌کنه که روایتی با جزئیات از دقیقه‌های این روز تاریخیه. در واقع این کتاب چکیده‌ی هزاران ساعت مصاحبه‌ست که در طول سال‌ها انجام شده

آدم‌های زیادی از تجربه‌ی خودشون میگن که پر از داستان‌های عجیب، تلخ و بی‌نظیره

آدم‌هایی که جون خودشون رو فدای بقیه کردند، مثل مردی که برای کمک به پایین آوردن مرد سنگین وزنی از نود طبقه جون خودش رو از دست داد
آدم‌هایی که برای نجات بقیه نقشه مرگ خودشون رو کشیدند، مثل مسافران پرواز چهارم که به کابین خلبان که تحت کنترل هواپیمارباها بود حمله کردند و هواپیما رو به زمین کوبیدند تا به ساختمانی برخورد نکنه
آدم‌هایی که ساعت‌ها زیر آوار عظیم منتظر نجات موندند و روحیه‌شون رو از دست ندادن، مثل زنی که ۲۷ ساعت در شرایط غیرممکن زنده موند
آدم‌هایی که شانس آوردند، مثل مردی که چو�� کلیدش رو جا گذاشته بود داخل دفترش نبود
و آدم‌هایی که در یک لحظه از عادی تبدیل به قهرمان شدند. مثل مدیر یکی از شرکت‌های واقع در برج دوم که با تخلیه به موقع و خودسرانه کارکنانش جون صدها نفر رو نجات داد و خودش زنده نموند
شنیدن این داستان‌ها سخت بود. خیلی. شش روز تمام ذهنم رو پر کرده بودند و نمی‌تونستم بهشون فکر نکنم

مدتی قبل تصمیم گرفتم که خبر خواندن و جریان‌سواری به آگاهی کمک چندانی نمی‌کنه و بیشتر فرمی از سرگرمی و برای جلوگیری از حس عقب نماندنه. با وجود اینکه اینجور کتاب‌ها مثل هر کتاب تاریخی‌ای اطلاعات غلط و درست دارند، تصویر بزرگتری به آدم میدن ک�� بهتر از ساعت‌ها خواندن خبرهای بی‌معنیه

نسخه صوتی

صوتی این‌ کتاب واقعا حرف نداشت! یک گروه ۴۵ نفری که هر کدوم نقش تعدادی از افراد رو اجرا می‌کنه و بخش‌هایی از تلفن‌های اصلی هم بهش اضافه شده بود. چون هم حجم زیادی داشت و هم فکر نمی‌کنم کسی بخوادش آپلودش نکردم. اما اگر خواستید بگید که اینکار رو بکنم

۱۴۰۰/۶/۲۵
بیستمین سالگرد یازده سپتامبر
Profile Image for Jonetta.
2,165 reviews885 followers
September 15, 2021
I was surprised when television networks began promoting their plans for the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as it’s hard to fathom that event happened that long ago. For most adults in this country, we vividly remember where we were the day the towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked and those brave souls on Flight 93 thwarted the terrorists’ attempt for a strike on our nation’s Capitol. But for all my ingrained memories, there was so much I always wanted to know about that day…questions I had that weren’t addressed in any of the massive coverage. When this audiobook was offered, I accepted immediately, hoping it would fill in those gaps.

From the first moments of this book, I knew it would far, far exceed my expectations and it did. It is a rich collection of first hand accounts from people who were in the towers and survived; family members who were in communication with loved ones on Flight 93 (more than we’ve heard from in the media); those who were in the area of the Pentagon when it was struck; air traffic controllers on duty that day; first responders who survived at the towers and who found the last survivors and those survivors; those who were on the ground when the towers fell and much much more. It’s presented almost minute by minute with every conceivable group who was impacted. Sprinkled throughout are the many acts of human kindness in ways I hadn’t imagined occurring throughout the country. Lastly, we get extraordinary accounts from members of the White House administration about how they responded to the crisis.

I chose to listen to this book on 9/11 after watching the morning coverage and was riveted. The contrast between the television retrospectives and what I was hearing through my headphones was remarkable. I listened for five straight hours without a break as the accounts were so compelling. It’s an editing masterpiece with the compilation brilliantly assembled in such a way that the stories felt cohesive even though they weren’t necessarily connected. There are lots of new material, too, specifically previously unreleased transcripts of what happened in the cockpit of Flight 93 as the passengers rebelled. It also includes detailed accounts of the nightmare on the ground when the towers fell, with firsthand accounts from many who were closely positioned. I could go on and on but just implore you to listen to this book, especially if you have children who were born post 9/11. It should also be used by educators in their curriculums. The full cast narration was simply outstanding. We should never, ever forget that day and how it changed America.

Posted on Blue Mood Café

(Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for my complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.)
Profile Image for Beata.
703 reviews1,063 followers
September 22, 2021
No review needed ... Accounts collected to remember the victims and the day ... Millions could add their stories of how they remember that tragic day, myself included. Thank you to Mr Graff.
Profile Image for Michelle.
589 reviews443 followers
September 11, 2021
There is no other rating to give.

My full review is still to follow, but I wanted to list the below quote from Senior Chief Petty Officer Rob O'Neill, SEAL Team Six, U.S. Navy who participated in the raid of UBL. It is perhaps what moved me the most and I have a feeling it's because of who said the words, but also that they were at the end of what was a very emotional experience. Again, my full review is still to come.


"...We went in there thinking this was a one way mission. We had our last meals with our families and our kids--I know I did--and then hand-wrote letters to our families. We had to find people and say, 'Hey, here's an envelope. If you don't see me tomorrow, you'll know what this is, and there are directions inside, but if you do see me tomorrow, give these back to me.'

People were saying to each other on the mission, 'If we know we're going to die, why are we going to go?" Then we talked about the people who jumped out of the Towers on a Tuesday morning. They didn't want to, they didn't know what was happening--all they knew was that it was 2500 degrees Fahrenheit and the better alternative than whatever hell was going on inside, in Windows of the World or at Cantor Fitzgerald, was to jump. They were not supposed to be in the fight. We all joined to be in the fight, and that's why we were going. We had that conversation about how the first ones to fight al-Qaeda were the passengers on Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. God knows how many lives they saved, but they killed themselves for the Western world. We had these conversations every night. That was why we went." (page 422)
Profile Image for Deborah.
731 reviews47 followers
December 8, 2019
September 11, 2001 - “We must not forget.” The crashes of American Airlines Flights 11 and 77 and United Airlines Flights 175 and 93. The collapses of the South and North Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The attack and fire at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The burning hole and scattered debris in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I like millions of others who were alive and of age will always remember September 11, 2001 in disbelief, horror, astoundment, and tears. I was listening to the car radio of a New York City resident describing outside her window the burning of the North Tower when the second tower was hit. Reading this book was an emotional roller coaster and gut wrenching. I kept on having chills, becoming tense, and was crying in anticipation and the occurrence of the unfolding events as described by the oral histories. Here are the voices of the witnesses and survivors who lived through that terrible day. There are no spoilers. You know what is going to happen. The U.S. came to a halt. Almost 3,000 people died of which nearly 400 were first responders. Powerful and poignant, here are a few of the voices:

“How in a clear-and-a-million day could someone hit the World Trade Center?”

“I have to get downstairs. I have to get to the lobby, and I have to get to help.”

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

“It was an “Oh shit” mode. That’s the best way to describe it - disbelief. We’re under attack.”

“I thought, So this is how it ends? Is this what life is – going to work, getting there like 7:00 in the morning, leaving at 5:00, taking an hour and a half each way to commute, and not having much of a life? Is this what it’s all about?”

“While I was walking down, they were going up to their deaths. And I was walking down to live. I will never forget this.”

“This was beyond anything that anybody had imagined.”

“But I’ve never felt as helpless as I did on that morning.”

“Every plane was considered a threat. We were asked probably 15 to 20 times, “Are you still with us?” It was total mass confusion.”

“When is this going to come to an end?”

“We thought we were in a war zone. We all gasped. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”

“What we went through will haunt us until the end of our lives.”

“We were the lucky of the unlucky to have those last words.”

“We really thought that the end of the world was upon us.”

“Maybe I am going to die. Maybe it is my time. How do I outrun this?”

“I thought I had died. I lost all sense. I had no sight. I had no smell. I had no hearing. Everything was just silent.”

“I never heard screaming like I did on that day. It was all men. It was unbelievable screaming.”

“There were times that day that it felt like an out-of-body experience. But you keep functioning, even though you don’t really believe it’s happening.”

“This is an attack the likes of which we’ve never seen before.”

“It was overwhelming.”

“It was devastating. The day never really ended.”

“It was chaos. People were running in every direction and they were crying. They were screaming.”

The author wrote that this work was a result of 17 years of a collective product from thousands of people. He cried almost every day when he did the first draft. I had to take breaks reading the first part of the book, because of the heart wrenching emotions stirred. I highly recommend you read this book.
Profile Image for Ginger.
722 reviews317 followers
July 28, 2021
This audio book was just amazing!

I just can't imagine a book about 9/11 that's better then this one.
Garrett M. Graff spent almost 20 years compiling all of these personal stories.

The Only Plane in the Sky is interviews and personal stories from all the people that experienced this terrible tragedy in American history.
From people in New York City, the Pentagon, the administration of the White House, to the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. It's all in this book.

I will say that this book is not easy to listen too.

It made me tear up many times and brought back all the horror of that particular day for me.
I was 23 and at work when all this happened on September 11th. I can still remember the panic, fear and uncertainty that I felt when all the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

If you would like to hear from all the personal experiences of fire fighters, police officers, bystanders, politicians, to the widows and parents that lost a loved one that day, check out this amazing collection of testimonies!
Profile Image for Suz.
1,049 reviews533 followers
May 13, 2022
Oh my. God bless America.

What a wonderful book. I enjoyed the audio format, and if I particularly love a title, I will purchase the hard copy. I now proudly own the hard cover version. I am reviewing this book months after reading; I found my notes last night and will put them in words now. The audio was excellent, my son and I listened to a good chunk on a road trip to my parents as they live over three hours away. He is ten years old and learned a good deal about this tragic event, and I am pleased he learned and was able to discuss it with his mum, who not only loves books, but also a complete fascination with New York.

This book was not to discuss the whys and how’s of this event. The bare facts are such as these. Pregnant women lost their partners that day, and in the days that followed. Those children grew into adults without a father. Children born of those times are now graduated and can serve in their country’s military. I can’t believe it’s been this long. I was in Australia at this time, another world away, also pregnant and two weeks away from giving birth. My husband rang and told me to turn on the news. I remember keeping the newspaper from that day. I didn’t keep it; I am sorry I didn’t.

The book is presented by many voices, and the change over was often rapid, with a new story popping up. There were so many different experiences told that I was in awe.

The day was an important one. It was voting day; the weather was beautiful and clear. A group of the first stories was from that of air traffic control, and real-life footage of cabin crew. This was astounding. I was in disbelief that I could hear these real people talk and hear their direct voice. It made me realise particularly how calm and measured cabin crew could be during an unprecedented situation.

A Port Authority policeman was dying in the rubble, he showed humour in his last minutes. Asking his commanding officer for a break, and his officer lovingly obliging. He then shot his gun to alert rescuers to their position.

The author’s intention was to capture the voice of this world event, so the next generations that were not alive to bear witness, can understand and continue the fight for justice and freedom.

The youngest victim was on the fateful airplane, a tiny human named Christine, and the first fire fighter to perish was struck down by a desperate human who jumped from The Towers. This statistical information is hard to get my head around.

I also had no idea that illnesses showing up to 8-10 years after the fact such as leukemia would be attributed to those near the site after the collapses. This isn’t just for emergency workers, employees of the area, first responders. It would be those handing out food and water, feeding those breathing in the enormity of the dust and debris. They were exposed to the rubble and died because they didn’t have the personal protective equipment to survive the conditions.

A story I remember is that of a flight call supervisor. She spoke with a man on the plane. My memory is rusty as my notes are brief, but she was talking to him as the plane went down and was being taken over by hijackers, and he wanted her to relay a message to his wife. She held the phone for many minutes after, wishing away the reality of him no longer being there. These are the human moments I would not have thought of, thus raising the questions of the millions of universe moments that occurred because of this historical day.

Hospitals were on alert and had their busy moments, but realistically they were empty while they waited for more survivors. There were no more.

I had no idea of the Lower Manhattan water evacuation. Zero idea. I had no idea. People were running for their lives. Women throwing their babies on board. They were jumping on to boats for their lives, and entire crews were made up from everyday citizens.

An alert went to all watercraft, private and public, yachts and ferries and all types turned up. Survivors turned up at the other end to normal surroundings, turning up looking like they had faced war. A man was on a stretcher strapped in and injured badly, he was loaded onto a craft, but the amazing tidal wave (my memory is sketchy here) meant he had nowhere to go. He had a terrible glass injury and last minute was released from the stretcher.

Babies separated from their mothers were downstairs in a craft in a small group, on the bottom bunk wrapped up like cocoons.

A man in the Trade Centre had a coffee in his hand and was surprised by remembering not to spill his coffee. A man fell toward him, arms out mummy like. He died between his legs. The surviving gentleman was able to go the memorial for this man.

The tenth day dawned and officially the site was declared as no chance of further survivors. It was so evident those searching would have kept going, it must have been utterly heartbreaking.

A firefighter received his visor after the carnage. It reached him via the helmet number and received uncleaned. This is the human side, the likes of which I would never have imagined.

A lasting piece of this story is that of Father Mychal Judge. He was declared the first official victim of that day. Frustratingly I cannot conjure the quote I liked. His comrades commented that he was preparing others to be received by God.. or words to that effect. He was much loved and wasn’t a conventional priest, this made me love him even more.

So. This is a very wordy and disjointed review months after my reading experience. I know my son was disappointed when I took the audio book back to the library (I requested my public library purchase it but assumed they’d procure the e-resource), but it turned out well to be able to listen with my son.

The book opens with the space station being able to see the smoke and the effects of this day. And of course, the detailed information on The President’s movement on that day also extremely interesting. Made even more challenging by the fact this was a new leadership, and staff were new and were not fully oriented.

This book taught me a lot and I’m happy to have the hard cover to refer to. It goes without saying those who relived their experience in laying their souls bare while going through this process are appreciated by this reader. A stellar job by the many archivists, librarians, journalists, authors, voice actors and the author. This was an epic that I hope will reach the new generations as intended, and those like me, who did not know a lot. Now I know a lot more.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
125 reviews82 followers
August 14, 2020
"...to all the children affected by 9/11. I hope this book helps you understand the world in which you live.”- Garrett Graff’s dedication

I am one of the 9/11 generation. Growing up, I had some grasp of Osama bin Laden and the War on Terror, an international threat usually on the fringe of my conscious and stoked on the backburner by news snippets. As for the day itself, I was still barely a year old. I have no memory of it, of where I was or of what emotions I had. But listening to these stories, I felt myself on the cusp of truly comprehending the way my entire nation was rocked by an immense tragedy that happened within a span of one day.

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 begins with September 10th, a day like any other day, the before to the after which was September 11th, 2001. That morning, it was severe clear, cloudless and brilliant blue skies, across the East Coast before Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower and Flight 175 into the South Tower just seventeen minutes later. Past which planes crashed where or how many people responded, this oral history lets multiple people construct a comprehensive American perspective of 9/11. Experiencing this in audiobook form made this feel even more an oral history, vital stories passed down in spoken word from people whose lives were irrevocably changed afterward. The audiobook lends itself to greater immersion with a multitudinous cast and real recordings of flight transmission to air traffic control or speech transcripts.

Graff allows a whole host of people—firefighters, policemen, nurses, government officials, air traffic controllers, students, family members, reporters—to breathe their personal accounts to life, showing extraordinary loss paralleled by extraordinary resilience. It is one thing to know that lives were lost and heroes rallied, but it is altogether another to hear these recollections populating a life-changing day in a near minute-by-minute progression: a flight attendant frantically calling in to notify ground control of hijackers on the plane; a security chief staying behind but likely saving thousands by evacuating Morgan Stanley workers early from the South Tower; seeing the burning Twin Towers on TV when a boom occurs, only to realize the Pentagon had just been hit too; hurried words of love and vulnerability spoken through telephone calls with passengers on those fated planes; office workers helping a pregnant woman down flight after flight of stairs.

The sheer breadth of this oral history manages to paint a horrifying but illuminating picture of the day. In the spaces between the facts, confusion, and gruesome death counts, The Only Plane in the Sky captures universal human emotion such that a one-sentence account from a relative can bring unbidden tears to your eyes. Such that a single yet vivid description is imprinted in your mind, imbuing you with shock and disbelief at the surreal unfolding of events. While listening to this book, I for the first time asked my own parents what they remember of 9/11. I was at home with my grandmother, they were both at work. As the news trickled in, they crowded in a small conference room with their colleagues to access a television, eyes glued to unfolding events with bated breath; normal life took a pause that day. This was a common story in a sea of them formed that Tuesday. Because of the painstaking collection of historians and interviewers across the years since, many more will be remembered.

This book has left me spent emotionally. It has left me contemplative of what it means to be part of a generation. Life-changing—world-changing—events happen like tides across one’s lifetime. In the aftermath of debris and trauma, the narratives that emerged from every corner are both inspiring and heartbreaking. I am years late to my understanding, but nonetheless here I am.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
511 reviews9,279 followers
September 2, 2019
Wow! This book is pretty incredible. The scope. The way it’s told. The first 1/3 is so captivating you can’t put it down even though it’s painful to read. This book forces the reader to deal with the minutiae of 9/11 in a way photos or video clips don’t. The scope of the book is impressive chronicling 9/11 in detail from start to finish.

The one thing that I didn’t love is there’s lots of people cited so it’s hard to keep track of certain stories or events over 400+ pages.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,433 reviews105 followers
October 6, 2022
This is an impossible book to review as there are no words to describe the effect it will have on the reader. The majority of us saw, with horror, the events of 9/11 unfolding on television as they happened and this book will bring them back vividly. You will remember exactly where you were, how you felt, and how you prayed (if you pray).

This book is comprised of the words from survivors, rescuers, the military, families, government, and even the words of those who perished through their last telephone calls to their families and friends. And it is overwhelming.

I don't need a long review for this book as there is no way to capture the feelings that it will elicit. It will move the reader to tears.

Profile Image for Ammar.
441 reviews217 followers
September 30, 2019
Powerful
Multi perspective
Shows how the events shaped the last 18 years of our lives
The way we travel
The way politics and war
Every mans life
Profile Image for Rick.
102 reviews231 followers
September 12, 2019
I can't remember another reading experience like this. Whatever your own experience of 9/11 was - and for all of us who lived through it, we remember where we were, what we were doing - Garrett takes that lived experience and makes the day come alive through the stories of hundreds of Americans, and makes you feel like your memories blend with those of the people whose stories are told on these pages.

I'd read the original magazine article that formed the basis of the book, and I remember thinking what a revelation it was to hear from those closest to the President what that day was like from their perspective. To take that and turn it into this book - with all the nuance, drama, emotion, loss, love - is an astounding achievement. I feel lucky to have read this on 9/11, and cannot recommend it highly enough.
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