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

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone in my generation has their story of where they were on 9/11. And it seems to be one of the rare topics of conversation that elicits both one’s undivided attention and a sense of visceral empathy. More than any other single event I can think of, we want to hear what someone else’s experience is, and we want to share our own.

In “The Only Plane in the Sky,” Garrett Graff recounts the “Where were you” stories from hundreds of first responders, survivors, air traffic controllers, family members, politicians, journalists, military personnel, schoolchildren, and bystanders. He then organizes them chronologically and geographically, skipping back and forth between Manhattan, Arlington, Shanksville, Air Force One, and even the International Space Station. The result is a nearly minute by minute account of that flawless, terrible day. If you are looking for interpretation, this isn’t the book for you. This is the first draft of history before even the journalists got to it. It is raw, emotional, uplifting, and sad all at the same time, and for me, it was nearly un-put-down-able.

The audiobook is excellent, utilizing a cast of nearly forty voice actors, as well as archival audio of cockpit conversations with air traffic control, presidential speeches, and live journalism. When it comes to voicemails between victims and their family members, however, the audiobook mercifully does not provide the actual recordings. Personally, I am grateful for that modicum of discretion. What is there is devastating enough.

The Only Plane in the Sky is a powerful experience for anyone that lived through that day, and is essential reading for anyone that did not. It is a book that will stay with me for awhile.

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