It’s been 20 years since the day that changed New York City, the country, and even the world, but I still feel no closer to comprehending what happened on 9/11 than I could as a confused six-year-old wondering why our parents were picking us up from school so early in the day. As I was trying to think about what sort of article I could write to commemorate this day, I realized that despite being well-acquainted with post-9/11 anxiety and sadness, I don’t know much about the Twin Towers before 9/11 nor the defiant Freedom Tower that was built in its stead. Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels this way and wants a fuller picture. So here are three books that help tell the story of the Twin Towers, 9/11, and the Freedom Tower.
Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade Center by Angus Gillespie
It’s weird to see anything that mentions the Twin Towers without the shroud of sadness or foreshadowing of its fate. But since this history of Twin Towers was published at the end of 1999, the tone of this written time capsule is (perhaps jarringly) cheerful and optimistic, capturing what a typical 24 hours would look like at the World Trade Center from the perspective of the people who worked there. While it does a good job humanizing the Twin Towers, be aware that it is a little light on the history of its construction and the controversies that surrounded it.
Tower Stories: an Oral History of 9/11 by Damon DiMarco
With interviews from survivors, first responders, and dazed bystanders, this book presents first-hand accounts of the 9/11 tragedy. Needless to say, this is an emotional read. Depending on the edition you get, the section of analysis at the end of the book may seem out of place to you. Skip that part and focus on the stories of the New Yorkers who lived through that surreal day.
Once More to the Sky: The Rebuilding of the World Trade Center by Scott Raab and Joe Woolhead
This isn’t your typical account of a building’s construction. There is no cold, clinical recitation of facts about how many slabs of concrete were needed to lay the foundation or how many steel beams the workers used. Instead, this book focuses on the people and stories behind the Freedom Tower’s construction. It is human and, dare I say, entertaining to read (respectfully, of course). Plus, the photographs are incredible.
While there isn’t much I can say to help make sense of 9/11 and the buildings at the center of its story, I hope these books provide some understanding of this Lower Manhattan site and its legacy. Are there any other books you would add to this list?