Book review: ‘Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11’ by Mitchell Zuckoff

By TONI LANDIS

My husband is a retired firefighter who knew some of the New York City firefighters killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. He refuses to read this book. When I have mentioned to others that I read it, they responded with, “I don’t know how you do it.” I have to say in reading and re-reading a number of passages, I’m not sure I myself understand the need to revisit the day and the events described.

As historian Ian Toll pointed out in reference to Pearl Harbor, “Hindsight furnishes us with perspective on the crisis, but it also undercuts our ability to empathize with the immediate concerns of those who suffered through it.” To that end, author Mitchell Zuckoff seeks to “delay the descent of 9/11 into the well of history” and “attach names to some of the people directly affected by these events.” My nephew and stepdaughter were 2-year-olds when 9/11 took place, yet for all the war effort and money spent, their generation would have very little real understanding of what took place that day without books such as this one.

One of the most powerful aspects of “Fall and Rise” is Zuckoff’s work piecing together accounts of what took place in the air and on the ground. The juxtaposition of what folks on the planes were experiencing and the reaction of their families, airline colleagues, and air traffic controllers attempting to calm and assist them demonstrates the incredible confusion of the day. At no other time in U.S. history had a coordinated, multi-plane hijacking ever taken place. It was assumed that anyone hijacking a plane would allow the pilot to continue flying it and land it safely, with hijackers making demands from the ground.

However, what Zuckoff does equally as well is create solid character sketches of all involved — pilots, flight attendants, passengers, Trade Center and Pentagon employees, firefighters and EMT, and more so than any other account I’ve read, the people in and around Shanksville, Penn. While there are a number of powerful descriptions — some incredibly touching, others incredibly disturbing — Zuckoff’s detailed review of the Shanksville crash site was harrowing, to say the least. He certainly fulfills his goal in seeking to memorialize the day.

I lived for a while on Long Island and had a friend, Darcy, who worked in the Towers. We met for lunch once in the underground mall area. The only thing I really remember is how dwarfed I felt by the height of the building, very aware of the many, many floors stretching to the sky above me. Darcy was a very early riser and most certainly would have been at work on 9/11 had she not returned to Wisconsin — as I did — in the late 90s.

As Zuckoff intends, this book stays with you. You can’t forget. You won’t forget.

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