Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

Title: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survie Inside the Twin Towers
Authors: Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
Publisher: Times Books
Genre: Nonfiction
384 pages
Release Date: 2006

Everyone has their 9/11 story. I was a junior in high school and first heard rumors that something was happening as I was standing at my locker in the hallway. Later, my chemistry teacher would tell us what she had been told not to tell us: a plan had struck the World Trade Center. At lunch, my brother and a friend of mine, who had a car, came and found me saying they wanted to go home. So I checked out through the office and went home, clutching my little permission slip that said "Reason for leaving early: national emergency."

Little did I know at the time that 10 years later, I would move to New York City, where the events of 9/11 have yet to become as distant in New Yorkers' memories as they have for the rest of us who had only been indirectly affected and watched from a distance. In the book, 102 Minutes, they often reference the 1993 WTC bombings and note that by 2001, "even if the memory of that attack had lost some of its vigor, it still slept fitfully in every pore of the place." That same sentence can now just as easily reference the WTC attacks that occurred 14 years ago today.

Here I've heard first-person accounts from coworkers of their experiences on that day. People who had views of WTC on fire from the safety of their own buildings and people who had to walk all the way uptown to get home and people who lived nearby and had to show ID in order to get onto their own street. Here in NYC, if a building has a gas leak and explodes or if a subway train derails, it's inevitable that a local news reporter will interview a witness who says "The first thing I thought of was 9/11." It's never far from anyone's minds here - in fact, it's nearly impossible to forget it when you can look downtown from almost anywhere and see the new Freedom Tower slowly inching its way up into the sky.

But back in 2011, I was just on the cusp of 16 and at that age, I wasn't all that interested in the news. Of course I put it on as soon as I walked into my house that day, but I mostly just remember wishing my family would get home and be safe. I saw the constant replays on the towers falling and I heard the incessant talk of terrorism and war, but after a couple of weeks I was no longer glued to the tv. As a result, I paid no attention to reports that were released and discussed in the years to come - reports about the structural integrity of the buildings, blueprints designed and based only loosely on building codes, flaws in communication amongst the rescue teams...the list goes on.

102 Minutes cobbles together hundreds of interviews, phone messages, emails, emergency transcripts, and oral histories to give you a timeline of what happened to all of the very real people who were trapped in, escaping from, and ultimately dying in the Twin Towers during the 102 minutes between the first plane hitting and the second tower falling. This book is everything you'd expect and yet not at the same time. I knew I would get to read personal first-hand and second-hand accounts of what happened in the towers that day. I did not know I would get to read about technical aspects of the buildings and why they fell despite several people's adamance that they could withstand a plane hitting them. I expected to hear survival stories of people taking the stairs all the way down, but I never thought about the people who got stuck in elevators and knew nothing about what was going on the entire time. (By the time one guy got out of an elevator in the north tower, the south tower had already fallen and he didn't even know yet that airplanes had crashed into them.)

102 Minutes highlights the bravery of so many New Yorkers, and not just the first responders, while also highlighting the faults of the construction and why things went from bad to worse. The deaths on that day could never be justified, but it all did still lead to better standards when it comes to the construction of skyscrapers and the planning of fire safety and escape routes. I was surprised by some things and then moved by others. This book managed to take an event that saturated the news for years and turn it back into something that is very personal. It took buildings full of faceless people and gave them names and personalities and stories of their lives.
I can't recommend it enough.

heart (1)heart (1)heart (1)heart (1)heart (1)