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The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001

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“This is history at its most immediate and moving….A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham “Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric “The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it.” —Ande “This is history at its most immediate and moving….A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham “Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric “The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it.” —Anderson Cooper “Readers who emerge dry-eyed from the text should check their pulses: Something is wrong with their hearts.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 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 birth and 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. It begins in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, where we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher ter­rorists onto their flights, and then the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes themselves. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice 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 stop it from reaching its target. 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 across the country, Air Force One circles the nation 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 on separate floors in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter who rushes to the scene to search for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who keeps her promise to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who stays on the scene to perform 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.


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“This is history at its most immediate and moving….A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham “Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric “The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it.” —Ande “This is history at its most immediate and moving….A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham “Had me turning each page with my heart in my throat…There’s been a lot written about 9/11, but nothing like this. I urge you to read it.” —Katie Couric “The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it.” —Anderson Cooper “Readers who emerge dry-eyed from the text should check their pulses: Something is wrong with their hearts.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 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 birth and 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. It begins in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, where we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher ter­rorists onto their flights, and then the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes themselves. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice 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 stop it from reaching its target. 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 across the country, Air Force One circles the nation 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 on separate floors in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter who rushes to the scene to search for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who keeps her promise to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who stays on the scene to perform 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.

39 review for The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    I received this advanced reader's copy at a conference and I knew starting it that it was going to be difficult to absorb, as everyone know's how 9/11 ended. But this book was fantastically put together. It didn't choose a political side or speak ill of any of the victims or survivors. What it is, is those stories of people who never really got heard. The stories of not only the survivors and their families, but the other pilots in the sky, the politicians, the first responders to all three site I received this advanced reader's copy at a conference and I knew starting it that it was going to be difficult to absorb, as everyone know's how 9/11 ended. But this book was fantastically put together. It didn't choose a political side or speak ill of any of the victims or survivors. What it is, is those stories of people who never really got heard. The stories of not only the survivors and their families, but the other pilots in the sky, the politicians, the first responders to all three sites. The author put this together seamlessly and you can tell the amount of work that went into making each story be known as that person's personal story. That person's experience, heartbreak, fear, being shared with the world. Starting this book I knew I would be saddened by the stories I read, but also found a strength and resilience in human beings. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to know how these events could shape people in all different ways.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Smith

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mer

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mackenzie

  5. 5 out of 5

    Leora Bernstein

  6. 5 out of 5

    Julianna Haubner

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Schuer

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tierney

  10. 4 out of 5

    Latonia

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hany

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Sparks

  13. 4 out of 5

    Krystyna

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Peelow

  15. 5 out of 5

    Graham Edward

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jill

  17. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heather Carr

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  22. 5 out of 5

    Halle Mahoney

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  25. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Moone

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kaytee Bole (glitteringeyes418 on Instagram)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

  28. 4 out of 5

    melissa trentadue

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dustin Lee

  30. 5 out of 5

    Meg

  31. 4 out of 5

    Carly

  32. 4 out of 5

    Justine

  33. 4 out of 5

    Cassie Fleck

  34. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  35. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  36. 4 out of 5

    Fatima

  37. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea lupica

  38. 5 out of 5

    R Crandall

  39. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

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