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Book Review: 'The Only Plane In The Sky' Is A Riveting Oral History Of Sept. 11


This past week, as our country has been dealing with the global pandemic of COVID-19, I’ve been listening to The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, an audiobook that chronicles in vivid detail one of the worst disasters in American history.

I didn’t plan it this way: I downloaded The Only Plane in the Sky after it was named 2020’s Audiobook of the Year. The 16-hour volume features a cast of more than 45 voices led by narrator Holter Graham, and it is absolutely riveting.

The book -- and this time around, I highly recommend audio over print -- is the first comprehensive oral history of Sept. 11 -- a stunning narrative woven from the voices of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events. We hear from the ticket agents who unknowingly ushered terrorists onto their flights; the astronaut who can see smoke billowing from lower Manhattan; the firefighter searching for his wife, who works at the World Trade Center; the FDNY chaplain who performs last rites for the dying; the family members of airline passengers, who recount the final words they shared with loved ones.

The Only Plane in the Sky is an audio and historical masterpiece. Journalist Garrett Graff draws on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, interviews and oral histories from nearly 500 people. The audio edition includes chilling archival audio from in-flight communications and air traffic control during the attack.

If you remember exactly where you were on 9/11, listen to this book. If you’re too young to recall 9/11, listen to this book. And if you’re struggling with how to deal with our current global emergency, listen to this book. Its message is a timely reminder of how ordinary people, working together, can weather any crisis.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.