Review: 102 Minutes

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

This book is a meticulous account of what happened inside the World Trade Center from the time the first plane struck until the second tower collapsed, 102 minutes later. From the authors’ note:

Like the passengers on the unsinkable Titanic, many of the individuals inside the World Trade Center simply did not have the means to escape towers that were promised not to sink, even if struck by airplanes. In the struggle to live, those who survived and those who did not sent out hundreds of messages. They gave us the history of those 102 minutes.

The level of detail holds your attention, and even though you know how the story ends, the writing invests you in the final fate of a variety of characters: firemen, businesspeople, and even the lowly security guard who stays at his post on an upper floor helping people evacuate. This book brings the horror home:
They peered out. Debris had rained onto the plaza— steel and concrete and fragments of offices and glass. Above them, they could see the east side of the north tower, and also its northern face. Instead of the waffle gridding of the building’s face, they now saw a wall of fire spread across ten or fifteen floors. Then they saw the people coming out the windows, driven toward air, and into air. The plane had struck not two minutes earlier.

The authors of this book are reporters for the New York Times who had previously covered the 1993 bombing attempt. As they recount the final moments of the Twin Towers, they also shine light on the various ways the towers were built on the cheap, with safety features being removed in the name of more rentable space. Also interesting is the NYFD response, and how inter-agency fueds may have contributed to the high death toll among firefighters.

This book puts you into the buildings, and with each turning page you are frantic, knowing the end is closing in:

The word to leave finally got to Steve Modica, the aide to fire chief Paolillo, who had watched, uncomprehending, as police officers pounded down the stairs at the 30th floor. A fire captain, coming down after the police officers shouted at him.

“Evacuate! Evacuate! I want everyone to evacuate the building.” Then the captain continued down. Modica tried to reach Chief Paolillo, but couldn’t raise him. He switched to all three channels used by the department. He still could not get anything. He considered the circumstances, and would recall thinking: “We were doing nothing. Nothing. What’s the plan? Nobody had a plan.” He started down the stairs.

102 Minutes, A.

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