“This is history at its most immediate and moving….A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham
“The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it.” —Anderson Cooper
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.
Garrett M. Graff, a magazine journalist and historian, has spent more than a dozen years covering politics, technology, and national security. He’s written for publications from Wired to The New York Times, and served as the editor of two of Washington’s most prestigious magazines, Washingtonian and POLITICO Magazine. His books include Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die,The Threat Matrix: The FBI War in the Age of Global Terror and The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.
“One of the most emotional reading experiences I’ve ever had. But it’s emotional in a cathartic way. There’s enough distance now that you feel in a strange way uplifted in that we went through this horrible thing and we were changed by it, but we got through it. We kept going.” —Jofie F., VP, Publisher, on The Only Plane in the Sky
“Powerful . . . Graff excels at re-creating the anxiety and terror of that day . . . Readers who emerge dry-eyed from the text should check their pulses: Something is wrong with their hearts.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“This is history at its most immediate and moving. In The Only Plane in the Sky, Garrett Graff has crafted an enduring portrait of a deadly and consequential day, a day that has shaped all other subsequent days in America for nearly two decades. A marvelous and memorable book.” —Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America
“Although many years have passed since 9/11, this book, told with such immediacy, brings so vividly back to mind the shock of that day, and why it continues to shape the tragic history that has followed.” —Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower
“The Only Plane in the Sky is a stunning and important work—chilling, heartbreaking—and I cannot stop thinking about it. To hear the voices of those who survived, and those who did not, is so moving and powerful. I learned so much, and am so thankful for this book.” —Anderson Cooper, author of Dispatches from the Edge
“Raw, emotional, and intense, this jaw-dropping narrative, composed entirely of firsthand accounts, strips away the politics that have grown up around 9/11 and have clouded its brutal impact on the American psyche. Rarely is history delivered with such vivid sensory detail. Garrett Graff’s meticulous reporting transported us, with visceral clarity, back to those horrifying hours that changed us all forever.” —Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic, authors of Indianapolis
“Garrett Graff has deftly used oral history to take us into the one of the most horrific and consequential moments in American history, in a book that will be particularly important for those readers too young to remember September 11, 2001.” —Michael Beschloss, author of Presidents of War
“9/11 is one of the hinge events of American history and Garrett Graff adds considerably to our knowledge of the horrors and the heroism that characterized that terrible day. The Only Plane in the Sky is a deeply researched and authoritative account.” —Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt
“A truly riveting book, at once tragic and thrilling, and a testament to the power of memory.” —Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes