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10 Powerful Nonfiction Books About 9/11

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • September 10, 2023

Twenty-two years have passed since September 11, 2001, but for many of us the horror of that day still feels fresh. Gaining a better understanding of both the causes and the impacts of the deadly attacks can be helpful in managing any lingering fear or grief we feel. For younger generations, learning about what happened offers critical perspective. Here are ten excellent books about the events surrounding 9/11.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

In a "heart-stopping" narrative that spans five decades, Lawrence Wright explains in gripping detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. (This history was dramatized in a limited series.)

102 Minutes

NYT reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn draw on firsthand accounts from rescuers and survivors, to weave together this epic portrait of the struggle, determination, and grace of the men and women who lived through the harrowing experience from the inside.

The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden

Exclusive interviews with family members and associates, and newly uncovered documents inform Peter Bergen's fascinating portrait of the man who set the course of American foreign policy for the 21st century, and whose ideological heirs we continue to battle today.

The Only Plane in the Sky

Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and more, award-winning journalist Garrett Graff paints a vivid and human portrait of the day told through the voices of the people who experienced it.

The 9/11 Commission Report

Since September 11, 2001, Americans have wondered how the tragic events of that day could have occurred. With top-notch reporting and analysis by the New York Times, this is the complete report of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.

Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

Far from being a retelling of well-known events, Robert Draper's balanced insider account of George W. Bush's episodic presidency plumbs both the natural drama and the behind-the-scenes granularity of the 43rd POTUS's eventful term.

The Day the World Came to Town

From Jim DeFede comes the heartwarming story of the tiny Newfoundland town that served as a safe haven to thousands of stranded and traumatized travelers whose flights were diverted when U.S. airspace closed. From food and shelter to emotional support, the citizens of Gander stepped up.

Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016

In 2005, Steve Coll won a Pulitzer Prize for Ghost Wars, a history of the covert wars that sowed the seeds of the September 11 attacks. This excellent follow-up offers a forensic examination of America's subsequent efforts—intelligence, military, and diplomatic—to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Day That Shook America: A Concise History of 9/11

Why did American policies toward terrorism fall so far short of defending against the 9/11 attacks? Was the tragedy preventable? This book by J. Samuel Walker offers perspective and insight on these questions, as well as arresting new details about the events of September 11, 2001.

The Lives They Saved: The Untold Story of Medics, Mariners, and the Incredible Boatlift That Evacuated Nearly 300,000 People on 9/11

The falling towers necessitated the closure of bridges and tunnels, leaving many New Yorkers trapped in dire conditions. Drawing from artifacts and oral histories, this book by L. Douglas Keeney shares the little-known story of the epic evacuation of more than 250,000 people from lower Manhattan.

Although the shock and pain of the September 11 attacks may ease over time, we are still living with the ramifications of this dark moment in our nation's history. It's important to take time to reflect on these lasting impacts and the lessons we can learn from what happened. We must never forget.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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