Updated: Mar 30, 2020
The Only Plane in the Sky is an oral account of September 11, 2001, told from the perspective of the people who were directly affected that day. The story is a compilation of experiences from survivors, first responders, witnesses, their families, airport and government employees, and citizens of the US throughout the country. The amount of time invested in obtaining all of these accounts had to have been massive, but it is a unique take on the day that I felt had a greater impact on me than reading a historical account of the day.
Almost everyone can tell you what they were doing on 9/11. I was in middle school and went to my 9am study hall when I heard a fellow student crying and saying something about the World Trade Center. I had never heard of that place before and quickly after a teacher pushed a television cart into the room. She turned the news on and seconds later, we all witnessed the plane hitting the second tower. I did not fully understand what was going on, but tears instantly filled my eyes. All day, we watched the news in stunned silence. I went home and turned the news on, watching the same replay of the towers falling. My mother told me to turn the TV off because there was not going to be anything new. I did not understand the gravity of the situation, but I knew something bad had happened and things were forever changed. I wrote about it in my journal, but overall, life did not change drastically for me. I did not know anyone who was injured or killed from the attacks and being in Wisconsin, I was far removed from what happened in New York City, Arlington VA, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. This book gives an in depth perspective of those directly affected and is eye opening to those who were not directly impacted.
The accounts in this book will evoke a wide range of emotions. Some chapters are incredibly heavy and hard to read/listen to, especially the chapter on the people who chose to jump from the higher stories, the final goodbyes on the highjacked airplanes, and all the accounts from those who lost a loved one. Other chapters are empowering and are a reminder of some of the good that came out of that day; strangers helping each other, President Bush and Major Giuliani stepping up to the plate and fulfilling the roles they were elected to do, and the strength that first responders and ordinary citizens displayed.
I purchased this book from McNally Jackson in New York City. I was surprised to find that it was not on display and I had to scour the shelves to find it. While in New York City, I visited the 9/11 memorial and spoke with colleagues about their experiences that day. The overarching sense that I picked up on was that 9/11 was not just one day in NYC resident's lives, it is every day. They lived it and they still live it. It is something that comes up in weekly, if not daily ,conversation, and it forged a bond within the community that was incredibly powerful. Maybe the book was not on display because other new releases were taking priority by the time I got there, but maybe it was not on display because the accounts in that book are embedded in NYC's residents. They don't need to read about it, because they still live it.
If you are new to audiobooks, do yourself a favor and listen to The Only Plane in the Sky. I have never listened to an audiobook with this large of a cast, but wow, did it do the story justice. While I listened to this on audio, I am glad I purchased it, because there are sections with pictures from the day. It also feels like one of those books where you need to own it because it is part of our history as Americans. I will eventually read this book again and it will be one that I will pass down to my children when they are old enough to understand the impact that single day had on our country.
Whatever format you choose, audio or physical, read this book. It is one of those that all of us should read and it should be incorporated in high school curriculum. The Only Plane in the Sky receives all the stars for me. It is one of those rare books that changes you as a reader. I am better for having read it.