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On American Ground

The September issue of the Atlantic Monthly having been delivered to subscribers by mail this past week, I was able to borrow my local public library's copy of the July/August one, and read the first part ("The Inner World," excerpted here) of William Langewiesche's three-part American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center (soon also to be published as a book).

The essay profits admirably from Langewiesche's apparently unrestricted access to the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11, and the people who worked to clear it. It suffers from none of the tedium typical of news reporting, which too often expends itself relating what you could have figured out just from the headline and a casual knowledge of human nature (customer service was a mess; the deceased was beloved; and the little guy says no one listened to him when he tried to prevent whatever it was from happening in the first place); instead, "The Inner World" focuses on what Langewiesche actually saw and learned first hand (while deftly filling in additional details and background elements, as well as the events of Sept. 11 itself, through other people's eyes), and portrays the disaster and the subsequent clean-up in all-too human terms.

Langewiesche's interpretations of some of his subjects' motivations rang hollow for me — his character development lacks subtlety, I suppose — but I have every intention of reading the two remaining parts of American Ground. It tells the story, as much as I suspect it will ever be told, in the voices of the people who were there, not just during, but also before and after; it's exactly the kind of reporting that is worth reading.

August 11, 2002 3:54 PM


It might sound non sequitor (but it isn't) to the literal-minded, but a great book to read after would be Lincoln's Greatest Speech. Its short, easily read in one sitting, but places the whole event (and subsequent struggle, yet fully realized) into nice theological context.

And, by the way, i think they should read the Gettysburgh Address every Sept11th over the WTC Victims' Memorial.


Posted by rob adams on August 12, 2002 2:49 PM

I urge all to boycott this absurd collection of lies and false accusations made by Langewiesche in this book. His improper and innaccurate stories of firefighters stealing articles of clothing and other retail items during this catastrophe are unfounded and ridiculous. He made his claims of looting only after he witnessed the removal of Ladder 4 from the rubble pile and noticed the apparatus was filled with clothing items. He failed to mention that every void was filled with like debris due to the implosion of the building and its' contents. Shame on you.

Posted by Dan Preston on November 25, 2002 12:23 PM

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