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What I'm Reading (No. 34): the 9/11 edition
Back in April, I read Lawrence Wright's incredible work The Looming Tower. It traced the origins of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the new world we all found ourselves in on the morning of September 12th, 2001, when innocence was seemingly lost for all time. (You can read my review of that book here.)
Since then, I've read a couple more books in the 9/11 genre, and figured this week was the perfect time to share them.
The Man I Never Met by Adam Schefter
In the early morning of September 11, 2001, NFL reporter Adam Schefter was in Denver, working on stories about the local Broncos. While originally from New York, he had been in Colorado for a long time, cementing his status as a big-time sports reporter, but never feeling quite fulfilled in his personal life.
Joe Maio, husband to Sherri and father to 15-month-old Devon, was on the 105th floor of One World Trade Center (the north tower). He worked for the ill-fated team at Cantor Fitzgerald. Joe didn’t ever again came home to his young family.
Back in Denver, Schefter was glued to his TV all day, brokenhearted about what was happening in a way that only New Yorkers could relate to.
About 5 years later, Adam had moved back to New York to work for the NFL Network. And in the summer of 2006, he went out on a first date with widowed Sherri. They clearly had a connection.
Near the end of the date, Adam and Sherri were talking in his car, and the topic of birthdays came up. Adam said that his was December 21st, at which point Sherri got chills. Her late husband’s birthday was also December 21st. (And I got chills just writing that.)
Though not always a smooth road, fast-forward a couple years and they’re married, have a daughter of their own, and haven’t forgotten Joe’s memory — not even for a day. They in fact still live in the house that Joe and Sherri bought together, and pictures of him adorn some of the nooks and crannies. It may sound odd at first blush, but it never comes across that way. Adam recognizes the role Joe played in the family’s beginnings.
While Schefter is now one of the most widely known sports reporters on the planet, his own meteoric rise is not much a part of this book. It’s really about Joe, and Sherri, and how the immeasurable tragedy of 9/11 could actually pave the way for joy and new life.
There are plenty of books about 9/11 that cover the broad strokes, but this memoir hits on the very human element of that day. That said, it’s not an overly sad story. Of course it starts that way, but as with everything, life goes on, and becomes beautiful again.
The writing isn’t all that poetic or gripping in and of itself, but Schefter tells such a moving, humble story that it reads beautifully and is sure to stick with you long after you put it down.
Confession: I started reading this book at a Starbucks, and had to stop at page 26 because I was crying. Had I kept going I would have been a very public, blubbering mess.
If you want to read about 9/11 and feel uplifted by the end, this is a great new book for ya.
Manhunt by Peter Bergen
When I wrote about The Looming Tower back in April, I noted that the book ended on 9/11, with bin Laden disappearing into the Afghan-Pakistani hinterlands. Bergen's Manhunt picks up right where Wright left off, and he does not disappoint. bin Laden was of course the world's most wanted man, and yet it still took 10 years to track him down. How did he hide for so long?
Admittedly, I was a little bored and a little lost for the first quarter or so of the book. That's partially just because there wasn't much info to work with for the first handful of years after 9/11. The low-tech Al-Qaeda network was obviously super secretive, and our intelligence services weren't drumming up any leads.
But then . . .
Then they found a suspicious compound in Abbottobad, Pakistan. And General William McRaven planned a covert operation that would go down in history.
From there, I couldn't stop reading, and quite literally stayed up too late finishing the book.
Beyond just the raid itself that killed bin Laden, this is also a book about politics and our American military machine. President Obama, particularly, heavily ratcheted up the use of Special Forces and drones, enacting many thousands of missions per year in war against "terror." There was also pretty extensive use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. All of this allowed him and his generals to operate behind closed doors without informing Congress or the public at all. It was quite a clandestine, multi-year operation. There were more politics involved than might be obvious at first blush.
Ultimately, as Bergen makes abundantly clear, bin Laden died a coward's death rather than the heroic martyrdom he had always envisioned for himself. And thankfully, that is exactly how history will remember him.
Take some this next week to remember those who died on 9/11, and those left behind whose lives are still affected today. As Schefter noted in his memoir, September used to be the perfect New York City month, but it's now just tinged with sadness.
What did you read this week? As always, I love to hear and I take your recommendations to heart!