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Book Review: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett Graff

I was so excited to have received a copy of this from the publisher (Octopus Publishing Group). It had been on my radar for sometime and it really did not disappoint.

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff

Genre: Non-fiction

BUG Rating: 4.5/5

Overall: This book is beyond special. The first thing you notice is the structure and layout. I love how different it is. Graff begins the book on the day prior to September 11th 2001, and then continues into the weeks and months following the heartbreaking tragedy. 

The book was put together so brilliantly. It’s the story of everyone – the victims, the survivors, the families waiting for news, other pilots, the politicians, the emergency services, the American in space and so on. It was not just one person’s experience, it’s the memories of hundreds of Americans. This was not a book I could get through in one sitting. It was incredibly emotional, and heart breaking. I dipped in and out of the book alongside reading another book. There were also photos included from the site, flight plans etc, and the index was really well done – making it easy to look up names of survivors, victims etc mentioned in the book. 

If I had to try and sum this book up in 3 words, they would be: Powerful, terrifying and heart breaking. If you only read one non fiction – it needs to be this!


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 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.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, officials 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 bring it down. 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 nationwide, Air Force One circles the country 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 in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs 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.

I received a free advanced copy of this book from Octopus in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions are my own. 

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