Commentary: 9-11 book by Reuters is sensitive, detailed & colorful

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It wasn’t long after last year’s terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon before the books started flying off the presses. One of them was published by the respected British news organization Reuters.

Called After September 11: New York and the World, British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote the book’s foreword. The book traces the attacks from impact through the war the United States launched against Afghanistan.

Before we go further, I have to admit a bias up front – I like Reuters and I was a Reuter’s correspondent. I like this book, too, with reservations.

I’m not sure if this is a word book with pictures, or a picture book with words, but either way, the combination works.

“Everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the September 11 terrorist attacks,” Blair said in the foreword. “The essays and the photographs in this book help tell the story of how individuals and nations struggled to come to terms with the enormity of September 11, its impact around the globe and our response and the efforts made to reduce the chances that such an appalling crime could be repeated.”

Reuters has a large contingent of reporters and photographers in New York and Washington, D.C., and like hundreds of other journalists in those cities on September 11, they did their job. They took pictures, interviewed people, and some believed they saw angels.

One thing that sets this book apart from the pack is that the pictures are adequately described in the text, something I find lacking in many coffee table books. And being journalists, those captioning the photographs were able to find a story inside the picture.

Reporters tell about Port Authority engineer Mark Jakubek, who along with several other Port Authority workers, frantically searching for a set of wire cutters to free two people trapped in an elevator on the 72nd floor of Tower One. Frantic to get out, the area filling with smoke and only minutes before it collapsed, the group knew there were no wire cutters to be found.

Out of nowhere and with choking smoke billowing through the building, Jakubek said a stranger came up behind him and handed him a pair of cutters, saying simply, “I think you are looking for this.” Jakubek said, “I looked and saw a man without a face, without features… there was no question there were angels in that building that day.”

In another example, a Reuter’s reporter went to Manhattan, Kansas, which affectionately calls itself “the Little Apple,” as the first anniversary of the attacks neared. He attended a local church, talked to the mayor and went to little league baseball games. He found out how people from the heartland felt about the attacks. Like people everywhere, they had a difficult time believing such a thing could happen to the United States. He found they started going to church more often; they spent more time with their families.

However, the book has its flaws. A disconcerting aspect is its flow. Maps and illustrations seem to pop up randomly through the book. The illustrations are excellent and show how the disasters unfolded, but to my liking, they should have been grouped, perhaps a separate chapter, even.

As mentioned earlier, the book follows the actions the United States took in Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden. It also delves into the anthrax scare which killed five and infected several others.

If you want a photographic essay of Sept. 11 and its aftermath, filled with solid reporting, this will be a good addition to your library.

Reuters is a worldwide news organization, with some 2,300 reporters, photographers and television journalists in 230 bureaus. The book is published by Prentice Hall.