October 19, 2017

Recommended Reading

Following the lead of other bloggers, I’ll be writing occasionally to recommend books or articles that I found interesting. Today, I’m recommending two books that could hardly be more different in topic and tone.

The 9/11 Commission Report

This book was a real surprise. I started reading from a sense of obligation, but I was quickly hooked. It isn’t light reading, and parts are simply horrifying; but it explains the events of 9/11, their causes, and the aftermath with admirable depth and clarity. Most surprising of all is the quality of the writing, which rivals the best journalism or historical writing. The tick-tock in Chapter 1 is riveting and will surely be the definitive account of what happened that day.

The Commission had broad access to documents and people, a sizeable staff, and bipartisan national support, all of which allowed them to see clearly the history of the 9/11 plot, the U.S. government’s efforts to deal with al Qaida over the years, and the response to the attacks. Much of this is eye-opening. The sheer chaos and lack of information flow that confronted first responders is sobering. We also see the national security community’s wavering focus on the al Qaida threat and the gathering of significant intelligence about it, coupled with a cultural inability to strike boldly against it before 9/11.

Overall, the report was much better than I expected – much better, really, than a government commission report has any right to be.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania, by Warren St. John

Bummed out by the 9/11 report? This book is the antidote. It’s a group portrait of the most rabid University of Alabama football fans, written by a New York journalist who grew up in Alabama and knows firsthand the lure of Bama football. It’s a nicely polished little book packed with laugh-out-loud moments.

A typical vignette introduces a couple who skipped their own daughter’s wedding to go to a Bama football game. (The game got over in time for them to attend the reception.) They seem like fairly normal people, and when asked to explain why they did this thing, they’re at a loss. The author reports asking many Alabamans what they thought of the couple’s story. Three-quarters shook their heads and wondered why in the world loving parents could skip their daughter’s wedding. The other quarter shook their heads and wondered why in the world a loving daughter would schedule her wedding on the day of the Tennessee game.

The beauty of the book is that the author doesn’t caricature the fans. He tells their stories sympathetically, and one comes to see their obsession as not so different from the obsessions or hobbies that many of us have. Indeed, the author himself is gently pulled into their community, buying himself an RV and driving it to the games just like the most devoted fans. He weaves together the stories of the fans, his own story of being drawn into their world, and references to academic studies of fans and their behavior, into a revealing and very entertaining mix. I’m a big fan of this book.

Comments

  1. Clinton Blackmore says:

    After you’ve read the 9/11 Commission Report, I’d highly recommend that you read The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin.

    The book is well written, with many footnotes, and looks at some of the inconsistencies of the events on September 11th as they have been reported to us, and there are many. The book’s aim is to make us look at the available evidence and demand to know what really happened.

    Now then, while I found the information to be very credible, you certainly don’t have to believe what the book says; however, I feel that if you really want to understand something, you should look at it from both sides and have an open mind — especially if you value the scientific method or your freedom to dissent.

    (Hmm… I guess that means that I really need to read the 9/11 Commission Report myself. I’m glad to hear that it is a worthwhile read. It will be interesting to hear what the other side has to say.)

  2. Cypherpunk says:

    I wish it were possible to see the TV coverage of the morning of 9/11 over again, in real time, exactly as it happened. The first reports, the early footage of the burning tower, the second plane hitting, the pentagon attack, rumors of more planes coming down… I think it would be tremendously dramatic and exciting. All you ever see now are two second long excerpts. It has none of the impact of seeing the story unfold at its own pace, amid all the confusion and panic that we all felt that day.

  3. Random Note. The 9/11 Commision Report is available as a $4.95 download from the iTunes Music Store, in Audible audo book format. 20 hours, 42 minutes, unabridged.

    http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playlistId=19587519

  4. Is there anywhere where it’s available for free? Given that it’s already been paid for, by peoples’ tax dollars, it would be rather questionable to require it to be paid for again. Let alone again, and again, and again, and again for each person who wants to look at it…