Watching the World Change The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11

David Friend




Trade Paperback

480 Pages



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A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year Watching the World Change is an account of the most universally observed news event in human history: the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Imperiled office workers, horrified tourists, professional photographers, documentary makers who happened to be filming in downtown Manhattan that day: these were the people who, facing disaster, took photographs of it, and so placed the horror of the attacks before our eyes. Their images were beamed around the world immediately, so that two billion people watched the terrible events as they were happening. Here David Friend tells the stories behind the images that altered our sense of the world forever—from the happenstance shots taken by bystanders as the north tower was struck to the now-iconic tableau of three firefighters raising the Stars and Stripes at the site that would soon be known as Ground Zero. He takes us back, day by day, through the week after the attacks, reminding us that photographs were at once a shock to the senses and an anchor to reality—as distraught families posted snapshots of their missing loved ones, police sought terrorists' faces on security-camera videotapes, politicians used photo ops to project reassurance and authority, and scientists employed forensic photography to identify the dead. He explains how advances in television, digital photography, and the Internet, coming together at the turn of the millennium, made 9/11 an awful opening to a new visual age. And he explores the controversy over whether the images of 9/11 are exploitative or redemptive—and shows how photographs help us to witness, to grieve, and finally to understand the unimaginable.


Praise for Watching the World Change

"A brief review can't do justice to Watching the World Change, a lucid, thoughtful, and wide-ranging book. In truth, Friend's excellent writing conveys more of the truth of the day than photographs can."—Garrison Keillor, The New York Times
"[A] wide-ranging and stimulating book . . . reveals the myriad functions photography can perform in our lives, from the therapeutic to the inspirational, the forensic to the propagandistic."—Chicago Tribune
"A tour de force . . . a welcome reminder of the unique power of still photography to capture a moment in time."—The Oregonian
"Turns a familiar story around and helps us understand why we saw events as we did . . . Mr. Friend also has an excellent analysis of al Qaeda's cunning media strategy."—Wall Street Journal
"Powerful, riveting . . . Friend is always a profoundly empathetic writer."—San Francisco Chronicle
"This beautifully written book brings meaning to a terrible time."—The Times Picayune (New Orleans)
"An engaging account that makes readers feel that no image is really complete until we understand the history behind it."—The Hartford Courant
"Friend has done a massive amount of gumshoe work in tracking down the stories behind the images themselves."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"As I read Watching The World Change, my pulse began to quicken. This is an intricately woven tale of that terrible day, and terrible week, that is both gripping and thought-provoking. The images, of course, are seared in our consciousness, but after reading this book you will look at them in a whole new way. Much has been written about 9/11, but David Friend shows it to us as no one has before."—Anderson Cooper
"The crystalline images of September 11 soon became blurred, either by hysteria or exploitation or by a certain reticence that mutated into near-denial. At last we have a book that looks steadily through the lens and does not flinch, but which cancels voyeurism by its care and measure and by the multiplicity of its perspectives."—Christopher Hitchens
"To read Watching the World Change is an overwhelming experience. Beautifully written and observed, as a tribute to the dead, it embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the world more than anything written after the events of that day. A reader can only bear witness to the tenderness and wisdom at the core of this book, which distinguish it throughout. David Friend's passionate sympathy engages the reader without relenting. Just about all the observations that might be sought from the events of that day are here: victims, survivors in every sense, responders. Loss, pride, a helix of sorrow and shame along the meridians of the world. Along with its records of grief, Watching the World Change celebrates the courage to go on, which may be the most admirable and irreplaceable of human virtues."—Robert Stone
"Compelling . . . [Watching the World Change] demonstrates the power and pathos of an unforgettable event."—Booklist
"[An] important analysis of how images of 9/11 and the 'war on terror' have altered our understanding of power, world politics, religion and identity, [David Friend] successfully merges reportage and analysis as he interprets the images of falling towers, panic in Manhattan streets and prisoners at Abu Ghraib that have been burned into our brains. But Friend elevates the book to a higher level with his iridescent commentary on the broad political and philosophical implications of 9/11 photography. For example, he recognizes the need to identify victims of a disaster as well as the Orwellian impulses in potential federal programs to create national photo ID cards. And he takes on such complicated issues as self-censorship in the media and how the Bush administration quickly learned how to use images to kick-start and maintain the war on terror. Lucidly written and urgently argued, this essential book is a valuable addition to literature on contemporary media and current politics."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Watching the World Change
1TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11French filmmaker Jules Naudet, shooting downtown, heard the roar of a plane above him. He raised his digital video camera. He aimed a bit ahead of him, to the space in the sky where he thought the plane was headed. His response was uncanny: just in time, and position, to record the impact of the plane as it plunged into the north face of the north tower.At the same instant, across the East River, a Czech immigrant named Pavel Hlava was sitting in the passenger's seat of an SUV in Brooklyn, video camera in hand. He was accompanied by his brother
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  • David Friend

  • David Friend, Vanity Fair's editor of creative development and formerly Life's director of photography, won an Emmy award for the documentary 9/11. He lives in New Rochelle, New York. A portion of this book's proceeds will be given to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Scholarship Fund and to the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.
  • David Friend Harry Benson