National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee
A Los Angeles Times Best Book
A Boston Globe Best Book
A Publishers Weekly Best Book
Finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism
American Ground is the story—until now untold—of the people who responded to the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Within days, William Langewiesche made his way into the innermost recesses of the collapse. By virtue of the integrity and excellence of his previous work, he quickly secured unique, unrestricted, around-the-clock access to the site, the rescue workers and laborers there, and the meetings of city officials, engineers, construction companies, and consultants. Throughout the urgent and often dangerous efforts of the months that followed, he became the only writer to be "embedded" in the World Trade Center—that is, to live virtually night and day among the unbuilding crew as they brought order to an instance of chaos unprecedented on American soil.
This book is a tour of this intense, ephemeral world and those who inhabited it. With the "knowledge and passion as well as . . . careful eloquence" (The New York Times) for which his work is known, Langewiesche describes the physical details of the collapse and the ensuing deconstruction of the ruins, capturing in the process the human dramas that were its aftershock. In this inner world, decisions were as spontaneous as the shifting of the piles of debris, and the consequences of failure or mistake might mean the death of hundreds of workers, or the flooding of a large part of underground Manhattan. As the difficult work of extracting the rubble and the thousands of dead buried there got under way, and firefighters, police officers, widows, bureaucrats, and profiteers attempted to claim the work—and the tragedy—as their own, the emotional and political implications loomed large as well.
Langewiesche's account revolves around the unlikely and sometimes unstable coalition to whom it fell to orchestrate the deconstruction, many of them engineers who had once been involved in constructing the towers. With no master plan, no memos, no organizational charts, no business-as-usual, they improvised the recovery effort day by day, and in the process reinvented themselves, discovering unknown strengths and weaknesses.
In all of its aspects—emotionalism, impulsiveness, opportunism, territoriality, resourcefulness, and fundamental, cacophonous democracy—Langewiesche reveals the story of the unbuilding to be uniquely American and inspiring, a portrait of resilience and ingenuity in the face of disaster.