Review: 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers – Jim Dwyer, Kevin Flynn

102 Minutes5 of 5 stars

My version: Audiobook
Non Fiction History
Times Books
StoryTel subscription

At 8:46 am on September 11, 2001, 14,000 people were inside the twin towers-reading e-mails, making trades, eating croissants at Windows on the World. Over the next 102 minutes, each would become part of a drama for the ages, one witnessed only by the people who lived it-until now. 

Of the millions of words written about this wrenching day, most were told from the outside looking in. New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn have taken the opposite-and far more revealing-approach. Reported from the perspectives of those inside the towers, 102 Minutes captures the little-known stories of ordinary people who took extraordinary steps to save themselves and others. Beyond this stirring panorama stands investigative reporting of the first rank. An astounding number of people actually survived the plane impacts but were unable to escape, and the authors raise hard questions about building safety and tragic flaws in New York’s emergency preparedness.

Dwyer and Flynn rely on hundreds of interviews with rescuers, thousands of pages of oral histories, and countless phone, e-mail, and emergency radio transcripts. They cross a bridge of voices to go inside the infernos, seeing cataclysm and heroism, one person at a time, to tell the affecting, authoritative saga of the men and women-the nearly 12,000 who escaped and the 2,749 who perished-as they made 102 minutes count as never before.

This isn’t a personal account, as such. It is a compilation of all the messages and thoughts that were sent or written at the time. The two journalists have gathered (I’m guessing) as many as possible together, to tell the story, and some of the background information to both the people and the institutions involved, as is possible, to put together a reasonably straight forward, chronological story of how the events unfolded.

102 Minutes alt coverIt’s not a critical look or a critique of the the events or people involved, as that has been done many times elsewhere. It felt to me, that the journalists wanted to let the ordinary people tell of what they saw, felt and did. So, the narrative comes mainly from people who were actually inside the buildings, when the planes crashed in to the buildings. There is some background colour to some of the people, mainly to give us an idea of why they were there and why they acted like they did, and also to give a human face to the tragedy.

There is some finger pointing going on, though that isn’t anything much more that what you yourself will do when you read the matter of fact details. That cut-backs and roll backs of safety measures and political infighting between the various emergency services – a turf war more or less, made the situation more difficult to deal with, and ultimately, caused more casualties, than it should. And for that, people paid with their lives. There are however, far more positives than negatives, not to say that should it happen again today, most people (in the buildings) would survive, but positives that give you more of a hope for mankind, if not the buildings.


You can buy 102 Minutes from

*The featured image at the top, is from the NYC Police Aviation Unit, Det. Greg Semendinger

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