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What Is Life Worth?: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Fund and Its Effort to Compensate the Victims of September 11th Paperback – August 28, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky
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The world’s leading intellectual offers a probing examination of the waning American Century, the nature of U.S. policies post-9/11, and the perils of valuing power above democracy and human rights. Learn more | See related books
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Feinberg writes that "[t]he cacophony of arguments validated my original preference: to refuse to evaluate individual suffering" midway through this frank memoir, the reader already trusts him enough to know that he is not being crass or unfeeling: he is being honest. By then, Feinberg, a lawyer who has been on two presidential commissions and has done Agent Orange litigation, has established his judicious forthrightness and his dedication to "the success of the fund"—getting as many families as possible to opt in to the trust, which he headed and which was established to award cash to the 9/11 victims, rather than sue the government. The problem: how, and how much? Feinberg's willingness to put himself into the book makes what could have been an alternately dry and self-serving case study crackle with care, frustration, intellectual energy and good writing. Feinberg and his team ran through every argument and counterargument for compensation and its various possible permutations, and he presents the debate, and his ultimate conclusions as head of the 9/11 fund, with an earned conviction and clarity, even on stat-heavy pages. With its combination of a strong personality, undeniably compelling subject matter and a great title, this understated, passionate trek into the dismal terrain is likely to be a major surprise bestseller. Anything but macabre, it ends up, in its own way, celebrating life. (June 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Feinberg's experience as an attorney and a mediator, having mediated the suit between Vietnam vets and manufacturers of Agent Orange, made him uniquely qualified to handle the delicate task of compensating families victimized by the 9/11 terrorist attack and reducing the prospects for lawsuits against the airlines and the U.S. government. But his experiences did not prepare him for the emotional toll of the unprecedented task. In this personal account, Feinberg calls his charge one of the most harrowing yet rewarding experiences of his life. For 32 months, he tried to "fill the hole in a family's life with money," attempting to bring some fairness to settlements for the families of wealthy stockbrokers, middle-class firemen and policemen, and immigrant restaurant workers. What Feinberg struggled with most was the awesome task of deciding the value of human life, acknowledging his own clumsy insensitivity at the beginning, and gradually learning to deal with grieving families who wanted as much to be heard as to be compensated. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; New Ed edition (August 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484516
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484514
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #696,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan Groner VINE VOICE on June 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Kenneth Feinberg, who had been a congressional aide, a big-firm lawyer, and a mediator, was the ideal person to serve as "special master" adjudicating the claims of 9/11 victims and survivors. This is his relatively brief, spare, unassuming, thoughtful memoir of that nearly impossible task. The best thing about this book is that it does not read as if it were written by a lawyer. Feinberg's empathy for the victims of this unimaginable tragedy becomes very clear. For him, the assignment was literally a life-changing event, as he closed down his law office and became a law school lecturer. Parts of the narrative were a bit slow, but this is an important book.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Feinberg clearly tells the history of the 9/11 fund to compensate victims. While it is written very factually, which is how a lwayer's mind is trained, the part I found most fascinating was his candidcy with how his own life changed after this experience. He also shared the various attitudes of those who made claims and tired to understand with empathy and compassion their responses. He continually strived toward equity throughout and was willing to listen to critics in order to be as fair as possible. A short and necessary read!!
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Format: Hardcover
It is clear from reading this account of the 9/11 Victim's Compensation Fund that Kenneth Feinberg is a compassionate man who bore a tremendous burden in administering the Fund. It is less clear why he alone could have done it.

This is because there is not much in this book about the legal aspects of the Fund. For example, the statute passed by Congress is Feinberg's contant response to criticism about the "economic loss" criteria for awards, but he does not quote it or even use it in the appendix. I would also have liked to read more about how the Fund differed from past compensation funds that Feinberg had worked with, such as the Agent Orange fund. Finally, for a person with such great discretion over awards, I would have liked to hear about how that discretion was exercised in some difficult or unusual cases -- not just that it was used to narrow the range of total awards.

This criticism probably all comes from my legal background, and What is Life Worth? is not a book for lawyers. In place of the technical details is a measured and sympathetic description of the reaction of the victims' families to the 9/11 tragedy -- from a person who may have spend more time talking to more different families than anyone else. This is a very valuable contribution to the history of 9/11 from a unique perspective.

While the book is a quick read at 190 pages, its emotional weight is much greater and is really its focus. Perhaps Feinberg or one of his colleagues will one day write a more academic assessment of the Fund that will satisfy the desire to understand some of the day-to-day decisions that the administrators had to make.
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I've met Mr. Feinberg a few times, casually and briefly, and although my favorable impression of him didn't influenced those I formed of his book while reading it, that impression did remove the sting of cynicism I'd almost certainly have brought to reading a stranger's account of a program that I thought was bad law.

In the days following the 9/11 murders, congress wrote and President Bush signed into law the victim compensation fund, giving monetary awards to anyone who was killed or injured at the Pentagon or World Trade Center. The fund was created to protect the US economy by encouraging a return to business as usual and discouraging litigation against industry. There had been nothing like it in US law before. Congress set no limit on the awards, the special master had sole responsible in administering the fund, and the amounts were largely unregulated. Mr. Feinberg, former counsel to Ted Kennedy in his role on the Senate Judiciary committee, interviewed with attorney general John Ashcroft who gave him the job.

I'll let the reader discover for himself the details given of the administration of the fund because that's not the heart of the book, its soul, although historians and legal professionals are repaid for reading it. The soul of the book is part of Mr. Feinberg's own. `What's a Life Worth?' refers both to Mr. Feinberg's account of his prosecution of the role of special master determining the dollar amount awarded for each death or injury and his unfavorable opinion of the law's precedent, and the reflection his work caused him to make on the nature of life in America and a person's role in it.
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This book was required reading for a Public Policy course I am taking. For those concerned, it is an easy read that can easily be completed in 1-2 days, with the last two chapters giving a very nice summary of the story. Many of the previous reviews criticize the author for self-promotion. True, there are many parts in the book where his writing style seems to support this criticism. However, in all, in order to write a fair and scientific recount of his task, the author had to look back and appraise the experience, and tell what went right and what went wrong. I believe it just so happens that, objectively, a lot went right in how Mr Feinberg decided to handle this Fund.
The book is a relevant read for those interested in public policy and rationing. This is expecially important in healthcare, where costs are staggering and citizens seem to brush off personal good health responsibility in the comfort that Medicare/Medicaid/pooled risk will come to the rescue when needed. The rationing of the 9/11 Fund is a great analogue that reminds us that although the American people are compassionate and valiant, there are many unique circumstances where public aid just cannot fill the economic gap. i.e. we cannot feel entitled to an endless amount of compensation from public funds under certain circumstances.
Overall, this is a good read, which captures a moment in American history that should never be forgotten and whose victims were compensated with best judgement and maximum compassion.
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