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Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 Hardcover – June 3, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While most Americans watched the 9/11 attacks on television, the guardians of the nation's air-control and air-defense systems had the unenviable task of trying to halt them. Working from interviews and tape archives, Spencer's minute-by-minute chronicle recreates their heroics in nerve-racking detail. In her telling, air-traffic controllers panicked as a seemingly routine—and quickly spotted—initial hijacking metastasized into a coordinated terror attack of unknown size and direction, and tried to divine which of thousands of planes on their radars had become guided missiles. Airline pilots dodged through suddenly chaotic skies while assuring suspicious control towers that they weren't hijackers themselves. Meanwhile, Air National Guard fighter pilots, hobbled by bad communications and misdirection, scrambled to defend against a murky threat. (Spencer's sources insist there was a fighter in position to stop United 93, had its passengers not brought it down, by having the pilot ram the airliner with his F-16.) Spencer, a flight instructor, expertly elucidates the complexities and pitfalls of American aviation as it faced a staggering challenge. (June 3)
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"Lynn Spencer...has spent the better part of three years interviewing commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, and military officials who played significant roles on 9/11, and in Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11, she tells their compelling stories.... By bringing these events and unsung heroes to light, Spencer has done a great public service. Her book is hard to put down, and a grateful nation owes her a debt of gratitude for undertaking this project." -- Wilmington News Journal

"[P]repare for a quick takeoff with Lynn Spencer's Touching History...the personal interviews and Cockpit Voice Recorder transcripts of conversations between pilots and controllers are riveting.... The transcripts provide the book with a sense of immediacy, as though the reader was in the cockpit or control tower, while the interviews offer important background and context.... Spencer's book is worth reading as a thoroughly researched, clearly written account that offers new insights into that fateful day that changed America forever." -- BookPage

"Spencer shows how, with an American public stupefied by the unimaginable airline attacks on its homeland on 9/11, civil aviation and military circles joined forces quickly to fathom, manage, and defend against a then-unknown enemy....An impressively researched and compellingly written narrative of one of America's worst catastrophes..." -- Library Journal

"We need this book! Far too few Americans really understand what happened in the aviation system of the United States on 9/11: The heroic and selfless decisions and the heartrending attempts of airmen and controllers to respond to a developing catastrophe despite the lack of a viable domestic air defense system. Lynn Spencer has done a masterful job of researching, and then weaving together the story of that day in real-time, pulse-pounding prose. If this superb work doesn't invigorate a revolution in the way we view the role of air defense for the domestic United States, nothing will. Lynn Spencer's Touching History is a deeply moving and page-turning insider's brief of what really happened in the aviation system on 9/11. There are many heroes here you never met, struggling to respond with an all-but-dismantled system of American air defense." -- John Nance, bestselling author, Aviation Analyst for ABC World News, and Aviation Editor for Good Morning America

"Riveting! On that horrible day -- the first battle in a new and terrible form of war in the new century -- there were many heroes. Lynn Spencer introduces us firsthand to those who confronted an unprecedented threat, from desperate air traffic controllers, to government officials, to cities. We all must remember that day, and this fascinating and gripping history of the drama in the skies that day is a must read." -- Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform

"One cannot fully conceptualize 9/11 until reading Lynn Spencer's book, Touching History. Witness how military and civilian commanders and pilots, air traffic controllers, and airline personnel responded to this 21st century attack on United States soil. Through firsthand interviews, she puts us in the cockpits, the control rooms, and on the tarmacs. Insightful. Exciting. Important. You won't put it down." -- General Richard B. Myers, Ret., Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"As commander of NORAD, I watched 9/11 unfold. Lynn Spencers tells it all and tells it well -- an enthralling read." -- Ralph E. Eberhart, General USAF (ret.) Former Commander, NORAD and Aerospace Defense Command

"Lynn Spencer has captured the essence of the terror of that day and the courage of the men and women who experienced first-hand the fallout of these horrific attacks and rose to answer the call in their nation's hour of need." -- Patrick Forrey, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association

"The 9-11 Commission missed it, but Lynn Spencer nails it -- the dynamite, inside story of heroism on that fateful day. You'll live through hellish decisions with the real players. Well-written, breathtaking." -- Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Don Shepperd, co-author Bury Us Upside Down, CNN Military Analyst --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416559256
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416559252
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #743,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mere words cannot begin to describe the gripping reality that Ms. Spencer captured in this book. From the cockpits of jet fighters, to the flight deck of the airliners, to those who tried to make sense of it all from behind radar screens, Ms. Spencer captured the anxiety, frustration, complexity, and at times, feeling of helplessness of all those who tried desperately to protect this country. This isn't a book so much about the what happened nearly as much as it is about those whose blood, sweat and tears went into their attempts to stop it and then come to grips with it. Having spent over 3 years of her life dedicated to this project, Ms. Spencer went to the people and listened to their stories, heard the quiver in their voices and saw the pain in their eyes as they spoke. This book takes you there. It puts you on the "inside" to see first hand what was happening and allows you to witness the many obstacles that had to somehow be overcome to fight against a never before seen enemy using a never before heard of tactic against American civilians, on American soil. I can tell you that Ms. Spencer got it right and tells it in a manner anyone can understand and appreciate. She captured the heart and soul of everyone involved.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those rare books that are non-fiction, but pull you in like a great novel- just like you were there! The author, Lynn Spencer has done a superlative job of putting together the facts in a way that even though we know the eventual outcome we still want to read all the way to the end.
When I first began reading, I thought the story would center on the four hijacked flights- but those stories have already been largely told. Rather, she tells the "big picture" of how those four incidents touched off an incredible series of events that affected tens of thousands of people that day and how individuals in extremely tense and difficult circumstances made the decisions that kept a very bad situation from becoming catastrophic.
It can be seen in retrospect that our air traffic control system had many faults in dealing with this crisis, but it was the individuals involved that rose above the technical difficulties and "standard operating procedures" to make our skies safe that awful day.
This is their story and we all owe a debt of gratitude to them for what they accomplished- all of the air controllers, civilian and military, leadership on the ground and of course all of the many, many pilots and aircrew who had to deal with something completely extraordinary.
This book brought it all back and made me feel many of the same emotions I felt on 9/11.
Personally, I feel we all need to remember what took place that day so that it will NEVER happen again.
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Format: Hardcover
Lynn Spencer's "Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11" is an engrossing, compelling book about a tremendously complex event. Based upon numerous first-hand accounts and interviews, "Touching History" covers in great detail the entire breadth of 9/11 in the air: the air traffic control system, the airports, the airplanes in the sky, the air defense jets scrambled to respond to an unprecendented event.

Spencer herself is a commercial pilot and flight instructor, so she brings a particular sensitivity and understanding to a complex subject, and she tells the story superbly well. Along the way she addresses a number of misconceptions about what happened, and did not happen, that day. The depth of detail is extraordinary, rendering an unusually vivid picture of events. "Touching History" is filled not with cold, hard facts, but with moments of great human drama. In the end, I was left with a strong feeling of admiration for those men and women -- pilots, air crew, air controllers, National Guard pilots -- who acted so swiftly to bring manageable order out of extreme chaos
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Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up at Costco two days ago having heard nothing about it. It tells the story of the response to the 9/11 attack as it was improvised by the military, the airline pilots and the air traffic controllers. A little bit of it was shown in the movie "United 93" but in that film it appeared that the military was completely ineffective. In fact, the military response was rapid and effective but the nation's air defense command was fighting to stay in existence at the time and had extremely limited capability. In an afterward to the book, General Larry Arnold tells how he was informed by a superior that, "If everyone would turn off CNN, there wouldn't be a threat from Osama bin Laden." General Arnold was, at the time, commander of the Continental U.S. North American Air Defense Command and the statement was made two weeks before 9/11. On September 7, 2001, the Secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the USAF decided to cut off funding for air defense. On 9/11, there were only 14 jet fighters available in the entire U.S. to be scrambled for an alert and all air defense units were National Guard, many of whose pilots were also airline pilots.

In spite of this critical weakness, by two hours after the first airliner hit the World Trade Center, there was a combat air patrol over Washington. They were there in time to stop United 93, had that been necessary. The rapid response by Air Force, Air National Guard and FAA personnel, often using telephones to relay information between incompatible communication systems, was totally improvised by the people involved. This story has not been told before and it makes a gripping tale.

It was not all locking the barn door after the horse was gone, either.
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