- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (October 26, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416584471
- ISBN-13: 978-1416584476
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,273,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
While there can be no question that the staff of the New York City Medical Examiner's forensic lab, under the leadership of Shaler, did heroic work in trying to identify those who perished in the Twin Towers on 9/11, this book will frustrate and disappoint many. Despite having a fascinating story to tell—interagency turf battles, the analysis of DNA data, families' frustration while waiting for information—Shaler spends time on trivia and on his own emotions, and fails to make memorable any of the numerous dedicated scientists involved, apart from himself (an approach epitomized by the penultimate chapter title, "Again, Why Me?"). The book's greatest failing is its inability to make the technical aspects of the work accessible to the lay reader, who will be befuddled by jargon and detailed descriptions of competing technologies. Clichéd descriptions of the biologists ("Petite and perky, her ponytail bobbing and swaying as she briskly walked through the lab...") fail to bring fellow scientists to life. Given the significance of the accomplishments of Shaler's team, one hopes that someone else will give them the narrative they deserve. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 3)
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.
About the Author
Robert C. Shaler was the director of the Forensic Biology Department of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City from 1990 until his retirement in 2005. He is currently professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and director of the Forensic Science Program at Pennsylvania State University. He divides his time between State College, Pennsylvania, and Flemington, New Jersey.
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Dr. Shaler gives us a no hold barred accout of what it was like trying to deal with the innumerable scraps of human remains found at the site of the Weorld Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, in New York, and in the days, weeks and even months afterwards. Scientists and doctors, some who had never spoken to each other before, strangers, and some who were outright enemies, found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder trying to use forensics to fight back, fight against prejudice, fight against violence and terror and fight against the cloud of uncertainty by trying to match easch scrap, be it of brain or liver, with an actual human being believed to have died in the attacks.
He even describes the chill with which his team came to understand that, even among the morass of human material, some of these body parts were probably those of the hijackers as well.
It's not all high science either. Dr. Shaler has the vocabulary of an average New Yorker, and he is given to a descriptive obscenity when the drama of his story calls for it. '"Don't tell me we f--ked up the identification!" I said' is a typical comeback from him. But in general, the science is paramount and it helps us understand the complexity of the work involved. By and by the forensics scientists found themselves invited to the funerals of the vitims they had matched, through DNA or otherwise. The families were grateful. There must be a primitive urge to want to preserve the scraps of your own loved one's bodies, even miniscule ones, for there were funerals for mere fingers. Reminds me of the the way Catholic churches in my youth were erected around mere "relics" embedded in the tabernacles. Dr. Shaler's writing is simple and moving on such occasions, as though Hemingway had willed his genes to a top scientist and bureaucrat:
"We stood around the grave site and waited. Soon, the bagpipers began playing and there was a short ceremony. The sun was shining and it was warm. I felt like I belonged."
In "Who They Were", these people were reduced to "tissue", "charred bones", and "material". The author seemed a bit pompous. I could have done without the curriculum vitae of every scientist, engineer and lab worker.
The title "Who They Were" implies a humanistic approach to a very horrible, yet needed, process of closure. I did not expect the names of the victims to be published out of respect to the families, friends and co-workers. I did, however, expect a more personal approach that would render a feeling of solomn gratitude that some families were given the opportunity to bring home the people they loved.
The book includes the feelings and emotions from the long term commitment to assist with the critical identification process.