The terrorist attack that shook the world in 2001 needs little introduction. Four Al Qaeda cells based in the US hijacked four domestic flights in an attempt to fly them into key US buildings. Three of the planes completed their missions, resulting in the destruction of the World Trade Center, a hole in the side of the Pentagon and many thousands of civilians murdered.
Three years later, a 600-page report was published, picking through the events running up to the attack, asking what more could have been done, and suggesting lessons that ought to be learned for the future. This book is an illustrated version of that report – not as weighty as the original but certainly as matter of fact, with the added benefit of pictures to help further clarify the issues.
And on the whole it works well. The timeline of events juxtaposes dramatic images of the hijackings, based on information from flight recordings and phone calls made by passengers. Arabic names are brought to life for a western audience with pictures, while recognisable characters like Osama bin Laden and George Bush feature heavily. And maps and diagrams bring a dimension to the proceedings that could otherwise be lost to dry descriptions and technical explanations.
It’s not all perfection though – the pictures somehow seem to get in the way of some of the latter parts of the book, such as the recommendations, which by their very nature are disjointed and not particularly suited to sequential images. There’s also the odd place where the flow of the text and images is disjointed, making it difficult to work out which panel you should be moving on to next – a more ordered layout may have helped the flow of what can sometimes be quite dense information.
On the whole, however, it’s a brave and significant book. Like a solid TV documentary it raises questions and deals with them, creating a document that can go into far more depth than a movie or TV show, while providing an accessibility that the original report couldn’t have hoped to achieve.