As of last Sept. 11 the word hero has assumed a life of its own. Although our political and social history is replete with heroes and heroic deeds, whether in wartime or peacetime, a new way of looking at heroism, of defining courage and sacrifice, was born on that fateful day in 2001. In his address to the nation from the Oval Office on Sept. 11, President Bush said: “Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring of strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”
Not a day or two later I received a book on the history of New York City—one of the most borrowed items from my office. Cityscapes: A History of New York in Images by Howard Rock and Deborah Dash Moore (Columbia University Press, $59.95, 416p, hardback) is so well done, you want to linger on every page, walk through it over and over and just be overwhelmed with the magnificent photos. That the text proper is comprehensive, well written, informative in both small and large details and yet engaging for a wide-ranging readership cannot be overstated. (By the way, the book is now home with me!) Naturally, in light of the terrorist attacks, I immediately turned toward the back of the book to read about the construction of the World Trade Center. The collage is fixating. Each of the twin towers rose more than 1,360 feet into the skyline. The seven buildings that comprised W.T.C., by some estimates, drew an average of 90,000 tourists and business visitors each day.
Another book to come my way (in November) was obviously published on what is called a crash schedule. America’s Heroes: Inspiring Stories of Courage, Sacrifice and Patriotism (Sports Publishing L.L.C.) is simply a series of (full-color) photo essays, from AP and World Wide Photos ($29.95, 160p, hardback). While there is nothing new here, I am impressed with the quality of the reproductions, some of which I’m tempted to cut out with a razor blade and frame. The value is one of remembrance and reminiscence.
Many publishers had new offerings beginning this past winter and continuing since. Many more are expected for publication this fall to tie in with the first anniversary of the attacks. Our own Father Jim Martin’s book is one of them (see excerpt on page 12). As you probably recall, he spent the days immediately following Sept. 11 ministering, along with many of his brother Jesuits, to the rescue workers at ground zero. Searching for God at Ground Zero (Sheed & Ward, $12.95, 106p, paperback) is the journal of his experiences and reflections. Others in the “recollections” or “reflections” categories include the following: Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001, by Richard Bernstein and the staff of The New York Times (Holt, $26, 320p, hardback), which gathers arguably some of the best journalism, including personal stories, written on the subject. There is also American Lives: The Stories of the Men and Women Lost on September 11, about which you may already be aware. The staff of Newsday weighs in here, with an introduction by Jimmy Breslin (Camino Books, $19.95, 256p, paperback).
Returning to the realm of the spirit, Orbis Books has just published 9-11: Meditations at the Center of the World by Eugene Kennedy, based on columns he wrote for Religious News Service in the months following the attacks ($10, 110p, paperback). He rightly reminds us that we have endured our Calvary, have entered more fully into the Mystery, have begun to “learn more every day about what makes anything sacred.” And from Paulist Press comes Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero by Michael Ford ($19.95, 176p, hardback). Who will ever forget the Pietà-like image of the Franciscan fire chaplain’s body being recovered and removed from the scene? The book is an appealing informal biography based on interviews.
Hero worship? No—an occasion for remembering 3,000 martyrs and saints instead.