The story begins on September 12, 2001. It reads like a novel. But the characters in award-winning journalist Steven Brill's America are real. They don't have all the answers or all the virtues of fictional heroes. It is because they are so human -- so much like the rest of us -- that makes the way they rise to the challenge of September 12 such an inspiring story about how America really works. A Customs inspector somehow has to guard ...
The story begins on September 12, 2001. It reads like a novel. But the characters in award-winning journalist Steven Brill's America are real. They don't have all the answers or all the virtues of fictional heroes.
It is because they are so human -- so much like the rest of us -- that makes the way they rise to the challenge of September 12 such an inspiring story about how America really works.
A Customs inspector somehow has to guard against a nuclear bomb that could be hidden in one of the thousands of cargo containers from all over the world sitting on his dock in New York harbor.
A young woman in New Jersey, suddenly widowed with three young children, doesn't know how to get the keys to her husband's car, much less how she can challenge the head of a federal victims' fund.
An entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, who makes machines that screen luggage for bombs, can't decide if this crisis is an opportunity he should seize.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has no idea how to find the new, hidden enemy living among us.
The young, just-hired director of the American Civil Liberties Union wonders how he can keep Ashcroft from going too far.
The CEO of a giant insurer has to decide whether to risk economic panic by not paying damage claims that he might legally be able to avoid.
Red Cross President Bernadine Healy has to figure out how to collect and allocate donations while dodging a hostile board of directors.
Career civil servant Gale Rossides has to recruit and train the largest workforce ever hired by the government -- the new airport passenger screeners.
A proprietor of a shoe repair shop -- helped by two young women, pro bono lawyers -- has to rebuild a business buried in the rubble of Ground Zero.
A Detroit Border Patrol agent -- whose bosses want to fire him for speaking out about how unprotected his stretch of border is -- has to choose whether to risk his family's livelihood by sounding the alarm.
Tom Ridge has to run through a bureaucratic wall to mount a true homeland security defense.
Drawing on 347 on-the-record interviews and revelations from memos of government meetings, court filings, and other documents, Brill gives us a front-row seat as these and other players in this real-life drama cross paths in a series of alliances and confrontations and fight for their own interests and their version of the public interest.
The result is a gritty story -- and trailblazing journalism -- that inspires us not because these Americans or their country are perfect, but because they were tough enough, anchored enough, and living in a system that encouraged and enabled them to meet the awesome challenges they faced.
Brill is better known as an entrepreneur (Court TV) and a magazine publisher (The American Lawyer, Brill's Content) than a writer (he wrote one previous book, "The Teamsters"), but his legal, administrative and entrepreneurial experience admirably equip him to track complicated decisions through chains, systems and swamps of big organizations.
The Washington Post
The book in which Brill raises these urgent matters is in almost all respects a remarkable and admirable piece of work.... it is nothing short of amazing that he put together all this material in so short a time. Not merely put it together, but made sense of it and presented a coherent argument that this country, spoiled and flabby and "soft-news-fixated" though it certainly is, can still get the job done.— Jonathan Yardley
The New York Times
After leaves the reader not only with an idea of how things work in post-Sept. 11 America, but also why they work. And this is not only a matter of power struggles, principles and individual enterprise. On Sept. 12, 2001, at a high-power Wall Street meeting dedicated to getting business back on track, Mr. Brill reports, all the executives suddenly stopped and took notice of the telephone-company technician who could restore the flow of data. One recalls, "He was the most important guy in the room." — Janet Maslin
The New Yorker
Taking the form of daily reports on the "September 12 era," Brill's huge tome weaves together dozens of narratives -- of politicians, officials, lawyers, businessmen, and victims -- families -- to document how the American bureaucracy dealt with the aftermath of the attacks. At more than seven hundred pages, the book is much too long, and some of the characters are more interesting than others, but Brill's experience in law and business helps him make the minutiae of policy and of legal disputes fascinating. His assessments of key players are highly individual; though he portrays John Ashcroft as a power-hungry autocrat unconcerned with constitutional niceties, he rehabilitates the rather battered reputation of Tom Ridge. In Brill's view, the system, despite more government intrusion into daily life, has largely remained a confusing mélange of interest-group lobbying, political infighting, and private initiative. Provocatively, though, he argues that this is a good thing, and that the messy, decentralized approach to getting things done is not a weakness but strength.
After, also the product of Brill's unusual thought processes, is brilliantly conceived. As a full-time magazine and book writer, I come across a work of non-fiction maybe once a year that makes me blurt out, "Why didn't I think of telling the story that way?" After is one of those books. — Steve Weinberg
Brill, journalist and entrepreneur (founder of the ill-fated Brill's Content magazine), has written a sprawling, panoramic account of life after September 11. Proceeding on an almost day-by-day basis through the year after the attacks, he employs documentary-style crosscuts between episodes in the lives of a dramatis personae that is impressively and appropriately large and diverse. There are poignant but unsentimental portraits of the families of three of the victims. Brill follows several government agents on the front lines after the attacks, including a whistleblower from the hapless INS. Executives from Raytheon and a bomb-screening business angle for gain from the new homeland security regime, while the CEOs of an airport and an insurance company confront perilous losses. Brill, founder of Court TV, perceptively explains the legal battles of World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein and the theory behind the Victim Compensation Fund. Among the powerful, most notably rendered is Attorney General John Ashcroft, who comes off as heedlessly overzealous in his pursuit of terrorists. In contrast, Sen. Charles Schumer and homeland security chief Tom Ridge get respectful, sometimes cozy, treatment. To the extent that there's a theme to Brill's headlong narrative, it is the resilience of America's system of clashing interest groups. But the real achievement here is to convey the scope of the tragedy's consequences, which somewhat excuses the book's scattershot quality. Brill is no prose stylist, and the episodic, chronological method makes for a repetitive and long book. Still, Brill often displays formidable journalistic research, sharp reporting and lively characterizations. (Apr. 7) Forecast: Brill is a columnist at Newsweek, which ran first serial in its March 10 issue, and an NBC consultant so, no surprise there will be a Dateline special and an appearance on the Today show, as well as other national media. S&S should have no trouble selling its 75,000 first printing. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Not since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor has America faced a national emergency like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Brill, the founder of Court-TV and the now-defunct journal, Brill's Content, presents a lengthy yet absorbing narrative of how Americans responded to personal, social, political, and economic upheavals during the year following that calamitous day. Stories of selected ordinary and powerful people serve as examples of the traumas and life-altering experiences endured by so many Americans. These include the accounts of Eileen Simon, a mother who lost her husband in the World Trade Center; Salvatore Iacona, an elderly shoemaker determined to rebuild his repair shop that was reduced to rubble; New York Sen. Charles Schumer, whose frenzied lobbying for federal funds gave New Yorkers the financial support to reconstruct their livelihoods; and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who struggled with the uncertainty of serving as America's first Director, now Secretary of Homeland Security. (Note: librarians will be fascinated by Brill's discussion of the origin of the U.S. Patriot Act.) This gripping investigation will be one of the most discussed political books of the year. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Steven Brill, a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, is the author of the bestselling The Teamsters. He founded The American Lawyer magazine in 1979, which expanded into a chain of legal publications. In 1991 he founded cable's Court TV. After selling his interests in those businesses in 1997, he founded Brill's Content, a magazine about the media, which closed in 2001.
After September 11, 2001, Brill became a columnist for Newsweek and an analyst for NBC on issues related to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. A winner of the National Magazine Award, Brill lives in New York City with his wife and three children.