We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
After the cleanup, the World Trade Center’s steel ended up crammed on Turkish ships set for Eastern (China, India, Turkey) destinations to be remade into stuff that had nothing to do with memorials, vigils, or the War on Terrorism. The chunks were so pure and so expensive that American mills could not afford to reuse them. Ground Zero ended up sailing the globe. But William Langewiesche, writing in his exhaustive three-part series for the Atlantic Monthly—recently folded into a book, American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center—makes clear that the removal of the steel and concrete and rebar and glass didn’t suffer from lack of attention. The author spent nine months at “the pile,” and his access allowed him to chart all the drama, mini miracles, tribal sparring, politics, and ego. At the top of the pile, you had midlevel government men organizing the whole thing from an elementary-school room. Somewhere between there and the basement, you had looters—including whoever stuffed a fire truck, later found in the rubble, with blue jeans. You had firemen and police officers brawling. You had some guys not giving a shit about any dead but their own. And you had those same government men preventing the newly minted Good Giuliani from turning back into the Bad Giuliani. Finding body parts and removing tons and tons of hot steel isn’t an easy thing; you finish reading through Langewiesche’s nine months and you understand that fact. Long after the cleanup, with the steel off on creaky boats, already rusting, you remember the men who grappled with it and hauled it away. Langewiesche reads at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Jason Cherkis)