For anyone who remembers 9/11 -- and of course millions don't, including a lot of the people who'll be voting for president next year -- this is a hard book to read with dry eyes. It consists of thousands of quotes, deftly arranged to tell the story. The most jarring appears early on, when a helpful ticket agent warns a latecomer in Portland, Maine: "Mr. Atta, if you don't go now, you will miss your plane." Mohamed Atta did manage to squeeze onto his flight, and a few hours later flew a Boeing 767 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The courage on display is both marvelous and widespread, among civilians as well as sworn fire and police officers. Even the Bush White House comes out looking good, though the same can't be said of the senators and representatives who were hustled out of the Capitol. "You've now taken 535 of the most important people in the country," marveled one of these self-important gentlefolk, "and put them out on the lawn." (Italics added.) I knew, but had forgotten, that the F-16s sent to intercept United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania were unarmed: they were ordered, though not in so many words, to ram the airliner. One pilot decided to fly his fighter into the cockpit while the other agreed to tip off the tail. But the passengers tackled the hijackers and caused the plane to crash before the sacrifice was needed -- a near miss that makes one rethink our bafflement at the Japanese kamikaze attacks toward the end of the Second World War. We can never know what we're capable of, until we're called upon to do it.
For me, The Only Plane in the Sky faded toward the end, as if Mr Graff just couldn't let good of his story and kept telling it again and again, including a cringe-worthy chapter about "The 9/11 Generation." Nor did I ever figure out the title, since the F-15s and F-16s never ceased prowling the sky. But those are quibbles: every American should read this book. Indeed, everyone should read this book.
As a title, Ludicrous hints rather strongly at the author's bias, and the sub-title is quite forthright about it: "The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors." Here is Elon Musk, warts and all. What I never knew is that he didn't invent the world-altering Tesla automobile, but came up with the money that got the company off the ground, putting off-the shelf drive trains from a small Los Angeles company into Lotus sports cars from the struggling British manufacturer. In addition to the money, Mr Musk added a mouth as unembarrassed as that of the young Mohammed Ali, always over-promising, always hiding today's problem under tomorrow's grand vision. He was, and still remains, The Greatest. From the beginning, as Edward Niedemeyer explains, the plan was to build "a premium electric car that would offer the environmental image of a Toyota Prius with the performance of a Porche" -- and to build it, moreover, with the help of huge government subsidies. The subsidies continue to flow, 14 years after the first Tesla was hacked together, though the company is beginning to lose the $7500 cash bounty that went to its early customers. Mr Musk's continuing goldmine is the federal greenhouse tax credits that Tesla earns and that Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler must buy. That's only one of the ways that drivers of pickup trucks and other basic transportation are obliged to underwite the lifestyle of those who can afford a six-figure automobile.
Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is (IMHO) the world's greatest work of art. I have been reading and enjoying it for most of my adult lifetime, starting with the 1920s translations by C K Scott Moncrieff and moving on through later tweaks and fresh starts beginning in the 1970s and continuing to today. I've just finished The Guermantes Way, as edited and annotated -- and subtly Americanized! -- by William Carter for Yale University Press. This puts me and Yale halfway through a glorious new look at Proust's masterwork, typically published in six hefty volumes. If you've ever been tempted to tackle The Search, this is a good place to start. See Stephen Fall's Reading Proust website for more. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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