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I Heard the Sirens Scream

How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks

Author: , Senior Fellow for Global Health

I Heard the Sirens Scream - i-heard-the-sirens-scream
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Release Date July 2011

Price $26.95 hardcover

698 pages
ISBN 978-1469910109


For most of my adult life I have borne witness. It's what I won a Pulitzer Prize for, years ago. I go to epidemics, wars, places where people are struggling to cope with disasters, and I carefully log the accounts and events, trying to represent the lives and experiences of others. The position of "outsider" is emotionally safe, even as agonizing events unfold.

But I could not distance myself from the extraordinary sequence of events that fell on America, and especially my home town of New York City, in 2001. A decade later I am still trying to understand how the attacks on the World Trade Center and the anthrax mailings affected me, and those I love. I heard the first jet slam into the north tower of the World Trade Center, and from the rooftop of my apartment building watched the second commercial jet veer towards lower Manhattan, change its trajectory, and slice across the upper floors of the south tower. I was standing on the Manhattan anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge when the first tower crumbled like a deflated accordion, spewing dust and debris in every direction and crushing the life out of thousands of people within.

And a month later, as people started falling ill from inhalation of anthrax spores, one of the nation's top bioterrorism experts called me to warn that I was a likely target: Stop opening your mail.

The flow of these events, from the hijacking of four commercial jets on September 11th to the November death of an anthrax-infected Connecticut villager, took most of the world population from a remarkably united emotional and political place, to a deeply divided, frustrated, angry position. The arc of the response matters: It ultimately determined the course of historic events worldwide and tore America asunder, the people having lost trust in their government and without it, most forms of social cohesion. By the end of the winter of 2002 the arc had completed, from spectacular unity and confidence in governance to deep division and accusations of American arrogance. Through the frustrated anthrax investigations and drumbeats of war, the global community, especially Americans, moved in just a few months' time from collectivism to fragmentation.

I Heard the Sirens Scream is structured in two parts. The first, "The End of the Age of Innocence," is written in the present tense, describing almost hourly the events that unfolded primarily in Washington, DC, and New York City over 120 days in the fall and winter of 2001 and 2002. Each day is a chapter that opens with the actual diary entry the author sent on that date to a list of friends all over the world. The entry is followed by a detailed breakdown of the day's events, unfolding like a novel.

Part two, "New World Order," details the repercussions of these events, transformations of critical government institutions, public health disasters, and what, in particular, the specter of terrorism meant for the American people. Revelations abound in this book, including:

  • The bizarre chemistry of The Plume that rose from the burning crushed World Trade Center for four months, endangering the health of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
  • Evidence that al-Qaeda may have been behind the anthrax mailings.
  • Devastating spending and restructuring followed the attacks, leaving the nation less prepared for terrorism ten years later, and broke.
  • Each incident following the opening of anthrax-laden letters reveals countless errors and misjudgments.
  • There was no "weapons-grade anthrax" in those letters--a finding with profound health and political implications.

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"Laurie Garrett is the premier science reporter in America, if not the world. Whatever she writes should be read. Whatver she says must be listened to. Indeed, if the world had listened to her warnings prior to every health catastrophe in the past forty years, the world would be in a lot healthier shape than the mess we are in now. She is indeed a prophet. She is indeed the very best. i cannot think of anyone who comes anywhere near her. Like all great writers, she truly bears witness, as great writers are meant to do and rarely do."
--Larry Kramer, author of The Normal Heart and cofounder of ACT UP

"Laurie Garrett is her usual compelling and candid self. She brings her unique perceptiveness to the historic tragedy of 9/11, and brings a new perspective on two events that shook America."
--Dr. Peter Piot, former executive director of the UNAIDS Programme, dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

"When the FBI formally closed the anthrax mailer case, Garrett boldly jammed her hand in the file drawer and said not so fast. I Heard the Sirens Scream makes a persuasive case that the FBI evidence was far short of persuasive itself, cataloging the elite law enforcement agency's many scientific inconsistencies and blunders. A powerful reminder that in the post-9/11 frenzy for justice, truth may have become a victim, too."
--Jon Cohen, Science contributing correspondent, author of Shots in the Dark

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