on October 16, 2003
Expecting a well-composed book from a popular and proficient historian, it was no surprise that it was memorable! Every word, every page was profoundly interesting, whether details were sadly moving or funny, the message was clear! This is a short and meaningful read.
As a person who was geographically distant, Colorado, from the tragedy, the horror effected the nation and me emotionally. When I learned that Pulitizer Prize winner and author Halberstam had written a book about that specific firehouse that lost 12 men, I wanted to read it.
Once you begin reading, you easily learn who the firemen were, their decisions to become firemen, their odd quirks, their funny moments, their other jobs, their passions, and of course their family. What is moving is the strong sincere bond they share, unique friendships, caring people willing to give their time to help each other out.
It was the talk that Joseph Ginley, whose firefighter son John Ginley died that made a profound impression. The father told them firefighting was a good life, you lived with other men in genuine camaraderie, and you ended up, almost without realizing it, having the rarest kind of friendships, ones with men who were willing to die for one another.
I came with a strong understanding of how a firefighter truly becomes this spirit of humanity and someone willing to give up their life for you.
On the inside cover is a memorial, the original blackboard with the names and their assignments. It's eerie. And as Halberstam begins, he shares just enough facts about the firehouse in Manhattan, it's origin and renovation. We learn the dynamics of highrise firehouses versus suburban firehouses and its firemen.
Then, you are immersed into a personal portrayal of each firefighter. And it isn't just an account of each man, the details offer more than you bargained for. The information is weaved strategically and suttle. It's very clear that Halberstam conducted a serious number of interviews, because he got such remarkable information that doesn't come with one or two interviews, it comes for a volume of detail about a person. Upon reading these intimate details, as you delve deeper into what made this fireman, his values, friendships, faith, family, etc., you can't help but keep looking at the pictures, putting a face with the name.
Clearly, the writing is what really made this a special account. What a warm feeling I get from these men who are strangers to me, but I learned about a "true fireman" and am reminded by what veteran fireman Ray Pfeifer said, "People think they know what we do, but they really don't know what we do." I say..people..... educate yourself here, because those faces on the back are real people, real firemen, the firemen we really don't know or understand. And when you finish this book, you will look at firemen differently..... ...MZ RIZZ
on June 16, 2003
Halberstam does a great job of personalizing the September 11, 2001 tragedy by the portrayal of 13 brave New York firefighters of Engine 40, Ladder 35. Twelve of these men died on that day, along with many employees of the World Trade Center and countless other firemen. Halberstam gives a short biography of these thirteen along with a history of this particular firehouse.
This is a touching tribute to these firemen. All of them were male and most were white. Halberstam paints the positive side of all these men and makes them heroes.
The one small criticism I have of this book is that it makes these men larger than life. They are certainly heroes for going into a dangerous area with less than good prospects of returning.
These were men performing a dangerous job, but they were still human and had all the frailities of humans. What of the other hundreds of firemen who did not return that day? The tragedy of those other hundreds are lost in this story. This is a good book to read, but the reader has to bear in mind the other losses on that tragic day.
on June 8, 2003
David Halberstam has written an engrossing and touching tribute to not just the FDNY but to firefighters everywhere. He does a masterful job of bringing us inside the firehouse and showing what life is like for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day. This is classic Halberstam and a very satisfying read. I wish it had been a little longer but it's still a superb book.
on May 13, 2003
'Firehouse' is a wonderful story of 12 men who perished while trying to save lives in the midst of chaos at Ground Zero. David Halberstam, America's finest non-fiction writer, painstakingly describes the unique atmosphere of the firehouse and the deep bonds that form between the men. Above all, they strive - when the hour calls - to be, above all else, 'calm' and to 'do the right thing.'
On September 11th, these 12 men succeeded.
David Halberstam tells you how these men made a difference to the people in their lives.
If you don't know Halberstam's work that well, 'Firehouse' is a great intro for you. Clocking in 500 pages *less* than some of his classic masterpieces, you can get a feel for the master's classic 10+ page in-depth potrayals that cut to the essence of somebody's character. And you only need a couple of hours to tackle this short masterpiece.
Read it now and pass it on. It's a great story to share.
on January 19, 2003
Mr. Halberstam, known well for his books about history, has written a little book about 9/11 that will hopefully remain long after most of the other 9/11 novels are ancient history. This novel tells the story of Engine 40, Ladder 35 in Midtown Manhattan, a firehouse that lost 12 of 13 men who went to the World Trade Center.
Each fireman is described - what role he had in the firehouse and how he came to be a fireman. The story of the 13th fireman, Kevin Shea, the one who lived, is also told. Some have criticized this story because it leaves out any negatives, character flaws, etc. that these men had. I dispute this as one in particular is characterized as a "human cactus". And why, I ask, should we want to learn the things people disliked about the men who died? They did die as heroes, even though this book illustrates that heroes is probably the last thing that any of these men would have wanted to be called. They were just doing their jobs.
The book also goes into some detail about the families of these men and how they reacted after the tragedy when they came to realize that their husband/son/father would not be coming home.
Out of all the books written about September 11th, this is one that deserves to stand the test of time. It wasn't written in a hurry so that it would sell tons of copies and make lots of money - instead it was published in May 2002, long after many books had been out and the publishing craze seemed to be over. It also serves as a reminder of what happened that day. Eventually, 9/11/01 will be just another date, hard as it seems to believe right now. Eventually it will be like 12/7/41 and children will learn of it, but not fully understand and appreciate the tragedy that occurred that day. If this book is still around, I will recommend it be read by everyone who doesn't remember that day, so they can understand that lives were lost that day - lives of real people.
on January 13, 2003
This book sums up the problem with Halberstam's career in journalism - - - he has an ongoing fascination with power, courage, heroism and duty without ever quite understanding the origins of these qualities of character.
Quite simply, courage exists because anything else is unthinkable.
This is a tribute to firefighters who responded to the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. It may well be the best book written about the human side of the event, a focus on one firehouse where 12 of the 13 men who responded were killed. Anyone who's read The New York Times since is very familiar with the format of personal snapshots that Halberstam uses, and he does a credible job in a much expanded version of what the Times could ever offer.
But, he seems to be left grasping for an answer to "Why did they do it?"
My response, quite simply, is because they couldn't do anything else.
Halberstam outlines the spirit of camaraderie among firefighters in the first half of the book, very similar to a military unit where people train, live, play and work together. They become family, as close as their other families of wives and parents and children; like a good family, they don't "think" of danger to each other - - - they feel it instinctively.
It's the same reaction that occurs in good military units, and among the crews of good ships. Unlike the police, who often have the luxury of waiting for negotiators to defuse a tense situation, firefighters must respond immediately. As Halbertsam points out, being as much as a minute late may cost lives that could otherwise have been saved.
His observations from firefighters are like those of soldiers I've interviewed who served in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It reflects what I've found to be an underlying but absolutely rock-solid quality of Americans - - - regardless of the person, their unquestioning dedication to honor, duty, loyalty when the chips are down.
Halberstam offers all the ingredients of this "pudding" in his book, which I think every reader will recognize. My one complaint is that he fails to draw it all together into a coherent analysis and tribute to the enduring American character. In that, he's very like the firefighters he describes; they don't boast, and they're not overly introspective - - - they simply do what needs to be done when whatever it is needs doing.
Perhaps it takes a non-American to recognize this fundamental quality of most Americans; not just firefighters, but of all Americans when faced with a crisis. Like most brave people, firefighters don't flaunt their courage; like the astute journalist he is, Halberstam doesn't invent reasons his subjects don't talk about.
Yet, it is all in his book. Time and again, readers will recognize gems of courage, duty, honor and selfless dedication to family that good firefighters posses. Perhaps it's the best way to describe what motivated the men of Engine 40/Ladder 35 who responded and died that fateful day. They didn't boast, Halberstam doesn't. Instead, he tells the story of these men who are so like the firefighters in every community. In his low-key manner, he describes qualities of ordinary Americans which draws the admiration of the world.
Had he tried for more, he would have come across as a pretentious twit. Instead, when you read this book, there's a real sense of the heroism that shone through like a beacon on Sept. 11, 2001. Halberstam has done a masterful job.
As a foreigner, let me recommend this book as a superb even if understated tribute to the quiet courage of Americans, and especially firefighters.
on January 8, 2003
Usually David Halberstam books are not characterized with brevity, however, "Firehouse" is a precious assemble of insightful pieces of information about the men of Engine 40, Ladder 35. Halberstam takes into the firehouse and it culture by introducing us to the team of 35/40. The word "calm" describes a seasoned fire fighter and its the highest praise given veteren. Panic is dangerous and can spread quickly through the team. Rules of the fire house are following with exactness, rules keep the men from getting lazy and soft, and rules save lives. Men eat, sleep, and work from the fire house. The environment was be rich, friendly, and support; but inevitable tensions brought on by so many forceful men living together can create edginess. The fire house culture is careful woven and the men hand selected. Credentials don't come with a college diploma but from tests of character. The numerous adjustments result so they can love one another.
A fire fighter job is too save lives and this makes them heros, but it doesn't come with out risks: tremendous heat, collasping structures, arriving to late to save a life, toxic chemicals, explosions, and high rise buildings. The men and women learn to watch each other, their survival depends on performance. Weakness is soon observed. "Probie" is a probationary or apprentice firefighter. When he joins a firehouse, he must adjust to the firehouse culture, rather than the firehouse adjusting to him. He must learn the rules and traditions.
Cooperation in the fire house requires mandatory: cooking, cleaning, and entertainment. The firehouse manages disputes in much the same way a dispute is handled in the military through contests of opinion, "speak your mind" but make sure your support. A firehouse pivots around the fire chief and Captain Callahan represented a quite, reserved, and humble style of leadership; but when faced with bureacratic nonsense - stood up to the hyprocrisy - winning the admiration of his men, "now we've have us a captain, A great captain."
Fire fighting in Manhattan required the best fire fighters. Fire fighting in high rise structures is extremely dangerous and demanding. The heat depletes oxygen supplies quickly requiring constant switch of oxygen supplies and many fire fighter quickly relocated after their first experiences in these situations. Panic is the enemy and the senior fire fighters showed the young fighter show to stand calm in the face of danger. Tradition and family recruited the best fire fighters. Careers in Fire fighting usually started with young boys admiring their fire fighting dads. The crisp uniforms, ribbons, and professional image endeared these young boys to want to become fire fighters themselves. Many families cultured reputations and transferred family knowledge and skills from father to son. Legendary fire fighters ran in the family. These men knew how to fight fire, they knew how to read a fire, and they knew how to escape. If a man was lost to a fire a memorial event focused the men around his memory. In the case of engine 40 a memorial race focused the men around a lost colleque. The fire house was looking for its fifth victory in the race. Little rituals kept the men sane and ready to respond. The fire fighters never had reservations to respond to a fire or disaster. 343 men would respond and would go forward into the worst disaster of their lives.
The call to respond to 9/11 was no different and their sacrifices will not go unnoticed. The pain of losing a complete firehouse goes beyond description. The pain would be felt through each generation of previous fire fighters. One touching story Halberstam shares is a mother waiting for her son to return home who remains determined to believe her son is still alive, leaving his meal on the table until he returns. Another powerful narrative is the message, to John Morello retired fire department battalion chief, his son is dead. The only surviver was chea. Chea was in the act of helping other escape the South Tower. When it collasped the implosion threw him a block resulting in a broken neck and unconsciousness. He was transported by ambulence, lowered to a boat, and delivered to a hospital. He never completely recovered.
on December 5, 2002
This book was a requirement for me to read in one of my college classes, a class dedicated to trying to understand September 11th. But this book was very interesting. It made you a part of the fireman's community, and made you understand the brotherhood that comes with that career. Through this book, you got to know a little bit about each fireman that was lost that day, and some of the other members of the firehouse and their families. I really enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to all.
on September 14, 2002
Halberstam seems to have a young boy's crush on older, more masculine men. Like his sports books ("October 1964" and "Summer '49" about the world of baseball, and "The Amateurs" about the unnoted world of rowing), "Firehouse" is about a group of men who live in an insular world (an eviable subculture, almost). These are brave men who look after one another, test and tease one another, have trouble expressing their feelings (though Halberstam assures us they feel deeply), and do it all by some sort of finely-tuned Hemingwavian code of honor. What he presents is a sort of northern male version of "Steel Magnolias." If you work in an academic institution or office setting where daily sniping, political intrigue, and constant back-biting are de rigueur, it's hard not to be seduced by the comraderie revealed in these pages.
The stories of the thirteen firefighters from a single FDNY firehouse that lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 are carefully intertwined, a structural device that reinforces the sense of intimacy and interdependence that Halberstam so strongly evokes. Do not expect a dramatic depiction of what actually occurred on that tragic date, Halberstam is honest enough not to try and create details that can no more be recovered from the chaos of that day than most victims' bodies are likely to be found among the rubble. The story is in the simplicity of the firefighters' mission and training. We witness survivors wondering at their "luck," the odd circumstances that put them somewhere else when their company was called to action. It is to Halberstam's credit that he does not presume to understand or explain these painful ironies.
If you read the article Halberstam wrote for Vanity Fair on the same subject, you will be hard pressed to find additional details in this "expanded" version. But that's not a reason to dismiss the book. Halberstam gives us a glance at a world most of us assumed disappeared years ago. A world where honest, unpretentious people care deeply for their comrades, take their responsibilties seriously, and give of themselves sacrificially.
The book is a "keeper" and is going on my shelf with other gender studies titles, like E. Anthony Rotundo's "American Manhood" and Clifford Putney's "Muscular Christianity."
on September 14, 2002
Firehouse by David Halberstam was the first book dealing with September 11th that I read. I really felt like this book did a good job of letting you into the personal lives of these firemen. I really felt like I had known each man my whole life. It gave me a sense of who they were, and I saw the ordinary part of their lives. Everyone knows that Emergency Personal prove everyday that they are heroes. This book puts a different perspective to a few of these heroes and I absolutely loved it.