Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93
by J. William Thompson
Penn State University Press, 200 pp., paper $19.95

The crash site and memorialization of Flight 93 near Shanksville, Somerset County, hasn’t received as much attention as the other sites touched by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This short, thoughtful and exceptionally well-written book brings the Flight 93 memorial into much better focus. Certainly there was tremendous popular interest in how the passengers and crew thwarted the terrorists’ plans (three movies so far) and the controversy over the so-called “Crescent of Embrace” in the final design that was changed under public pressure. But here Thompson, former editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, examines how all the twists and turns of public memory and commemoration finally led to the creation of a major national memorial and shrine in the remains of a rural strip mine.

Thompson is especially effective at exploring the tensions of the design competition – the difficulty of symbolizing the loss of Flight 93 within the broader narrative of the 9/11 attack – as well as the pace and pressures of such competitions for the designers. Writing with years of experience and knowledge in the field of landscape architecture, Thompson is at his best in talking with, writing about, and empathizing with the designers who struggled to develop viable plans for this project.

But Thompson is equally skilled at weaving in the stories of those on the ground in Shanksville, as well as the accounts of loss and grief expressed by the families of the dead. This is difficult ground to cover given the strong emotions involved, but Thompson is successful in blending first-person stories into his own storyline.

Finally, the book is noteworthy for its readability. Even though Thompson covers many theoretical issues about public memory and commemoration, he writes in a clear, accessible style. I think this book compares favorably to Edward Linenthal’s The Unfinished Bombing (Oxford, 2001), about the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and Erica Doss’ Memorial Mania (University of Chicago, 2010), about the contemporary dynamics of public art and memory.

Kenneth E. Foote
University of Connecticut