Book Review: 102 Minutes


102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
Times Books – 2005

Mention 9/11 in a social setting, and you are virtually guaranteed someone will bring up one of the various conspiracy theories about the event. Like the Kennedy assassination, and the grassy knoll, 9/11 folklore is already firmly entrenched in our collective psyche. …The towers were felled by controlled demolition, the Pentagon hit by a missile. George W. Bush knew in advance. It was the military-industrial complex, etc., etc…

Hugo Chavez has now added these claims to his political slapstick routine. Danny Glover and Chavez’ gaggle of leftist sycophants were eating it up at a recent New York rally.

Something is at work here, something deeper and more pervasive than a search for answers. It is a search for comfort, making otherwise unbearable events tolerable–so long as they fit into our predetermined dualistic worldview. We humans like to know who the bad guys are. We like our villains wearing black hats, and our heroes riding white horses. The incredible moral complexity that exists in the real world is threatening to even those who understand it intellectually. Like the fear of death that drives religion–for those who have not made the pursuit of critical thought the centerpiece of their life–this moral stew of gray is simply overwhelming.

Truth is much more difficult to wrap our heads around than the cartoonish broad brush strokes painted by the charlatans of conspiracy. In this case, the truth is pretty much what we all already know. We were attacked on 9/11 by religious extremists who were very effective in using our own modern technology against us. They leveraged the weaknesses of our open society — both the openness of access to airliners, and the shortcomings of construction techniques and rescue procedures — to murder large numbers of our citizens. This was an act of political theater as much as an act of war.

Al Qaeda calls 9/11, the “Battle of New York.” If it was a battle, it was a surprise attack, and America lost. That much is clear. But in the heat of the battle, there was tremendous heroism.

This is what 102 minutes is about, the title referring to the time between when the first plane hit the first tower, and the second tower collapsed. Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn have penned a tragic and non-fictional adventure story, about people fighting for their lives under unimaginable conditions. But it is also about staggering ironies, where the difference between life and death could have been a footstep, a decision not to get on elevator, or a simple word of communication. The biggest untold story of 102 minutes is how the patchwork of construction regulations and poor coordination between rescue agencies became a much bigger killer than the attack itself.

For example, no one escaped the upper floors of Tower one. All three stairwells in that building had been severed. The doors leading to the rooftop were locked, and there was absolutely no planning or coordination for any type of rooftop rescue. This combination of factors killed around 1000 people who might otherwise have had a chance.

In Tower two, groups of people who had already descended to the lobby were told it was safe to go back to their offices. This doomed hundreds of others as the second plane hit. Though tower two had a functioning stairwell, few knew about it, and many who died were simply waiting in their offices for help to arrive.

After the collapse of Tower two, no one was able to communicate to the hundreds of firefighters still in Tower one to give them an evacuation order. This is directly attributable to inter-agency fighting over radio frequencies and communication methods. Capable radios were sitting in boxes on shelves and were not used when they could’ve saved hundreds of lives.

But these ironies pale into insignificance compared against the very personal stories of how ordinary people became heroes getting their office mates to safety. This is why I made a point reading this book on the fifth anniversary of the event. But also, I really wanted to better understand the story about the buildings themselves. For me, the loss of these architectural wonders was nearly as great as the loss of life. This may sound crass, until you consider that the towers themselves represented the life efforts of thousands. When they were destroyed, a piece of these great citizens who built the towers died too.

Something else died that day, and it was a certain engineering hubris. We recall the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, and how ‘God’ confounded its builders. This was yet another message the fundamentalists were trying to send, like a medieval skeleton reaching its bony hand through time: “don’t get too cocky with your modernity, we can always find a way to use it against you.”

It wasn’t only engineering hubris that brought down the towers that day, it was also greed. The layout of the towers provided far more rentable space than other designs. The financiers needed to make this happen, and they found engineers who would go against their own better judgment — agreeing to the use of the flimsy floor trusses without fireproofing. These decisions ultimately brought down the buildings.

102 minutes is startling in its detail, its authors having interviewed over 300 eyewitnesses and escapees, having perused countless photographs and recordings. Every event and escape during those 102 minutes is heavily documented, with 35 pages of footnotes at the end of the book. Much of this documentation eerily comes from beyond the grave, having been lifted from the dying phone conversations and e-mail messages of those were ultimately killed in the collapse.

But to me the highest value of this book is that it drives the ultimate Silver Spike into the heart of the nonsensical conspiracy theories. 9/11 is one of the most heavily documented events in history. If anything happened other than as observed, it would have been glaringly obvious to the thousands of people who escaped the buildings, and it would be contained in the comprehensive photography and video archive generated on that fateful day.

[Any conspiracy theory would also have to hold up to engineering scrutiny, which they do not. Click here for a thorough debunking.]

What has not been widely reported, and is well documented in 102 minutes, is that the towers were observed to be buckling by police in their helicopters for many minutes prior to the ultimate collapse. There were also several chilling phone calls from people on the buildings’ upper floors reporting that the “ceiling was caving” on them. Additional photographic evidence shows that several of the upper floors were “red hot,” that rivers of molten aluminum ran down the sides of the buildings, that some upper floors sagged as low as the middle of the windows on the floor below, many minutes before the final collapse.

Each floor in the trade Center was capable of supporting its own weight, plus the weight of two additional floor segments. As soon as there were more than two additional floor segments on top of the already weakened spandrel trusses, there was no place for the buildings to go, but all the way down.

102 minutes was a gripping read. It could be the ultimate antidote to the self-serving 9/11 conspiracy theories which insult our intelligence, undermine the values of observation and evidence, and dishonor the dead.

Comments (9 comments)

olly / September 25th, 2006, 10:50 pm / #1

Sean, not to post hijack (very good post by the way), but I’m doing this book tag, and you are it:


Aaron Kinney / September 26th, 2006, 3:58 pm / #2


Good post. Looks like an interesting book. I personally know a bunch of conspiracy theorists who have taken some offense from time to time over my own attacks against the “controlled demolition” theories.

Ive used my own amateur aerospace knowledge to refute claims made by conspiracy theorists about the specificatios of Boeing 707 and 767 airplanes. Ive referred to friends of mine who are welders to get information about heat and its effects on steel and aluminum. Ive explained how buildings rigged for demolition are unusable for office work due to the prepping that must be involved. I argued that 100+ floors of a skyscraper cannot be wired for demolition without hundreds of electrical and demolition engineers over the course of many months.

Ive even conceded, for the sake of argument, that the US Gov could have been involved in the planning and execution of the attack. But the theorists get pissy with me when I hold my ground at the controlled demolition claims.

Some of these conspiracy theorists can be frustrating. I mean, belive me, I would love nothing more than to find that the Bush admin was responsible for wiring and demolishing the towers. I am no friend of government.

But I have to call ’em as I see ’em. And the twin towers were felled by a pair of Boeing 767 jets, and the associated fires from the jet fuel. All the evidence consistently points to that cause. The molten aluminum pouring out the side, the temperatures at which steel loses 75%+ of its structural integrity, the fact that a 767 will hit a building at sea level with much more force than any 707 could, etc…

Basically, the controlled demolition theory is unsupported and makes the rest of the conspiracy movement look bad. They should focus on trying to get Bush tied in with deliberate execution of the attacks, and ditch their silly and farfetched controlled demolition theory.

BlackSun / September 28th, 2006, 7:14 am / #3

Hey Aaron, thanks for the comment. I checked the stats, and it seems like about half the people who believe in the generalized conspiracy theory (33%) believe in the “controlled-demolition” theory. (16%)

But I say that both are equally preposterous. I mean there are a lot easier and less politically risky ways for a cabal of greedy Republicans to lead us into war. (If that’s what a person suspected.)

The other thing I can’t understand about the conspiracy geeks: They are usually the first ones to point out the general incompetence of the U.S. government, from the military on down. Yet they have no problem believing that such an incompetent bunch of fools could pull off a coordinated strike by 4 passenger planes, with nary a hitch (except for the demise of Flight 93). They believe that this would be possible without the routine leaks that seem to plague every other government action.

One more little detail: Where did this conspiracy come up with 19 people who were willing to die for it? Or are they proposing the 11 Saudi citizens and 8 others were somehow stooges?

It just unravels under the most basic logical examination. Sam Harris calls it “masochistic unreason:”

From the Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2006:

“At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government “assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;â€? 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.”

“Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.”

james prince / October 14th, 2006, 7:40 pm / #4

Thought I would repost this here as it seemed the most appropriate place to do so on your site and also with the hopes that these videos will be more widely watched.


No need to start a conspiracy discussion in this thread as there are hundreds out there. However I wanted to share this documentary with you and your readers in a spirit of friendship and understanding of the importance of the events of 911. It is clearly the most scientific and comprehensive rebuttal to the official Kean Commission report. I hope it will help all to understand the big picture as it relates to that awful day. I will go out on a limb and say it is the equivalent of the Zapruder film in how it portrays the official version of a national disaster as a complete lie.Empirical observation is needed not only as regards to debunking religion but also in debunking other myths such as the official version of 911 as well
Take care,
James Prince

911 Mysteries…..
90 minutes of pure demolition evidence and analysis, laced with staggering witness testimonials. Moving from “the myth” through “the … all » analysis” and into “the players,” careful deconstruction of the official story set right alongside clean, clear science. The 9/11 picture is not one of politics or nationalism or loyalty, but one of strict and simple physics. How do you get a 10-second 110-story pancake collapse?

BlackSun / October 16th, 2006, 3:37 pm / #5

james prince,

If this is what you need to believe, to make your world make sense, I can’t really stop you. But you have pretty much just proved my point for me.

If you actually studied physics, you would know that the towers collapsed with the same speed as any object would have fallen. Given the forces involved, the floor structure of the towers provided no resistance to the fall. The duration of the collapse is exactly how long it would have taken for an object dropped from the top of the towers to hit the ground. Tau Beta Pi, the international engineering society, has endorsed this analysis. Do you think you are smarter than they are?

Cause that’s the conclusion of most all of the conspiracy geeks. They have the REAL story, and the rest of us are just a bunch of stupid rubes. Please.

james prince / October 17th, 2006, 7:05 pm / #6

Do you really think that a structure built like the Twin Towers could collapse from an upper floor failure EXACTLY as fast(10 seconds) as a free falling object dropped from the top of the tower? The only way that could happen is if the failure happened in the foundation area first…which allowed the structure to achieve freefall speed.There would just be too much resistance from the bottom floors.If Tau Beta Phi has endorsed the freefall analysis then yes I believe I must be smarter than them. And no I do not consider you a stupid rube. Please watch the videos I posted and give me your comments after watching them. I would love for you to be right in this case.
james prince

BlackSun / October 18th, 2006, 2:04 pm / #7


"Do you really think that a structure built like the Twin Towers could collapse from an upper floor failure EXACTLY as fast(10 seconds) as a free falling object dropped from the top of the tower?"

Yes, that's what I already said, isn't it?

But I will qualify it a little with this quote from NIST, who did the extensive faliure analysis: Apparently, the buildings did not completely collapse in 10 seconds, merely portions of them:

"6. How could the WTC towers collapse in only 11 seconds (WTC 1) and 9 seconds (WTC 2)—speeds that approximate that of a ball dropped from similar height in a vacuum (with no air resistance)?

NIST estimated the elapsed times for the first exterior panels to strike the ground after the collapse initiated in each of the towers to be approximately 11 seconds for WTC 1 and approximately 9 seconds for WTC 2. These elapsed times were based on: (1) precise timing of the initiation of collapse from video evidence, and (2) ground motion (seismic) signals recorded at Palisades, N.Y., that also were precisely time-calibrated for wave transmission times from lower Manhattan (see NCSTAR 1-5A).

As documented in Section 6.14.4 of NIST NCSTAR 1, these collapse times show that:

“… the structure below the level of collapse initiation offered minimal resistance to the falling building mass at and above the impact zone. The potential energy released by the downward movement of the large building mass far exceeded the capacity of the intact structure below to absorb that energy through energy of deformation.

Since the stories below the level of collapse initiation provided little resistance to the tremendous energy released by the falling building mass, the building section above came down essentially in free fall, as seen in videos. As the stories below sequentially failed, the falling mass increased, further increasing the demand on the floors below, which were unable to arrest the moving mass.?

In other words, the momentum (which equals mass times velocity) of the 12 to 28 stories (WTC 1 and WTC 2, respectively) falling on the supporting structure below (which was designed to support only the static weight of the floors above and not any dynamic effects due to the downward momentum) so greatly exceeded the strength capacity of the structure below that it (the structure below) was unable to stop or even to slow the falling mass. The downward momentum felt by each successive lower floor was even larger due to the increasing mass.

From video evidence, significant portions of the cores of both buildings (roughly 60 stories of WTC 1 and 40 stories of WTC 2) are known to have stood 15 to 25 seconds after collapse initiation before they, too, began to collapse. Neither the duration of the seismic records nor video evidence (due to obstruction of view caused by debris clouds) are reliable indicators of the total time it took for each building to collapse completely."

The weight of the upper floors (THREE THOUSAND TONS per floor. THREE THOUSAND!) was completely overwhelming to the structure, which was never designed for vertical dynamic loads of more than 9,000 tons (for wind, and safety factor). In the Tau Beta Pi report, they said Tower 1 was "like a 10 story building falling on a 90 story building," With Tower 2, it was "like a 30 story building falling on a 70 story building." The forces involved in this kind of mass wouldn't even "see" the underlying structure as any kind of resistance. For the purposes of the calculation, the upper floors fell at the rate of acceleration due to gravity. (9.8 m/s sq.) This would be a fact, not an opinion. There is a difference.

Rather than address the conspiracy theories, which I already said I would not do, I'm going to ask you a few questions:

What is it about a world in which such things are true that is attractive to you?

What purpose does it serve for you to believe that the towers were detonated by explosives, as you claim? How is that any better or worse than what we already know happened?

If, as you say, you would "love for me to be right," why do you then still staunchly defend the conspiracy?

The final question is who pulled off the conspiracy and qui bono? You're talking about bumbling idiots who can't even handle their own press leaks, and they pulled off 9/11??

I think once you can answer these questions, you will get to the bottom of where this might be coming from. Beliefs are a tyranny on the mind. This is really the last thing I'm going to say on the subject. Thanks for visiting.

james prince / October 24th, 2006, 4:52 pm / #8


I will answer your questions but will ask none of you since you have said you have written your last word on the subject.

What is it about a world in which such things are true that is attractive to you?

Absolutely nothing.

What purpose does it serve for you to believe that the towers were detonated by explosives, as you claim?

There is nothing in it for me other than to know the truth.

How is that any better or worse than what we already know happened?

The short answer is that it is important to know the true facts that were behind the most important historical event of our lifetime. The conventional story places the blame for this disaster at the feet of the Islamic terrorists. The so called conspiracy viewpoint places the blame at the hands of an entirely different group that has choreographed the events of 911 for their own political purposes. This is a huge distinction.

If, as you say, you would “love for me to be right,” why do you then still staunchly defend the conspiracy?

Because all of my research into the events of 911 have led me to the conclusion that the official story is not supported by facts and evidence.There are so many inconsistencies in the government version that I am convinced that they will someday be exposed. However the thought of the so called conspiracy version being right sickens me. I would prefer to have an enemy that is identifiable and not American.

The final question is who pulled off the conspiracy and qui bono? You’re talking about bumbling idiots who can’t even handle their own press leaks, and they pulled off 9/11??

This is a very legitimate question as even the conspiracy believers can not put the name to the criminals yet. The hallmark of a successful crime is to get away with it. However there are the usual suspects and some not so usual ones. Obviously the true people behind the events of 911 are vastly more powerful than 13 Arabs with boxcutters with the newly acquired skills to pilot huge aircraft at super human skill levels…acquired after a couple of weeks of training in between their partying at some puddlejumper flight school in Florida.Some who show up alive in various countries just weeks after being identified by the government as the perpetrators. Without any air defense being used against them. I could go on and on but I will not.

I respect your right to believe whatever it is you feel is the truth. The official version is not the truth in my opinion.I live with the hope that the someday the entire stinking mess will be seen by all for what it is…a grand coup against the US by treasonous bastards.

Thanks for allowing me to post on your website.

Alex / April 25th, 2007, 1:56 am / #9

Thank You

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