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September Twelfth: An American Comeback Story
Dean Rotbart, author

Adult; History & Military; (Market)

September Twelfth: An American Comeback Story is an inspirational and timeless account of courage, determination, and resurrection.


The book tells the gripping, behind-the-scenes account of how the traumatized staff of The Wall Street Journal rallied on 9/1/01 after the paper's headquarters was destroyed by fallout from the World Trade Center's collapse.


In addition to interviews with dozens of reporters and editors, author Dean Rotbart draws on a large, previously unpublished cache of internal emails to chronicle the tense, hour-by-hour struggle of reporters and editors to regroup and find a way to deliver a newspaper on September 12th.


For their extraordinary efforts, the paper won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

Rotbart tells the arresting story of the Wall Street Journal on September 11th, 2001: the trauma the staff faced and the professionalism and courage that enabled them to persevere and put out a newspaper for September 12th. He profiles numerous brave journalists, with a focus on what it took and how it felt to conduct the research and reporting to put their stories together before, during, and after the attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan–right across the street from the Journal’s offices. Many New York City editors and journalists were able to reconvene at a South Brunswick, New Jersey, office and still produce an edition that would later win a Pulitzer Prize.

Rotbart’s admiration for the journalists is amply justified by their commitment to telling the stories of those who died in the attack as well as the survivors, all under intense deadline pressure as (to borrow the language of a September 12 headline) the “nation stands in disbelief and horror.” The logistical challenges of newspaper production, all complicated by the attacks, get covered briefly but ably, from difficulties communicating and with layout software to problems physically distributing the paper with Manhattan bridges shut down. Excerpts from e-mails and articles and editorials drafted before the dust had settled contribute to the emotional intensity, as do photographs of the team.

Written with the crisp precision and eye for detail of the best newspaper reporting, September Twelfth powerfully conveys the terror and betrayal felt in Manhattan on that day—as well as how professionals rose to the occasion, refusing to let themselves be overcome by grief and fear. By narrowing his focus to the Journal, Rotbart highlights the impact of individuals more than a broader history could. This moving, exciting story deserves attention from anyone interested in the history of American media or looking for a stirring example of journalistic ethics in action.

Takeaway: A rousing account of the work and courage of Wall Street Journal journalists on September 11, 2001.

Great for fans of: Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn’s 102 Minutes, Ralph Izard and Jay Perkins’s Covering Disaster: Lessons from Media Coverage of Katrina and Rita.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

A thrilling and inspiring tale of journalistic dedication - Kirkus Reviews

In this nonfiction book, a journalist examines the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Wall Street Journaland the newspaper’s efforts to publish the following day.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11, the offices of the Journal, located just across the street, were torn asunder as well, absorbing a “near-fatal blow.” The fog of chaos was formidable—while many staffers hadn’t arrived for work yet, others needed to be evacuated. Paul Steiger, the paper’s “journalistic North Star,” was incommunicado for so many hours that many presumed he was dead. Besides the fight for survival, the paper’s staff responded valiantly to the “palpable” pressure to make its routine deadlines and print an edition the next day, keeping its understandably anxious readers informed. Rotbart, a former Journalreporter and columnist, pieces together a collection of narrative vignettes that tell the story of that day’s grim struggle, filled with fear, sadness, and extraordinary courage. The affecting account includes a wide range of perspectives, from the paper’s well-known luminaries like Steiger, Bob Bartley, and Paul Gigot to the “small battalion of unheralded journalists.” Amazingly, the paper was successfully printed, a feat that required a large organization with considerable internal fissures to achieve a unity of purpose: “On September 11 and early September 12, all of those quarrels were set aside for a fleeting moment. America had come under attack, and, as never before, the extended network of Wall Street Journalemployees and contractors, union and non-union alike, were of one mind.” The author paints a moving tableau of journalists torn between their familial obligations and their professional ones as well as shaken by fear. Some acted heroically—John C. Bussey, a foreign editor, defied orders to evacuate the stricken building because he was so dedicated to doing his job. This is a remarkable testament to the valor of the paper’s staff and a poignant picture of journalism at its heights.

A thrilling and inspiring tale of journalistic dedication.


Dean Rotbart's deeply reported book on how The Wall Street Journal managed to produce a Pulitzer Prize-winning edition on the day that its newsroom was destroyed and its staff scattered by the collapsing Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, is a must-read for anyone who needs a positive story about one of America's darkest days. It was the Journal's "longest day", but its staff showed grit and heart in telling the world what happened that day. 

How The Wall Street Journal Published on 9/11

The newsroom was destroyed and the staff scattered, but the paper came out on schedule.

The Wall Street Journal’s response to 9/11 was a study in strong leadership

For all the accolades that the nation’s business daily of record received for its 9/11 reporting, the Journal let one of the most obvious and remarkable news items of that tragic day go unreported: the paper’s own ordeal and its inspiring comeback.