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An index for 9-11

It's hard to know what to say about today's story of the day, except that it is strangely brilliant.

Let's start six years ago: The government's 9-11 Commission Report receives wide praise for being written in novelistic fashion. The book opens: "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States. Millions of men and women readied themselves for work." A New York Times review calls the book/report "an improbable literary triumph."

But the book, for reasons that are still somewhat unclear, lacks an index.* So now, six years later, along comes the hot New York literary journal "n+1." It creates an index organized by characters and strange themes in the book, and the index itself tells an oddly accurate and riveting narrative.

Here's an entry under "girlfriends":

in Greifswald, Germany, Aysel Senguen becomes intimate with hijacker Ziad Jarrah, 163
— he tells her of a childhood interest in aviation, 163
— she enrolls in dental school, 163
— he condemns her provocative dress, 163
— her refusal to become more religious embarrasses him, 163
— he confesses to her his plan to wage jihad, 163
— after training in Afghanistan he acts more like he did when they first met, 167
— relationship causes him to have doubts about jihad, 168
— their trip to Paris, 224
— their hundreds of phone calls and frequent emails, 225
— she visits him in Florida, tags along to flight training school, 22

Here's the entry for "Ashcroft, John":

— acknowledges "steep learning curve" on taking his job, 209
— receives warnings about al Qaeda, 255, 258
— doesn't want to hear about threats anymore, 265
— assumes FBI is doing fine, 265
— takes no action, 265
— seeks new, explicit authorities for killing, 512
— bad relationship with acting FBI director Thomas Pickard, 536
— complains to Pickard that "nothing ever happens," 536
— 9/10/01: quashes FBI request for increased counterterrorism funding, 210

Like I said, strange. And brilliant.

*4 PM Postscript: Stephanie Kaplan, managing editor of the original 9/11 Commission Report, advises that although the original edition of the report did not include an index because "there was not enough time," subsequent editions did include one.

By Michael S. Rosenwald  | April 9, 2010; 8:13 AM ET
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