From Memory to Memorial—a review

Cover image for From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93 By J. William Thompson


From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93

By, J. William Thompson


This compelling new book is a model for narrative non-fiction writing about landscape architecture,  9/11—and specifically,  how the community of Shanksville, Pennsylvania moved from grief to building a lasting memorial.

As the former editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, J. William Thompson is one of the leading design writers in the country. Moving beyond a standard magazine feature style, he builds on the fact-based storytelling tradition of Truman Capote, John Hershey, and Tony Hiss to give readers the sense that they are part of the story unfolding around them—that they are rooted in a place and community.

Starting with that September morning in 2001 when United Flight 93 crashed deep into the ground on the edge of Shanksville, Thompson traces the years as the town and the families of passengers from all over the world forged a memorial of healing and long-term acceptance.

Ever since the controversies over Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial, we have known that creating memorials that satisfy everyone is almost impossible in an increasingly pluralistic nation. There are no longer universal symbols for honor, patriotism, and heroism. And this diversity and debate played out in Shanksville.

But, Thompson’s remarkable narrative also shows how— even though Americans interpret symbols and memory differently—there are moments when we find a process to overcome old divisions and to move on.

For this reason alone, Thompson’s book deserves to become a lasting part of college reading lists for courses in design, art history, architecture, and journalism—just to name a few.


J. William Thompson,

From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93

Keystone Press/University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016

200 pages
5.5″ × 8.5″
26 b&w illustrations/3 maps

#memorials  #memory  #9/11  #landscapearchitecture