I knew almost immediately why the towers collapsed the way they did. And I sat there and cried. I wept for the thousands I knew must have died. And I wept because we built the damn things.
Like millions of people around the world, Karl Koch III watched in disbelief as the World Trade Center collapsed right before his eyes on the morning of September 11, 2001. But the sadness that tormented him in the days and weeks that followed was fueled not only by the compassion and anger that most of us felt but also by his intimate connection with every beam and column in the Twin Towers.
In 1966, the Karl Koch Erecting Company, founded by the author's grandfather and father in the 1920s, had been awarded the contract to erect the 200,000 tons of steel and more than 6 million square feet of floor that would turn a grand idea more than a decade in the making into the world's two tallest buildings. It would be the crowning achievement for a proud family enterprise that had built many of America's most important buildings, from Washington landmarks such as the U.S. Supreme Court and the Library of Congress buildings to such fabled New York hotels as the Pierre and the New Yorker to the half-mile-long, 42-acre plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that was the birthplace of the hydrogen bomb. But none of those projects could prepare this company of fathers and sons and brothers and uncles for the challenges confronting them on erecting the Twin Towers.
In Men of Steel , Koch and award-winning author Richard Firstman tell the complete and fascinating story of the creation of the World Trade Center: the politics behind its conception, the innovative thinking that went into its design, the drama of its construction, and the truth behind its destruction. But the story of the Twin Towers is the climax to a saga that starts a century earlier, when the author's grandfather, the son of a German immigrant, drove his first rivets by hand into our nation's earliest steel structures. It brings to life the rough-and-tumble iron working culture, a world where men with names like Toots Garrity and Hole in the Head Himpler climbed hundreds of feet into the air, erecting steel with great pride despite the very real threat of death and injury they faced every day.
Men of Steel is a brilliant evocation of a family dynasty inextricably intertwined with the steel that makes up many of our nation's most prominent landmarks. In the tradition of David McCullough's The Great Bridge , this rich, multilayered narrative exposes the heart and soul that goes into making these remarkable structures. And, most poignantly, in recounting the making and unmaking of the World Trade Center, Men of Steel is at once a lament and a tribute, both to the illustrious buildings and to the country whose strength they symbolized.