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What Is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11by Kenneth R Feinberg
"[I]n What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11, [Feinberg] offers a compelling personal account of that work — a story I read with special interest since my 23-year-old cousin was among those killed on September 11. Feinberg's book reveals how the VCF, like the 9/11 Commission, became part of a largely successful government response to September 11. It is a response whose intelligence and compassion has often gone unnoticed beneath the rancor of Bush-era politics." Alexander Barnes Dryer, the New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Just days after September 11, 2001, Kenneth Feinberg was appointed to administer the federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, a unique, unprecedented fund established by Congress to compensate families who lost a loved one on 9/11 and survivors who were physically injured in the attacks. Those who participated in the Fund were required to waive their right to sue the airlines involved in the attacks, as well as other potentially responsible entities. When the program was launched, many families criticized it as a brazen, tight-fisted attempt to protect the airlines from lawsuits. The Fund was also attacked as attempting to put insulting dollar values on the lives of lost loved ones. The families were in pain. And they were angry.
Over the course of the next three years, Feinberg spent almost all of his time meeting with the families, convincing them of the generosity and compassion of the program, and calculating appropriate awards for each and every claim. The Fund proved to be a dramatic success with over 97% of eligible families participating. It also provided important lessons for Feinberg, who became the filter, the arbitrator, and the target of family suffering. Feinberg learned about the enduring power of family grief, love, fear, faith, frustration, and courage. Most importantly, he learned that no check, no matter how large, could make the families and victims of 9/11 whole again.
"When Feinberg writes that '[t]he cacophony of arguments validated my original preference: to refuse to evaluate individual suffering' midway through this frank memoir, the reader already trusts him enough to know that he is not being crass or unfeeling: he is being honest. By then, Feinberg, a lawyer who has been on two presidential commissions and has done Agent Orange litigation, has established his judicious forthrightness and his dedication to 'the success of the fund' — getting as many families as possible to opt in to the trust, which he headed and which was established to award cash to the 9/11 victims, rather than sue the government. The problem: how, and how much? Feinberg's willingness to put himself into the book makes what could have been an alternately dry and self-serving case study crackle with care, frustration, intellectual energy and good writing. Feinberg and his team ran through every argument and counterargument for compensation and its various possible permutations, and he presents the debate, and his ultimate conclusions as head of the 9/11 fund, with an earned conviction and clarity, even on stat-heavy pages. With its combination of a strong personality, undeniably compelling subject matter and a great title, this understated, passionate trek into the dismal terrain is likely to be a major surprise bestseller. Anything but macabre, it ends up, in its own way, celebrating life. (June 13)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mr. Feinberg offers a valuable first-person account of the 9/11 compensation fund and its workings. He makes clear, for the first time, exactly how peculiar the law governing the fund was, and the enormous difficulties, ethical and practical, that resulted from its ambiguous language and hastily written guidelines." William Grimes, the New York Times
Book News Annotation:
Appointed by Attorney General John Ashcroft to administer the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg here reflects on his experiences in the post. He describes the nuts and bolts of the task, including the difficulties of balancing competing demands of 9-11 survivors under the congressional mandate that defined appropriate compensation for an individual's worth in terms of his or her earning power. He also discusses the impact that the job had on him as an individual.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
As head of the 9/11 Compensation Fund, Feinberg was asked, in the interest of fairness, to calculate the dollar value of 2,976 lives lost in the World Trade Center. The experience changed his own life forever.
About the Author
Kenneth R. Feinberg, one of the nation's leading lawyers, has been front and center in some of the most complex public legal disputes of the past three decades: Agent Orange, asbestos, the closing of the Shoreham Nuclear Plant, and now, 9/11. A former prosecutor and member of two Presidential Commissions, he is also adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and New York University.
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