Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As someone who was fascinated by, NYC subway tunnels while I was a subway commuter in high school, I appreciated the theme of the book, and that it had much of a chapter balanced around the story of a famous NYC Subway graffiti artist. The challenge I had with this book is that I wasn’t sure what to expect. Based on the cover text, I was expecting a discussion of the history with humans’ relationship to the dark unground spaces, with tendrils to mythology, history and science. In the end, there was that, albeit woven into a travel journal, where the mix of journal and background that varies throughout. I found the first chapter a bit slow going, but the book seemed to flow better for me as I progressed.
The book starts off as more travel log than history. The first chapter, being more travel memoir than history almost has me putting the book down. But in chapter 2 the book became what the title promised: history of human obsession with dark, foreboding places, even in the face of our desire to seek light safety.
The history, science and mythology are woven into stories of the authors travels to obscure and not so obscure places, and the personal touch emphasized the connection that these places have to humans, so in the end the person story made for a more engaging read for me when it was in the right balance.
The book has un-captioned photos scattered through out it, which added to a sense of discovery, but at times I wished they were captioned so that I could quickly find out what they were. I was a bit more frustrated that the end notes only sometimes explained the photo rather than simply being a photo credit.
The issues I had with the book are mostly matters of personal preference though. Overall, this is an interesting read; you do need to start it with the right expectations (or even none) for the best experience. While the book was not as compelling as I had hoped, but was a great way to contemplate what the underground means to us, and to the extent it got me thinking philosophically about the contradictions inherent in our obsession with the underground, it was worth the effort for me.
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