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Underground
Cover of Underground
Underground
A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet
by Will Hunt
Borrow Borrow
A panoramic investigation of the subterranean landscape, from sacred caves and derelict subway stations to nuclear bunkers and ancient underground cities—an exploration of the history, science, architecture, and mythology of the worlds beneath our feet
When Will Hunt was sixteen years old, he discovered an abandoned tunnel that ran beneath his house in Providence, Rhode Island. His first tunnel trips inspired a lifelong fascination with exploring underground worlds, from the derelict subway stations and sewers of New York City to the sacred caves, catacombs, and tombs, from bunkers to ancient underground cities in more than twenty countries around the world. Underground is both a personal exploration of Hunt's obsession and a wide-lensed study of how we are all connected to the underground, how caves and other dark hollows have frightened and enchanted, repelled and captivated, us through the ages.
In a narrative spanning continents and epochs, Hunt follows a cast of subterranea-philes who have dedicated themselves to investigating underground worlds. He tracks the origins of life with a team of NASA microbiologists a mile beneath the Black Hills, camps out for three days with urban explorers in the catacombs and sewers of Paris, descends with an Aboriginal family into a 35,000-year-old sacred mine in the Australian outback, follows a ghostlike graffiti artist writing stories in the subway tunnels of New York, and glimpses a sacred sculpture molded by Paleolithic artists in the depths of a cave in the Pyrenees.
Each adventure is woven with findings in mythology and anthropology, natural history and neuroscience, literature and philosophy. In elegant and graceful prose, Hunt cures us of our "surface chauvinism," opening our eyes to the planet's hidden dimension. He reveals how the subterranean landscape gave shape to our most basic beliefs, including how we think about ourselves as humans. At bottom, Underground is a meditation on the allure of darkness, the power of mystery, and our eternal desire to connect with what we cannot see.
Advance praise for Underground
"An unusual and intriguing travel book . . . As [Will] Hunt reveals the scientific, historic, literary, psychological, spiritual, and metaphorical qualities of his exploration, it begins to seem less idiosyncratic than universal, a pull that has persisted throughout civilization and a mystery that has yet to be solved. The underground may represent hell to some, but it has also provided spiritual solace for centuries. . . . A vivid illumination of the dark and an effective evocation of its profound mystery."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A panoramic investigation of the subterranean landscape, from sacred caves and derelict subway stations to nuclear bunkers and ancient underground cities—an exploration of the history, science, architecture, and mythology of the worlds beneath our feet
When Will Hunt was sixteen years old, he discovered an abandoned tunnel that ran beneath his house in Providence, Rhode Island. His first tunnel trips inspired a lifelong fascination with exploring underground worlds, from the derelict subway stations and sewers of New York City to the sacred caves, catacombs, and tombs, from bunkers to ancient underground cities in more than twenty countries around the world. Underground is both a personal exploration of Hunt's obsession and a wide-lensed study of how we are all connected to the underground, how caves and other dark hollows have frightened and enchanted, repelled and captivated, us through the ages.
In a narrative spanning continents and epochs, Hunt follows a cast of subterranea-philes who have dedicated themselves to investigating underground worlds. He tracks the origins of life with a team of NASA microbiologists a mile beneath the Black Hills, camps out for three days with urban explorers in the catacombs and sewers of Paris, descends with an Aboriginal family into a 35,000-year-old sacred mine in the Australian outback, follows a ghostlike graffiti artist writing stories in the subway tunnels of New York, and glimpses a sacred sculpture molded by Paleolithic artists in the depths of a cave in the Pyrenees.
Each adventure is woven with findings in mythology and anthropology, natural history and neuroscience, literature and philosophy. In elegant and graceful prose, Hunt cures us of our "surface chauvinism," opening our eyes to the planet's hidden dimension. He reveals how the subterranean landscape gave shape to our most basic beliefs, including how we think about ourselves as humans. At bottom, Underground is a meditation on the allure of darkness, the power of mystery, and our eternal desire to connect with what we cannot see.
Advance praise for Underground
"An unusual and intriguing travel book . . . As [Will] Hunt reveals the scientific, historic, literary, psychological, spiritual, and metaphorical qualities of his exploration, it begins to seem less idiosyncratic than universal, a pull that has persisted throughout civilization and a mystery that has yet to be solved. The underground may represent hell to some, but it has also provided spiritual solace for centuries. . . . A vivid illumination of the dark and an effective evocation of its profound mystery."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter 1

    Descend

    There is another world, but it is in this one.

    —Paul Éluard

    Find signs of it everywhere you go. Step out your front door and feel beneath your feet the thrum of subway tunnels and electric cables, mossy aqueducts and pneumatic tubes, all interweaving and overlapping like threads in a great loom. At the end of a quiet street, find vapor streaming out of a ventilation grate, which may rise from a hidden tunnel where outcasts dwell in jerry-rigged shanties, or from a clandestine bunker with dense concrete walls, where the elite will flee to escape the end of days. On a long stroll through quiet pastureland, run your hands over a grassy mound that may conceal the tomb of an ancient tribal queen, or the buried fossil of a prehistoric beast with a long snaking spine. Hike down a shaded forest trail, where you cup your ear to the earth and hear the scuttle of ants excavating a buried metropolis, spoked with tiny whorled passageways. Trekking up in the foothills, you smell an earthy aroma emanating from a slender crack, the sign of a giant hidden cave, where the stony walls are graced with ancient charcoal paintings. And everywhere you go, beneath every step, you feel a quiver coming up from deep, deep below, where titanic bodies of stone shift and grind against one another, causing the planet to tremble and shudder.

    If the surface of the earth were transparent, we'd spend days on our bellies, peering down into this marvelous layered terrain. But for us surface dwellers, going about our lives in the sun-lit world, the underground has always been invisible. Our word for the underworld, Hell, is rooted in the Proto-Indo-European kel-, for "conceal"; in ancient Greek, Hades translates to "the unseen one." Today, we have newfangled devices—ground-penetrating radar and magnetometers—to help us visualize the underground, but even our sharpest images come out distant and foggy, leaving us like Dante, squinting into the depths: "so dark and deep and nebulous it was, / try as I might to force my sight below / I could not see the shape of anything." In its obscurity, the underground is our planet's most abstract landscape, always more metaphor than space. When we describe something as "underground"—an illicit economy, a secret rave, an undiscovered artist—we are typically describing not a place but a feeling: something forbidden, unspoken, or otherwise beyond the known and ordinary.

    As visual creatures—our eyes, wrote Diane Ackerman, are the "great monopolists of our senses"—we forget about the underground. We are surface chauvinists. Our most celebrated explorers venture out and up: we have skipped across the moon, guided rovers into Martian volcanoes, and charted electromagnetic storms in distant outer space. Inner space has never been so accessible. Geologists believe that more than half of the world's caves are undiscovered, buried deep in impenetrable crust. The journey from where we now sit to the center of the earth is equal to a trip from New York to Paris, and yet the planet's core is a black box, a place whose existence we accept on faith. The deepest we've burrowed underground is the Kola borehole in the Russian Arctic, which reaches 7.6 miles deep—less than one half of one percent of the way to the center of the earth. The underground is our ghost landscape, unfolding everywhere beneath our feet, always out of view.

    But as a boy, I knew that the underworld was not always invisible—to certain people, it could be revealed. In my parents' old edition of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, I read of Odysseus, Hercules, Orpheus, and other heroes who ventured down...
About the Author-
  • Will Hunt's writing, photography and audio storytelling have appeared in The Economist, The Paris Review, Discover, Audible Originals, and Outside, among other places. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and The Macdowell Colony, he is currently a visiting scholar at the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge. Underground is his first book.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2018

    In a different kind of history, backed by big in-house hopes, grant- and fellowship-worthy Hunt crawls down into deep, dark holes to explore the history, science, and mythology of the caves and catacombs, subway systems, and deserted mines that exist beneath our feet.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 5, 2018
    Urban explorer Hunt serves as a genial guide to the clandestine communities, unexpected lives, and hidden histories existing in subterranean realms. More travelogue than history, the book allows the reader to follow Hunt as he traverses the catacombs of Paris, ochre mines of Australia, underground cities of Turkey, and subway tunnels of New York City, in the last locale searching for a famed graffiti artist’s elusive work. Along the way, Hunt introduces readers to fascinating people obsessed with the underground, including the flamboyant 19th-century French photographer Nadar, who documented Paris’s catacombs using one of the first artificial lighting systems in the history of photography, and English engineer William Lyttle, “the Mole Man of Hackney,” discovered in the early 2000s to have been secretly tunneling beneath his northeast London house for decades. At times, Hunt’s claims for his subject’s importance can be grandiose (“Underground worlds... have guided how we think of ourselves and given shape to our humanity”), but he is always entertaining, and this brisk work, rife with intriguing characters and little-known traditions and communities, will leave many readers wanting to dig deeper into the worlds hiding beneath their feet. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2018
    An unusual and intriguing travel book, into the world beneath the world we know.In his debut, Hunt begins modestly before revealing larger ambitions. His obsession with the underground started with an abandoned train tunnel he explored as a teenager, and his fascination would ultimately lead him through underground passageways of Paris and New York City, Aboriginal mines of Australia, and other wondrous places. His early experiences, he writes, "seized me with a ferocity that turned my entire imagination inside-out, fundamentally altering the way I thought about myself, and my place in the greater architecture of the world." The author casts himself among the "urban explorers" of the world below street level and "the Mole People, the homeless men and women who lived in hidden nooks and vaults." His earliest guide to this secret world was a photographer he describes as "a dashing and brilliant and possibly deranged individual." As Hunt reveals the scientific, historic, literary, psychological, spiritual, and metaphorical qualities of his exploration, it begins to seem less idiosyncratic than universal, a pull that has persisted throughout civilization and a mystery that has yet to be solved. The underground may represent hell to some, but it has also provided spiritual solace for centuries. Pilgrims have felt themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves, and they have left human sacrifices to cruel gods and created graffiti, paintings, or elaborate sculptures that so few would ever see. They have mined the underground for earthly riches, and they have all but lost their minds to its sensory deprivation. Without belaboring the point, Hunt alludes to conjecture that all of life might have started underground, that it retains a revelatory diversity, and that the level below the Earth could be a womb as well as a tomb. Ultimately, he compellingly examines "how much of our existence remains in mystery, how much of reality continues to elude us, and how much deeper our world runs beyond what we know."A vivid illumination of the dark and an effective evocation of its profound mystery.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Justin Davidson, author of Magnetic City and architecture critic of New York "As a sunlight-craving claustrophobe, I'm not normally drawn to sewers or mine shafts plunged a mile into the earth, but Will Hunt is an irresistible guide. I followed Underground's global tour of subterranean cultures with astonishment and joy, happy to meet a cast of cataphiles, compulsive diggers, ochre priests, spelunkers, and various seekers of the dark. I will never look at a hole in the ground in quite the same way again."
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