“[A] winningly obsessive history of our relationship with underground places” (The Guardian), 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
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
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 sacred caves, catacombs, tombs, bunkers, and ancient underground cities in more than twenty countries around the world. Underground is both a personal exploration of Hunt’s obsession and a panoramic study of how we are all connected to the underground, how caves and other dark hollows have frightened and enchanted us through the ages.
In a narrative spanning continents and epochs, Hunt follows a cast of subterraneaphiles 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 mine in the Australian outback, 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 and guided 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.
Praise for Underground
“A mesmerizingly fascinating tale . . . I could not stop reading this beautifully written book.”—Michael Finkel, author of The Stranger in the Woods
“Few books have blown my mind so totally, and so often. In Will Hunt’s nimble hands, excursion becomes inversion, and the darkness turns luminous. There are echoes of Sebald, Calvino, and Herzog in his elegant and enigmatic voice, but also real warmth and humor. . . . An intrepid—but far from fearless—journey, both theoretically and terrestrially.”—Robert Moor, New York Times bestselling author of On Trails
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.