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Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities Paperback – October 12, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The author plumbs the depths of a dozen cities, and his notes from underground illuminate a great deal about the respective metropoles' aboveground histories." - Mike Wallace, co-author, Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 "The murky and miraculous worlds of connection beneath cities - what a fantastic, and overdue topic for a book! Alex Marshall carries off the assignment with accuracy, aplomb, and great writing." - Neal Peirce, Washington-Post Writers Group" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Alex Marshall, an independent journalist in New York City, is the author of How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and The Roads Not Taken, and is a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association in New York City. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Metropolis Magazine, Salon, Slate, and many other publications. A former staff writer for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Marshall was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University in 1999-2000. Marshall holds a master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University in New York, and a bachelor's degree in Political Economy and Spanish from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Marshall lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the documentary film editor Kristin Barlow, and their son Max.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Running Press (October 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786720263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786720262
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A long time ago now, I was driving past some old shacks in rural Virginia, in the western part of the state, and I wondered how the people in them were living. And suddenly it hit me. I wanted to find out, and I wanted to write about it. I wanted to be a writer. So starting in that moment, I took steps to do just that. I started freelance writing, and eventually went to Columbia Journalism School, and then I became a newspaper reporter. I became a journalist, a profession that suits me because my inquiring nature is an asset rather than a liability, which it had been before then.

I'm still a journalist, still a writer, though I don't work for a daily newspaper anymore. I still am trying to figure out how the world works, and tell about it. I have a perhaps a naive belief that if people understand how the world works, they will seek to use that information to make it better.

Some basic bio information about me. I'm the author of three books, the latest being The Surprising Design of Market Economies, which is my opus of sorts. I'm a native of Norfolk, Virginia, being born there on May 7, 1959. I live in Brooklyn now. Before addressing economies, I wrote a lot about urban planning, which explains why I'm a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association, an esteemed urban planning group in New York City. I still write a lot about urban planning.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A beautiful book, monumental piece of research, with clear and engaging prose and a great mix of maps, illustrations, capsule histories, lively facts, and timelines. If you ever stood over a manhole or at the dark edge of a subway tunnel and wondered, "What's down there?" then this book will tell you. Beneath the Metropolis describes what's underneath 12 world cities -- New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Mexico City, Paris, London, Rome, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and Sydney. With pith and concision, Marshall details the infrastructure, the archeology and the geology. In Paris, we learn about the fossilized bones and the beautiful sewers and subways. In Rome, we tour the ancient ruins and rickety subway (did you know there was one?). In Beijing, we learn about the vast network of cold war tunnels that few visit. Marshall uses each city's underground to trace its history, politics and economics. It's a pleasure to learn how successful cities, like London or Paris, can take different approaches to infrastructure. As a fellow author and former Columbia classmate, I admire and envy Marshall's success in wrestling such a huge topic into a pleasurable masterpiece. Beneath the Metropolis is destined for many a reader's nightstand as well as planning and political offices and classrooms.

--Christopher D. Ringwald, author of A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath (Oxford, 2007)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I almost started by stating this book isn't for the average reader. But, I'm an average reader, and frankly I found the information within it fascinating. Coincidentally I lived in N.Y.C., and have a little more experience with its underground infrastructure than just having been a straphanger (subway rider). Mr. Marshall has a no nonsense writing style, and his research has resulted in much interesting information regarding what's buried beneath our feet. The history of how, and why things got, and get buried in the first place makes the book all the more enlightening. Especially the consideration that things get buried as a result of debris that accumulates over time, and how history is lost, and then sometimes rediscovered in the process of modernization.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about the history and underworkings of the great cities of the world. It gave me a new appreciation for what goes in to the planning, creation and development of a major city.
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Format: Paperback
I have always been interested in "real-world" engineering and technology, so I had high expectations for this book. I also love history, so I was hoping that it would talk about how and why the structures under cities came about, how they were used, and so on.

The book tried to give technical and historical information on a dozen cites, but it only had about 20 pages per city to cover all of this. That just wasn't enough to do justice to either topic. Also, there were a lot of pictures, graphics, etc, which reduced the actual discussion still further.

The graphics were maddening. They gave just enough info to whet your appetite, but they never went beyond the superficial. For instance, each city had a vertical graphic showing typical things beneath that city, but they were not detailed enough for me.

I guess I would have preferred for the author to focus on just a couple of cities, and go into more detail about what lies beneath the. If you're looking for a "gee whiz" intro to the topic, this might be OK, but otherwise it was disappointing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a perfect book to get your inquisitive child, friend, cousin, great uncle twice removed, or anyone else. For all of the glamour that's put on bridges, skyscrapers, and parks - we typically completely ignore everything beneath the earth. This book takes the effort to show, both via illustration and photo, and describe what lies beneath our feet. From catacombs in Paris, to tectonic faults in San Francisco and Tokyo, it's thoroughly engaging.

While not exactly a scholarly work, Marshall has done an excellent job researching - to the tune of 24 pages of references! The book goes through the undergrounds of a dozen or so cities around the world, describing what we could find underground and giving a little history lesson at the same time.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in urban areas and development over time.
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