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The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City Paperback – October 1, 1995

184 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Alligators breeding in the sewers of New York City is an urban legend; thousands of people living in the tunnels beneath New York is not. Ms. Toth has written a compelling, compassionate and extraordinary documentary about the "Mole People."

From Publishers Weekly

Toth's firsthand account of the sad, bizarre subculture of people who live in New York's abandoned subway tunnels and sewage lines.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; Reissue edition (October 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155652241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556522413
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (184 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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150 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on January 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
My birthday gift was "The Mole People - Life in the Tunnels beneath New York City." Both subterranean landscapes and alternative societies have always fascinated me, and this book contains both. New York City has some of the largest and most inhabited underground spaces of any city in the United States, and the homeless population is more visible there than some other cities. The book changed how I thought about the homeless. I avoided contact with them because they can be unpredictable. I pretended I didn't see them, thinking soup kitchens and shelters would help them. Although the book reinforces that homelessness is often a choice, it taught me that the homeless are not much different from me.
It's amazing how much space there is belowground. So many abandoned tunnels for trains, gas lines, and water. One can still wire electricity, and some abandoned subway stations still have working bathrooms. Cubbies built to house maintenance workers now house the homeless. One community got water from a broken pipe where they showered and washed their clothes. Another even had a microwave. One wonders if any of them have Internet access.
I found it interesting that many tunnel-dwellers did not want to return to the surface, or to a normal life. They are the ultimate outsiders, and they have idealist views of their own lifestyle, while believing the surface is not for them. They are invisible, outcasts, on the surface world. Life is not better there. Underground they have a family and a purpose. Men who couldn't find work and provide for the family on the surface world can be productive members of "society" beneath the ground. It amazed me how much they helped one another, forming communities where each person had their role.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By H. J. Wakenshaw on July 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Anyone with an interest in homelessness should read this, especially if you enjoyed Lee Stringer's autobiographical "Grand Central Winter". Toth explores the areas that Stringer didn't, literally and figuratively, delving deep into the bowels of NYC, and into our collective conscience to uncover the Mole People.
Whether you believe in the existence of the Mole People or not, (and if they do not exist, I find it difficult to understand why a sizeable police team has been assigned to deal with them) this is a fascinating book; quite difficult to put down, which is high praise for a work of non-fiction on such a grim subject. Toth writes in a vivid, but honest and open way about her tunnel experiences; her youth lends clarity and simplicity to what could, from the pen of an older writer, have become a messy opinion laden tirade against society's ills. Here, the stories are fresh and vigorous, tinged with sympathy, humour, sadness, but above all, evidence of the author's enormous respect for her subjects. Toth gives no answers. The pasts of the people she introduces to us are hazy at best, and while sweeping generalisations can be made about why they chose to live underground, Toth herself is never so arrogant as to try to offer solutions or even possible causes for their problems. She challenges widely held ideas about how much of a problem the underground homeless are without either condoning or criticising any single individual or agency. She is always balanced, whether dealing with policemen or the homeless man whose stories about himself seem to change as often as the weather, absolutely non-judgemental, which in a book of this type, is refreshing.
The stories she tells are almost all unbelievable.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Fredrik Deboer on May 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Toth has always presented this book as a work of nonfiction, in the vein of sociology or anthropology. The truth is that a significant majority of this book is total fabrication. Joseph Brennan, a systems engineer at Columbia University, investigated her claims and found them consistently at odds with reality. The geography she describes under the city is not real and not possible. What's more, journalists have followed up with her and found her completely unable or unwilling to answer questions about the book. Brennan puts it succinctly: " every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong." It's amazing that so many people rating this book on Amazon don't know this.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By E. Iodice on September 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Toth writes incredibly well, and is quite captivating, but you only need to be a common commuter of Grand Central Terminal to see several holes in the facts she provides. Many of the descriptions she gives seem more for the purpose of clever metaphor than to actually describe a setting (the tracks from GCT do not funnel "into twenty-six main rail arteries going north, east and west". It's the complete opposite of that. Four tracks, basically run in varying degrees north. I'm not even sure she contemplated how wide 26 tracks are).

The biggest eye rolls I performed while reading this were her description of a large tunnel going across midtown that doesn't exist, and supposedly natural caverns that any geologist will tell you CAN'T exist. Some of the inaccuracies come from the interviews of various homeless, but wouldn't you fact check your findings? A good number of the homeless folks I meet in NYC are legitimately disturbed.

She mentions the catacombs of Paris at one point, and I have a strong feeling this is where she took her inspiration from. Yes, New York has several tucked away areas that homeless people are living in, but the way she describes it you would think that every nook of underground is an interconnected community, and it simply isn't.

Most of her experiences underground just don't make sense once you do the tiniest bit of research. And that's what's annoying. If she wanted to spin a tale about people living underground, and the society that could evolve from that, her story would have held water a lot better if it took place in an older city, or she simply investigated this more. Even back when this book was published, the records of most underground construction were available for reference.
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