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3.8 out of 5 stars
The Town Below the Ground: Edinburgh's Legendary Underground City
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
...those readers who don't come from Edinburgh found the book entertaining, but those who do found it disappointing, and I must add my name to the latter category.
As a lifelong Edinburgh resident I've heard stories of the underground city all my life, and the emergence of this book offered the promise of a full and final explanation of what's really there and what isn't. However, aside from a reasonably interesting general history of old Edinburgh, the book is astonishingly lacking in facts of any kind. It's all conjecture, rumour and myth. At least fifty percent of the book is merely a series of fables and ghost stories with absolutely no descernable facts or evidence to either back them up or dismiss them.
If someone's going to bother writing a book on the underground city, wouldn't you expect them to have something to TELL? Not so Jan-Andrew Henderson. For him the gathering together of a few myths and legends was enough. No solid research, maps, plans or diagrams, descriptions of exactly what remains of the underground city; No reports of excavations, eyewitness accounts; no rummaging through old property plans or title deeds to discover reports of mysterious doorways in lost cellars that seem to lead nowhere. None of this.
If you're really interested in learning about the underground city you'd be better off saving your money, and instead paying a visit to one of Edinburgh's many pubs in the old town, where you'll encounter characters who can tell you much more about it than anything in this book
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2000
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I only gave this book 4 stars because I felt that it was too short and abbreviated. Then again, I'm the type of person who likes rich historical details. The author doesn't bore you with dates or technical details, the story of the origins of Edinburgh's underground city are told with a marvelous gift of oratory, making you feel like you're hearing a story told in front of a fire, a story that grows more and more chilling.
The story is simple, due to overpopulation, numerous underground chambers and vaults were built to accommodate the fast growth of Edinburgh's Old Town. The poorest of the poor lived in these dark cramped vaults and more often than not died there too, having never known anything but poverty and misery. You are told of the kinds of people who lived there: villians and widows, families and loners. You hear of how they lived, from the people too sickly to work to the poor children forced to climb inside chimneys to clean them. Full of misery, disease and hoplessness, it's no wonder the underground city has gained a reputation for being haunted.
Tales of the supernatural happenings are also found in this book, tales of a mischeivious yet harmless ghost who haunts a pub to the frightening stories of tourists and tour guides alike being assaulted by unseen hands and claws.
Whether a history buff or a fan of ghosts stories, you're sure to enjoy this book. It's easy reading, educational AND entertaining.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I found this book to be very entertaining and interesting! I don't usually like "ghost stories", and do not believe in ghosts (though I don't want to go looking for them in case I'm wrong...ha, ha); however, having been in Edinburgh 5 months ago, the underground city fascinated me. Though the book can often only reference "stories" and can not be factual, since most of the items in this book are impossible to verify, the author includes a lot of accurate historical information too. I took a tour of South Bridge when I was visiting Edinburgh, and fortunately, did not encounter any ghosts or strange occurences. After reading the section on South Bridge, I was even more glad that I didn't encounter any strange incidences (ha, ha). The author does not try to sell you anything and doesn't use his book as a publicity plug, which is nice. I recommend this book for its entertaining and interesting information!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is a good starting point if you want to get information about Edinburgh. It is entertaining and offers some interesting information about the town's history. And then there are the fables and ghost stories it offers as well.

The book is split in two parts. The first part offers some historical information about the town and Scottish history. It helps one to understand how the Old Town looked like in the 18th century and how its inhabitants coped with normal life. Let me tell you: I wouldn't have wanted to live in the Old Town back then. However, the author offers only a rather superficial glance into Edinburgh's history and this book cannot be more than a starting point for the interested reader.

The second part of the book offers ghost stories, myths and legends. I have visited Edinburgh in 2008 and took part in one of the ghost tours. We went into the vaults under the South Bridge. And boy... it was really spooky down there and it wasn't hard to imagine that something weird is going on.

I wished that the author would have put more emphasis on the first part of the book. But I guess ghost stories sell better when it comes to tourists and Edinburgh. Nevertheless, this book was a fun read. Don't expect more from it and you will enjoy what you have.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was lucky enough to go on one of J A Henderson's City of the Dead Tours when I was in Scotland. Extremely interesting and very good storytellers led me through the underground and graveyards of Scotland's capital City. In J A Henderson's book, he gives even more details and gruesome anecdotes from Edinburgh's bloody history. Great, intriguing and interesting read. Highly recommended.
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on April 1, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I wish I had read this book prior to my last trip to Edinburgh! Even though I knew a bit about the history of the city and the underground vaults and such, it would have been a treat to have this book with me on the trip. That being said - it is definitely going with me on my return vacation this year.
The book is a very easy and entertaining read giving you the behind the scenes info about one of the most wonderful cities to sight see.
From the underground passages and vaults to the many ghost stories associated with them, I read this book from cover to cover trying to soak up every detail.
If you are planning to go, or went to Edinburgh without knowing the history of the city below, this book will not disappoint.
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on September 1, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Sixty three pages of a vague history of Edinburgh. I had finished the book in less than an hour. The rest of the book is just recycled ghost stories. a waste of time and money. Did the writer do any research at all?
I'm generally loathe to pan a book completely but I really am greatly disappointed with this effort.
Don't waste your time nor money on this one.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A delightful book about the forgotten and mysterious part of Edinburgh. There are many interesting stories in the book. I would have given it five stars had there been more detain and depth to the book. As it is, an interesting primer for the subject.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
I must start by saying that I haven't actually read this book. I did, however, visit Edinburgh a week ago and embark upon a tour of the old city that focused sites of murder and mayhem. On that tour, my guide was Jan-Andrew Henderson. He brought an overlarge group of American teenagers to silent, rapt attention with his description of the old city of Edinburgh inside the Floyden wall. We ended at Greyfriar's churchyard, home to 400 monuments and approximately 800,000 bodies. He was a charismatic and knowledgable story-teller, and if he writes at all in the manner in which he speaks, anything he could put on paper would be worth reading. ~ Interested in History
P.S. On this tour Henderson made no mention of his name or plug for his book. I found out his identity later from my overall holiday tour guide (completely independent from Henderson's tour) who had accompanied my school group for the experience.
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on March 31, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Very interesting book!
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