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Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness by [Swidey, Neil]
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Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 279 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In the summer of 1999, after an extraordinary project to clean up filthy Boston Harbor was stalled, five commercial divers were brought in for a dangerous, high-stakes mission hundreds of feet beneath the ocean floor. To unstick the Deer Island sewer treatment plant project, the men entered a 10-mile-long tunnel, a dark and claustrophobic space in which oxygen was fed to each man through an umbilical hose. When the mission went wrong, the men found themselves fighting for their lives in a race to get out of the tunnel. Swidey spent five years poring over documents and interviewing all the major figures, including the surviving divers, who speak for the first time about the tragedy and its lasting impact on their lives. More than just an exploration of the elements of a mission gone wrong (the politics, engineering, and design), this is a look at the dangerous jobs done by countless workers executing the grand plans of politicians and engineers that are taken for granted. With the pacing and feel of a special-ops adventure and the insight of a public-policy investigation, Swidey details the lives of the divers, leading up to their fateful mission, the horrors of the ordeal, and its aftermath as the survivors coped with trauma and guilt. --Vanessa Bush


A 2014 Booklist Editor's Choice
#1 Boston Globe bestseller
A NEIBA bestseller

"While corporate boardrooms are the usual point of entry for dramas involving big money and technological hubris, Swidey, a journalist and author, works instead from the bottom up in his impressively reported account...His is a skillful examination into the basic fragility of such huge infrastructural projects and a lesson in how worker fatalities result not so much from single catastrophic mistakes as from ‘a series of small, bad decisions made by many individuals.'"
New York Times Book Review

"A harrowing account of one of the largest engineering projects in U.S. history and of the hubris and ignorance that led to tragedy…A cautionary tale, which Mr. Swidey writes with splendid heart."
—Wall Street Journal

"Intense…A Perfect Storm of public works: the great, awful narrative about the building of a ten-mile tunnel that ends in a very dark place beneath the Atlantic. Maybe not for claustrophobes; definitely for everyone else."
—New York

"Dramatic...Through his meticulous reporting, Swidey sheds light on how the largest monuments to our collective genius are also the most likely to be seriously flawed. Audacious, brilliant, imaginative construction projects are really, really hard to build—and ultimately they’re built not by the dreamers who conceived them, but by the sandhogs and divers sent deep into the earth."
Chris Jones, Esquire

"A harrowing account of how commercial divers risk their lives to improve ours. After reading Neil Swidey’s engrossing Trapped Under the Sea, you will never look at a bridge or tunnel in the same way."
—Men's Journal

"[Trapped Under the Sea] transcends narrow geography in many ways: as exemplary investigative reporting, as superb narrative writing, as a cautionary tale of capitalistic greed, as a case study of how government agencies can protect or harm, and as a rare glimpse into the scary world of underwater dive crews....[Swidey] masterfully portrays the lives of the five divers, their loved ones, their work colleagues and their supervisors. It is a rare book that portrays blue-collar skilled laborers so thoroughly and compellingly."
Steve Weinberg, Dallas Morning News

"Perhaps Swidey’s greatest accomplishment is how through it all — the bravery, the bungling, and the loss — he manages to attain a level of suspense akin to that accomplished by Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm...[A] masterfully crafted saga."
—Boston Globe

"[A] riveting, tragic true story...Fascinating."

"Captivating... Swidey brands the disaster with a human face by introducing the men to the reader and extracting lessons learned through a careful examination that he passes along in a narrative nonfiction piece that would no doubt make his glorious predecessors in the investigative magazine genre of the early 20th century proud."
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Reads like a thriller."
—Sacramento Bee

"Neil Swidey's detail-rich account of this unlikely disaster is a stirring tribute to the men, how they lived, and how they died."
—Mother Jones

"Neil Swidey’s Trapped Under the Sea combines rich characters with a thrilling and tragic story that offers something for readers of all stripes...At once tragic and ironic, insightful and enraging."
The Blaze

"Swidey’s book is, at its core, a story about people: the people who risked their lives. The people who loved them. And the people who should have seen the disaster to come."

"A gripping (and true) tale … told in a you-are-there narrative style that recalls Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air."
—Civil Engineering

"Unforgettable...Seems destined to become a nonfiction classic."
Engineering News-Record

"Trapped Under the Sea is extraordinary. It bears comparison with The Perfect Storm in its brilliant evocation of everyday, working class men thrust into a harrowing, at times heroic confrontation with death and disaster."
Dennis Lehane, author of Live By Night and Shutter Island

"This book will take you on a journey into a fascinating but little-known world—it’s the anatomy of a tragedy, a dramatic tale with a cast of vividly drawn characters, superbly written and researched."
Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action and The Lost Painting
"Trapped Under the Sea is a heartbreaking tale of real-life bravery, real-life bungling, and real-life tragedy. Neil Swidey is a terrific storyteller."
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction

"Thrilling and beautifully told, Trapped Under the Sea delivers us into a dangerous and mysterious world, a place that speaks to our darkest fears and where heroes work, as Swidey so masterfully shows us, just beneath the surface of our everyday lives."
Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers

"A fascinating, sympathetic, and suspenseful look at a doomed, high-risk engineering job, the working class men who dared to undertake it, and its ripple effect on the survivors. Claustrophobic and compelling."
Chuck Hogan, author of Devils in Exile and The Town 

"A marvel of masterful reporting and suspenseful writing. Neil Swidey has delivered a gripping, action-filled account of the human costs deep inside a feat of modern engineering. He has a remarkable knack for bringing to life indelible characters and making readers hold our breath as these brave men enter the claustrophobic world of their undersea lives."
Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La
"Trapped Under the Sea offers vital insights into how organizations work—or fail to work—and how very smart people can make very bad decisions. Neil Swidey’s riveting account of the Deer Island disaster should be essential reading for anyone in a position of leadership. I couldn’t put it down."
Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management and author of Teaming
"A masterfully reported, grippingly written, and moving case study of how the emotional way we assess risk can lead to deadly mistakes. Nearly everyone in this sad story, driven by their own unique motivations, misjudged a deadly danger that was staring them in the face, and the results were tragic. There are lessons here, for all of us."
David Ropeik, author of Risk!

"With the pacing and feel of a special-ops adventure and the insight of a public-policy investigation, Swidey details the lives of the divers, leading up to their fateful mission, the horrors of the ordeal, and its aftermath as the survivors coped with trauma and guilt."
Booklist, starred review

"Gripping…This virtuoso performance combines insights into massive engineering projects, corporate litigation, environmental science, and cutthroat free-market behavior with vivid personal stories."
Publishers Weekly, starred review 

"Enlightening...Provides immense detail about the challenges, solutions, politics, management, legalities, and personnel involved in a huge, expensive, necessary project that transformed Boston Harbor from an open sewer into a recreational area...yet never loses sight of the people involved."
—Library Journal, starred review

"A story of infrastructure told on a human scale and a trenchant reminder that the modern metropolis comes with high risks and savage costs."
Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

  • File Size: 4590 KB
  • Print Length: 434 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 18, 2014)
  • Publication Date: February 18, 2014
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,000 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is so expertly researched, impressively detailed, and captivatingly written that it appealed to my logical, ethical and emotional sides. Though I knew absolutely nothing about waste treatment plants, engineering projects or big corporations going into this, I didn't have trouble following because everything was clearly explained.

The prologue jumps right to the moment where all hell breaks loose in the underwater tunnel, then the narrative shifts to the Boston Harbor pollution mess, the construction of the waste treatment plant, the major players involved, and the increasingly unnerving setbacks that cropped up while finalizing the tunnel, which leads back to where the prologue left off. The final third of the book recounts the investigation, legal battles, and the struggles of the surviving divers to put the underwater tunnel nightmare behind them.

This compelling read reveals the massive amount of planning, money, effort and time involved in huge "engineering marvels," and it exposes the risks that may be taken toward the end of projects where time and money pressures, as well as dangerous complacency, can lead to shortcuts and carelessness. It's heartbreaking and infuriating that completely avoidable deaths occurred during the final stage of the Boston Harbor's waste treatment plant's construction because the people in charge became negligent and rash.

This book certainly changed my perception of industrial structures (not only do they cost a lot in terms of money, but also sometimes in terms of lives), and I'll definitely be more apt to stand up for my safety if I've ever asked to do something I have doubts about at work. Highly recommended for anyone interested in history, non-fiction, engineering, or sea related disasters.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a wonderfully detailed account of a needless tragedy. Faulty design, bad science, poor engineering, lack of oversight, and some extremely bad decisions all contributed to the deaths of these unfortunate men. To say " I couldn't put this book down" is an understatement. The author brings you right into the tunnel with these men. You can actually feel the cold, the dampness, and the cramped, claustrophobic conditions that they had to endure. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
In a persons lifetime there comes along how many books that stick in your craw forever? A handful at best? I'm an avid reader and have to say that THIS is one of those books.

Boston harbor was a disgusting garbage dump for ages, an embarrassment. It was well past time for a clean-up when the plans for the Deer Island treatment system were dreamed up. I approached the first pages of this book with trepidition due to the fact that even tho i was intrigued, and am from the Boston area, i was afraid it might be too technically written.
Not only do the participants indiviual personalities emerge, but the construction and development of the tunnel... and the major problems that came up, were explained simply and directly.
The book is on its way north to my dad who did dive jobs in the harbor and will relate even more than I.
When it was finished there was a lot of hooplah but who got the glory? NOT the grunts, the sand hogs. Not the ones who died. Not the guys who crawled into an unlit unoxygenized concrete tunnel 10 miles under the ocean. This is a sad commentary on what actually happened, and the higher-ups that played the blame game .
---ps- for the reviewer who gave this book one star....those men WERE trapped under the sea! They had to HOPE that they had enough air to breathe to get 10 miles back to land for gods sake, breathing from non functioning thrown together contraptions .... THAT is trapped. THEY rescued themselves! Trade places and then write the review again about being stuck. As for the authors explanations?? They were needed to draw the full picture for the reader. One star shows a lack of comprehension.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The result of decades of environmental abuse, the solution to cleaning up the filthy Boston Harbor was a chancy engineering solution that went bad and cost five lives. Journalist Neil Swider looks at the reasons why the harbor was assaulted environmentally, the engineering solution of digging a deep water tunnel to take the garbage and junk ten miles out into the Atlantic,the politicians and environmentalists who drove the project, and the workers who were placed in jeopardy.

I liked this book very much. It combined history, environmental issues and concerns, engineering solutions and the inherent dangers of the final solution, and the human story of those who lost their lives pitted against politicians who drove the project. While it encompassed a lot and was extremely thorough, it was well organized and compelling and it moved quickly because it was a collective look at a tragedy in the making as well as its aftermath. I found myself fascinated and also repulsed by the continued goings on, but I absolutely never was bored as I read on.

On a personal level, I found the engineering aspects of this project interesting but also not exactly foolproof. Be it the Roeblings building the Brooklyn Bridge or the technical issues surrounding the building of the St. Louis Arch I have always been a sucker for engineering projects. This project was no exception.

I don't live in the northeast and had never heard of this disaster so I was not previously invested in this story, but found myself becoming involved quickly. To me, this is indicative of a good book.

This is really great investigative reporting that covers both the public issues, greed, and personal stories and results in a can't put down book.
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