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Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darknessby Neil Swidey
Synopses & Reviews
The harrowing story of five men who were sent into a dark, airless, miles-long tunnel, hundreds of feet below the ocean, to do a nearly impossible job—with deadly results
In the 1990s, Boston built a sophisticated waste treatment plant on Deer Island that was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin. The state had been dumping barely treated sewage into the water for so long that Boston had America’s filthiest harbor, with a layer of “black mayonnaise” coating the seafloor. Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as “beach whistles.” But before the dumping could stop, a team of divers had to make a perilous journey to the end of a 10-mile tunnel—devoid of light and air—to complete the construction. Five went in, but not all of them came out.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, award-winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved in the tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments heading into the tunnel, sentencing one diver to death and the other to a trauma-induced drug addiction that eventually lands him in prison. Suspenseful yet humane, Trapped Under the Sea reminds us that behind every bridge, highway, and tunnel—behind the infrastructure that makes modern life possible—lies unsung bravery and extraordinary sacrifice.
"Since the opening of Boston's immense Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant in September 2000, the 'giant, stinking cesspool' of Boston Harbor has cleared significantly in what has been widely hailed as an environmental engineering triumph. This gripping history focuses on construction of its business end: the world's longest dead-end tunnel, which travels 9.5 miles though bedrock, ending in 55 vertical pipes that diffuse effluent far out to sea. In hindsight, disaster was inevitable, since the project's contract stated that these pipes' 55 safety plugs could be extracted only when the tunnel was complete — meaning all drainage, ventilation, transportation, and electrical systems were removed. Commercial divers tackled the job. Years of research and interviews by Boston journalist Swidey (The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of their Lives) has produced a fascinating account of these skilled blue-collar men and their mission, aborted when a malfunctioning oxygen supply killed two of them. While others later completed the job, Swidey describes the years of bitterness and litigation that followed. This virtuoso performance combines insights into massive engineering projects, corporate litigation, environmental science, and cutthroat free-market behavior with vivid personal stories. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Neil Swidey is the author of The Assist, a Boston Globe bestseller and one of The Washington Post’s best books of the year, and co-author of the New York Times bestselling Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy. A staff writer for The Boston Globe Magazine, Swidey teaches at Tufts University and has been a contributing analyst for NBC News. He was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and his work has been featured in The Best American Science Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and The Best American Political Writing.
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