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.
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
A quarter-century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in America. The city had been dumping sewage into it for generations, coating the seafloor with a layer of black mayonnaise. Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as beach whistles.
In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment plant and a 10-mile-long tunnel its endpoint stretching farther from civilization than the earth s deepest ocean trench to carry waste out of the harbor. With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin. But when bad decisions and clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort.Five divers went in; not all of them came out alive.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents collected over five years of reporting, 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 as they head into the tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.
An intimate portrait of the wreckage left in the wake of lives lost, the book which Dennis Lehane calls "extraordinary" and compares with The Perfect Storm is also a morality tale. What is the true cost of these large-scale construction projects, as designers and builders, emboldened by new technology and pressured to address a growing population s rapacious needs, push the limits of the possible? This is a story about human risk how it is calculated, discounted, and transferred and the institutional failures that can lead to catastrophe.
Suspenseful yet humane, Trapped Under the Sea reminds us that behind every bridge, tower, and tunnel behind the infrastructure that makes modern life possible lies unsung bravery and extraordinary sacrifice."
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.