When reporting I'm often drawn into unfathomable places. For my first book, The Lost City of Z
, I wound up in the heart of the Amazon, even though I hate camping and am terrified of snakes. For many of the stories in my new book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes
, I ended up in equally unfamiliar places: hunting a giant squid, in the middle of a cyclone off the coast of New Zealand; crisscrossing the European countryside on the trail of an imposter. But perhaps the place that most surprised me, which I describe in one of the stories, was the secret world under New York City. Hundreds of feet beneath the ground, sandhogs are racing to build an intricate maze of water tunnels before the older water tunnels, which are badly damaged and leaking, collapse, leading to cataclysmic disaster.
These water tunnels go as deep as the Chrysler Building is high and span thousands of feet. The newest water tunnel has been under development since 1969, and was initially billed as "the greatest nondefense construction project in the history of Western civilization." Already, 24 people have died building it ? roughly a man a mile ? and it is not expected to be completed for at least another decade. As an engineering feat, the water-tunnel system rivals the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. Yet it has the odd distinction that almost no one will ever see it.