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Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives Of Cities [Hardcover]

Alex Marshall

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Book Description

Oct. 16 2006
The pulse of great cities may be most palpable above ground, but it is below the busy streets where we can observe their rich archaeological history and the infrastructure that keeps them running. In The Secret Lives of Cities journalist Alex Marshall investigates how geological features, archaeological remnants of past civilizations, and layered networks transporting water, electricity, and people, have shaped these cities through centuries of political turbulence and advancements in engineering — and how they are determining the course of the cities' future. From the first-century catacombs of Rome, the New York subway system, and the swamps and ancient quays beneath London, to San Francisco's fault lines, the depleted aquifer below Mexico City, and Mao Tse-tung's extensive network of secret tunnels under Beijing, these subterranean environments offer a unique cross-section of a city's history and future. Stunningly illustrated with colorful photographs, drawings, and maps, The Secret Lives of Cities reveals the hidden worlds beneath our feet, and charts the cities' development through centuries of forgotten history, political change, and technological innovation.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Running Press; 1 edition (Oct. 16 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786718641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786718641
  • Product Dimensions: 26.2 x 18.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 839 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,631,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The author plumbs the depths of a dozen cities, and his notes from underground illuminate a great deal about the respective metropoles' aboveground histories." - Mike Wallace, co-author, Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 "The murky and miraculous worlds of connection beneath cities - what a fantastic, and overdue topic for a book! Alex Marshall carries off the assignment with accuracy, aplomb, and great writing." - Neal Peirce, Washington-Post Writers Group" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Alex Marshall, an independent journalist in New York City, is the author of How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and The Roads Not Taken, and is a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association in New York City. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Metropolis Magazine, Salon, Slate and many other publications. A former staff writer for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Marshall was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University in 1999-2000. Marshall holds a master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University in New York, and a bachelor's degree in Political Economy and Spanish from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Marshall lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the documentary film editor Kristin Barlow, and their son Max.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining the Underworld Dec 28 2006
By Christopher D. Ringwald - Published on Amazon.com
A beautiful book, monumental piece of research, with clear and engaging prose and a great mix of maps, illustrations, capsule histories, lively facts, and timelines. If you ever stood over a manhole or at the dark edge of a subway tunnel and wondered, "What's down there?" then this book will tell you. Beneath the Metropolis describes what's underneath 12 world cities -- New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Mexico City, Paris, London, Rome, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and Sydney. With pith and concision, Marshall details the infrastructure, the archeology and the geology. In Paris, we learn about the fossilized bones and the beautiful sewers and subways. In Rome, we tour the ancient ruins and rickety subway (did you know there was one?). In Beijing, we learn about the vast network of cold war tunnels that few visit. Marshall uses each city's underground to trace its history, politics and economics. It's a pleasure to learn how successful cities, like London or Paris, can take different approaches to infrastructure. As a fellow author and former Columbia classmate, I admire and envy Marshall's success in wrestling such a huge topic into a pleasurable masterpiece. Beneath the Metropolis is destined for many a reader's nightstand as well as planning and political offices and classrooms.

--Christopher D. Ringwald, author of A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath (Oxford, 2007)
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's there beneath our feet.. March 22 2007
By William Oterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I almost started by stating this book isn't for the average reader. But, I'm an average reader, and frankly I found the information within it fascinating. Coincidentally I lived in N.Y.C., and have a little more experience with its underground infrastructure than just having been a straphanger (subway rider). Mr. Marshall has a no nonsense writing style, and his research has resulted in much interesting information regarding what's buried beneath our feet. The history of how, and why things got, and get buried in the first place makes the book all the more enlightening. Especially the consideration that things get buried as a result of debris that accumulates over time, and how history is lost, and then sometimes rediscovered in the process of modernization.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Revealing! May 30 2007
By G. Lomb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about the history and underworkings of the great cities of the world. It gave me a new appreciation for what goes in to the planning, creation and development of a major city.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less than I expected July 7 2010
By tif - Published on Amazon.com
I have always been interested in "real-world" engineering and technology, so I had high expectations for this book. I also love history, so I was hoping that it would talk about how and why the structures under cities came about, how they were used, and so on.

The book tried to give technical and historical information on a dozen cites, but it only had about 20 pages per city to cover all of this. That just wasn't enough to do justice to either topic. Also, there were a lot of pictures, graphics, etc, which reduced the actual discussion still further.

The graphics were maddening. They gave just enough info to whet your appetite, but they never went beyond the superficial. For instance, each city had a vertical graphic showing typical things beneath that city, but they were not detailed enough for me.

I guess I would have preferred for the author to focus on just a couple of cities, and go into more detail about what lies beneath the. If you're looking for a "gee whiz" intro to the topic, this might be OK, but otherwise it was disappointing.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly researched, lavishly illustrated and photographed - and interesting! May 14 2010
By Jason Stokes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a perfect book to get your inquisitive child, friend, cousin, great uncle twice removed, or anyone else. For all of the glamour that's put on bridges, skyscrapers, and parks - we typically completely ignore everything beneath the earth. This book takes the effort to show, both via illustration and photo, and describe what lies beneath our feet. From catacombs in Paris, to tectonic faults in San Francisco and Tokyo, it's thoroughly engaging.

While not exactly a scholarly work, Marshall has done an excellent job researching - to the tune of 24 pages of references! The book goes through the undergrounds of a dozen or so cities around the world, describing what we could find underground and giving a little history lesson at the same time.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in urban areas and development over time.

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