Trapped Under the Sea

One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness
Narrated by: David H. Lawrence XVII
Length: 15 hrs and 29 mins
Categories: Biographies & Memoirs
4.5 out of 5 stars (219 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 audiobook - 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. 

©2014 Neil Swidey (P)2014 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

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

"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
 

" 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
 

"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

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An Engineer's Prospective

I am a professional Civil Engineer for over 40 years. I had not been aware of the Deer Island incident described in this book. I found the detailed narrative about the characters and the agencies involved fascinating if not truly sad.

3 people found this helpful

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Wow! This is unbelievably good audiobook.

I have a long list of finished books that I haven't reviewed. Despite the this backup, I had to stop everything to write about this book.

This true story is compelling beyond anything Ive read recently. Maybe it isn't the best book ever written, but it is one of the most addictive and fascinating true stories. It will stick with me for a long time to come. Well written and VERY WELL READ!! I didn't know what to expect when I got this, but the intensity of story and of the delivery by the narrator had me hooked withing the first few minutes. I also learned a great deal about commercial deep sea diving. It's unbelievable what these guys do!
The story is intense, tragic, but hopeful in the end.
I highly recommend this to anyone who likes climbing or other survival/expedition type books. I recommend it to anyone really.

There are a few silly metaphors that made me cringe a few times, so I can't say this author is going to win any great literary awards. But he has a fine style of writing that kept me on the edge of my seat and wanting to know more. It was very well written for the action, suspense and intensity. I didn't want it to end!!

Also for this particular story, there is no one better fit as narrator. I'm wasn't familiar with David Lawrence. But he gave an excellent performance!! I'll keep my eye out for both author and narrator in the future!

15 people found this helpful

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Fascinating Story-Compelling Characters

Enjoyed the many facets of this story. Like watching a train about to crash with the aftermath of how it could happen and the suffering of all parties.

1 person found this helpful

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Had great potential.

This book is a true story so it’s hard to critique. Even though I was highly interested in the story, the author spend WAY to much time giving us a ridiculous amount of detail about the people involved. This book should have been much shorter.

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great read, great narrator

well-written investigative journalism, great nonfiction. painstakingly reconstructed account of the events that led to the death of two divers while finishing a tunnel in Boston harbor.

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Wow.

I always enjoy true stories I hadn't heard even a snippet of prior, and this masterfully-told had me enthralled from the start, never letting go. A lifelong engineer and inventor myself, I saw through Harald Grob's BS right from the start, and found myself aggravated throughout the story that others around him couldn't see him for the scam-artist he is. What a terrific story, great details, suspense until the very end, by highlighting people who get their hands dirty to make things happen. Bravo.

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Rivitting 16 hours flew by

I am a history fan. This was well researched and written. I am local to the story but lived away while this occurred. Very interesting. The end really pulls at the heartstrings.

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Trapped Under the Sea tragedy

Excellent true story, but the narration was a bit monotonous. The experience reminds me somewhat of the 1983 Worlds Fair challenges in coordinating contractors and architects with their many delays. This story had much more sixpence and danger.

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Fascinating, well-written account

I couldn’t put this book down. Listened to the audiobook - it’s 3 a.m. and I just finished. The narrator was easy to listen to. I feel I got to know the players intimately and the author does a great job describing everything in great detail so you have a clear picture in your mind of the tunnel and and all the various contraptions involved. I felt the claustrophobia....If you’re looking for a true story with an almost unimaginable situation, interesting people and heroism and one that will make you wonder how such a tragedy was let to happen, you’ll love this book.

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  • 09-14-16

Fascinating, gripping!

Coming to know the real people behind the project made this documentary relatable. What would you do if you were 10 miles into a tunnel with diminishing air and no hope of rescue? What would you do if you were the boss of the project? Learning about how our engineers do what they do was invaluable. As a Bostonian, I can appreciate these events that unfolded right here, where I live.