Reading 'Underground' and Thinking About the World Beneath Our Campuses

A book for those curious about what lies below.

March 3, 2019


Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt

Published in January of 2019.

He’d begun exploring during his freshman year at Columbia University, where he would go slinking through a network of steam tunnels under the campus. One night, he wriggled through a vent in a wall and emerged into a chamber cluttered with moldering scientific equipment. It was the storeroom for the earliest incarnation of what would eventually become the Manhattan Project. The bulbous green machine at the center of the room was the original particle accelerator: a strange jewel of history, hidden just out of view.

Will Hunt, Underground (p. 12).

What secret places are hidden beneath your campus?

Do you have stories of going down into the basements and other underground spaces at your university?

If you are one of those academics who are obsessively curious about the invisible world below our surface environments, then you will enjoy Underground.  I happen to be one of those people.

Ask me what my favorite campus tour is, and I will not point you to the architecture tour, or even the fascinating cemetery tour. I’ll recommend that you wrangle a tour of our underground steam tunnels.

My favorite memory of visiting Paris is not going up the Eiffel Tower or visiting the Louvre, but of going underground into the Musée des Égouts (Museum of the Sewers).  On my honeymoon, I took my new partner to the Baltimore Public Works Museum (now sadly closed).  During the obligatory family trip to Disney World, I ditched my family to go on the 5 hour Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour, which let me walk around the underground service tunnels beneath the Magic Kingdom.

Underground is the story of Hunt’s obsession with the subterranean world.  The book is a mix of underground travel writing, scientific reporting, and philosophical exploration.  With Hunt we spend time seeking out graffiti artists in the NYC Subway system, traversing the length of Paris through its hidden chambers (and sewers), and exploring caves in areas as diverse as Australia, France, and West Virginia.

This is a book that will make you want to leave the known and lighted spaces of our daily lives, and seek the darkness and mystery of what lies beneath our feet.

I imagine that there is an entire book to be written about what is under our campuses.

What is under your campus?

What are you reading?


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