Underneath New York - Harry Granick What has a six­lane highway all sealed up and never used? And bomb-proof tubes 80 stories into the ground? Why, New York, of course. In 1947, Harry Granick wrote a tribute to technology entitled Underneath New York, which is a truly fascinating account of how a modern city works. If you've ever seen David Macaulay’s book City, you have an appreciation of what lies underneath those streets. New York has as many layers underground as the Chrysler Building is high. Robert Sullivan has added a long introduction which adds numerous modern examples. Did you know that sewer pipes must all angle down; that subways go as deep as 18 stories below the surface; that huge water tunnels are buried 800 feet below the surface; that the density of wires and cables in some places is so thick that excavation must be done with spoons?

Just Graniok’s history of how New York has provided clean water to its citizens is worth the price of the book. In early American society, clean water was a precious commodity. Virginia once had a $30 tax on bathtubs to discourage bathing. In Boston a doctor’s prescription was needed to take a bath, as clean water was so precious. Aaron Burr designed the first reservoir in New York. It was made out of hollowed-out tree trunks, some of which were still in place and functional in 1947. The Romans were not the only experts on aqueduots. Graníok tells us about the Aztecs, who had dug a tunnel 100 feet below the surface and 1/2 mile long to a source of spring water. The first subway was built in 1862-3 in London. It consisted of pneumatic tubes with little carts on narrow tracks which were blown down the tunnel by huge 21-foot diameter fans. In 1871, the editor of Scientific American built a similar pneumatic passenger subway under the most congested part of Manhattan. It consisted of one luxuriously appointed wagon and never caught on. The process of building and excavating for a subway line is described with unconcealed admiration. And the process is truly astonishing: natural gas, water, and electrical lines have to be relocated, sometimes above the street, until the tunnel is finished. Granick is obviously enamored of technology, and it’s hard not to be cynically amused at his descriptions of roller-skate-equipped girls speeding arjound the Western Union offices delivering messages to the appropriate sending desk. His childish boosterism when he reports how little crime New York has because of the new technology of radio, telephone, and telegraph seems silly in light of New York’s current problems. Still, it's a fascinating book.