Trapped Under The Sea with author Neil Swidey. Presented by the Friends of the Charlestown Branch Library. Thursday, May 15, 7:30 pm. Free and open to all, with a book signing and reception following. Wheelchair accessible. Charlestown Branch of the Boston Public Library, 179 Main Street, Charlestown 02129. For more information: 617-242-1248, www.bpl.org/branches/charlestown.htm.
Just twenty-five years ago, Boston Harbor was considered a national embarrassment — the filthiest harbor in America. Today, Boston has the cleanest urban harbor in the nation, an undisputed environmental success story and the engine of the city’s stunning revitalization. Yet it came at an enormous cost. In Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness, author Neil Swidey recounts the tragic and avoidable human toll of the fraught last step of the decade-long harbor cleanup.
On a clear summer day in 1999, five commercial divers entered a nearly 10-mile-long horizontal tunnel — the longest of its kind in the world — that was bored into the bedrock hundreds of feet beneath the ocean floor. Their job was to solve the final logistical challenge that had plagued the harbor project for years, testing the patience and resources of all the parties involved. In this oxygen-starved, silent, pitch-black and claustrophobic environment, the divers’ mission turned into a harrowing race to get out alive.
For five years, Swidey immersed himself in every aspect of the Boston Harbor project, from the hard-driving lives of commercial divers and the otherworldly subculture of the “sandhogs” who dig tunnels, to the complicated quarters of civil engineering and corporate litigation. His book explores how designers and engineers — emboldened by new technology and pressured by governments and corporations to address a growing population’s rapacious needs — are pushing the limits of the possible. Yet no matter how impressive an engineer’s solution may look on a computer screen, it always falls to a bunch of workers in hard hats to carry it out.
Further background information:
Neil Swidey is the author of The Assist, a Boston Globe bestseller that was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, and coauthor of the New York Times bestselling Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy. A staff writer for The Boston Globe Magazine, Swidey has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has twice won the Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. His work has been featured in The Best American Science Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and The Best American Political Writing. He teaches at Tufts University and lives outside Boston. www.neilswidey.com
The Friends of the Charlestown Branch Library was formed in 1953, becoming the second Friends group to organize within the Boston Public Library system. The Friends schedule four to six evening programs a year, support the Reading is FUNdamental programs for children, and maintain the library’s landscaping. The mission of the Friends remains today what it was in 1953: to serve as an advocacy and support group for the needs of the Charlestown Branch Library, its staff and users. www.bpl.org/branches/charlestown.htm