A handbook of spelunking's edgier, smellier cousin—navigating the secret passageways of urban areas, particularly sewers and subway tunnels—with a liberal dose of ego and occasional misogyny.
Gates, a tour guide and urban archaeologist, began venturing into the vast substratum below Manhattan ostensibly since he "wanted to see everything in New York City," but it quickly becomes clear that the places that catch his interest are only those where the normal life of the city is absent—the drains and shafts and catwalks that form the hidden infrastructure of the metropolis but that, to the untrained eye, seem primarily distinguished by their rivers of raw sewage and colonies of rats. Occasionally interesting and often befuddling, the narrative chronicles the author’s travels on five continents, hosted by an itinerant but close-knit community of urban explorers who break into cathedrals in the dead of night, climb suspension bridges while intoxicated and practice seduction techniques gleaned from pickup artists. The historical interludes, minilectures on the catacombs of Paris, the aqueducts of Naples, or the Nazi-era bunkers of Odessa, are the book's redeeming feature, but the occasional lazy sociocultural commentary—e.g., a bizarre paragraph explaining Italy's "lack of macho territorial energy that is so prevalent in countries with a more Anglo-Saxon heritage"—will make readers question the author's judgment. Neither living human society nor the natural world elicit much more than a passing glance here. An epic road trip from Brazil through Bolivia to Peru merits barely three pages, much of which is devoted to a qualitative analysis of the smell of the polluted Choqueyapu River.
Lonely Planet for the realm beyond the “No Trespassing” signs.