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The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  3,249 ratings  ·  485 reviews
Thousands of people live in the subway, railroad, and sewage tunnels that form the bowels of New York City. This book is about them, the so-called "mole people" living alone and in communities, in the frescoed waiting rooms of long-forgotten subway tunnels and in pick-axed compartments below busway platforms. It is about how and why people move underground, who they are, a ...more
Paperback, 267 pages
Published October 1st 1995 by Chicago Review Press (first published October 1st 1993)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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karen
oh, jennifer toth, you annoy the shit out of me.

how can you take a topic about the homeless of new york city, the fascinating subject of ingenuity and survival skills and people living in highly-organized communities off the grid underground and somehow make the story all about you?? you!! some sheltered white girl who uses (and defines -DEFINES!)the word "dissed" like a new toy, traipsing underground like some little red riding hood into the big scary tunnels and chirping about these "almost at
...more
Erin
Not very well-written, but I always say that about journalistic style (Hey journalism people: if even analytic philosophers can learn how to write well, why can't you? Cue defensive references to New Yorker and Harpers' journalists, to which I say, "Duh"). Oh, back to the book: the mole people are interesting, but don't expect Ms. Toth to reveal much about them that you don't already know, or can imagine. She was very naive when she was doing her research (entering the tunnels alone, taking the ...more
Abby
That the subject matter of this book was interesting outside of anything the author said was the only thing that saved it I think. She did a pretty poor job of enlightening the aboveground world to the plight of the underground homeless in new york city. Mostly she strung together superficial sketches of characters in these supposedly vast and complex communities. She seemed to be shooting for ethnography but ended up sounding more like a 12-year old girl keeping a diary: "Today I went into the ...more
Antisocialite
I'm having a hard time rating this book, even weeks after finishing it. I don't even know what it is that has me so conflicted: it's well-researched and required great personal risks by the author (Jennifer Toth was only 24 when she wrote it, and climbing around the tunnels under New York, talking to criminals, murderers, drug addicts and the insane). But some of the chapters, particularly one devoted to the literary tradition of the underground, felt absurdly academic in the middle of all the r ...more
Judah
May 22, 2012 Judah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in social/cultural studies,
An interesting book which I finally found after hearing a review on NPR more than ten years ago. A bit depressing at times, since you are reading about homeless folks (though some in the book *are* living that way by choice) which means that there is an element of mental illness/violence/addiction/etc to some of their stories. Still a rather intriguing look at how people create societies when they are "removed" from mainstream culture and it's allowances.
Sonanova
Well, there were certainly some problems with this book. Initially, it was billed as an ethnography of NY streetpeople, but just looking at reviews before I touched it raised red flags for me. It is certainly not an ethnography.

There are a few chapters which deal with the historical background of underground dwellings and people. It also tries to use an ethnographic formula in the structure of it's chapters. Portraits of the people blend with very lush and most likely fictive descriptions of th
...more
Jess Bensley
Extremely interesting subject matter, terrible author. I feel like this was written by Hannah from HBO's "Girls." Most of it feels like a book about HER experiences in the tunnels, not the tunnel dwellers themselves. She definitely doesn't let you forget that most people don't get the access that she had.

The real live people Toth describes are almost clownified by the way she describes them. Their interesting and sometimes tragic pasts are often only briefly mentioned. Toth seems to love pointin
...more
Oriana
This book was really disappointing for me, because the subject matter is fascinating, but the writing was just shudderingly bad. I am still shocked that I couldn't finish it, because I was really, really amazed by what I was learning, but I just couldn't keep focused. I would love to see this book edited and re-released, in a more engaging, readable version.
Penny
I've read this book countless times - it was written by a graduate student gathering information on her thesis wherein she becomes friendly, or at least conversational, with several of Manhattan's homeless. Sad, moving, disturbing, intriguing. A quick read, and I can't help but think of them when I'm in New York.
Eric_W
I read a book some time ago about underground New York: the vast networks of cables, tunnels, sewers, caverns, old roads, (even complete old sailing ships) that have been found under the city's streets. Well, it turns out there's a whole population of people that live in these subterranean places. They are called "mole people," and young reporter Jennifer Toth got to know many of them during a year she spent seeking and interviewing them out.
In her introduction she says that, given the choice,
...more
Katie
Definitely an interesting topic---who knew that there were/are upwards of 6,000 tunnel dwellers living beneath my feet under the sidewalks of New York?---but a more skilled writer/editor would have done a better job.

The biggest problem is Toth fell short of effectively capturing THE most gripping quality of her subject. Her selected quotations and scene depictions were pretty weak, so I didn't FEEL I was in the tunnel, I didn't smell it or see (or not see, as the case may be) it through her wor
...more
Leonora
Just a couple of quick notes about this book:

It was intriguing, written with the right balance of emotion and objectivity. I think everyone who lives in New York should read about the life that goes on beneath our streets. I wonder, since the book was written in 1993, whether it has changed much. I suspect it has. There are many descriptions of drug-addicted homeless people from the Upper West Side.

The author was brave, not only because she physically put herself in danger but because she desce
...more
Jenn
A work of non-fiction by this reporter who tries to interview these 'mole people' that live in the abandoned subways of New York. It's really interesting to find out this whole population of people we probably didn't know existed. Her life even gets put in danger; that's how little she understands these people. Anyway, it's an interesting read.
Steve
Truly mind-boggling accounts of an entire sub-society living in the abandoned subway tunnels of New York told by a woman who was allowed in to tell their story.

I would never have believed this had I not read this book. She profiles a number of individuals, it's broken up quite nicely.

I was both mortified and fascinated.
Rachel
Although the author was not the best writer or journalist she had a lot of guts. And, you will not believe that people really live like that right beneath our feet. I wonder how prominent underground dwellers are since Guiliani's big clean up of the homeless "problem." A follow-up book would be helpful.
Bonnie
For anyone who's ever lived in NYC, or even for those who haven't, this book is a fascinating exploration of a world that most of us never knew existed even though it was right under our feet (literally).
Heather
A story about the people that live underground in the tunnels primarily below New York City. It was surprising to learn about a community of people that live underground, some that almost never come aboveground. An interesting point the author made was that most "above ground" homeless consider themselves a higher class of homeless than the "below ground" or "Mole People" homeless. In fact, the term "Mole People" is considered a derogatory term by the below ground homeless.

The author presented a
...more
Rafi Bloch
A stunning and horrifying reality of life in the underground belly of NYC. This book was written in the early 90's and I can only imagine how many people live in tunnels now.
Toth gives an expose to the NYC underground homeless much like Upton Sinclair exposed the meat industry or Ida Tarbell of oil practices. She is truly a muckraker for our modern times. Toth exposes the life of addicts, street gangs, runaways, and people who live on the fringes of society, but choose to opt out of society. It
...more
Sonia
I know this site is called "goodreads" but I just had to put this on here just so I could warn hopeful readers NOT TO READ THIS BOOK. This is quite possibly - actually no - this is DEFINITELY the WORST book I have ever read, BY FAR. Whoever published it should seriously be ashamed. I was interested in reading something about the homeless population in NYC since I've been living here and I see them so often. So I picked this book up a few weeks ago. I could tell from the first couple pages that i ...more
Claudia
I will use Jennifer Toth's own final words from the epilogue: "I offer this work as research into this tragedy of our times, notes for the present and future, to prevent more souls from being lost to the tunnels, and perhaps to stir more hope in bringing them back home."

Written in 1993, one can only wonder how the underground subway population has grown in the last 18 years.

Jennifer Toth, while finishing her Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia, immersed herself in a world diametrically
...more
Melanie
I read the reviews before getting this book from the library. I was a little worried because there were several negative ones but I decided that I wanted to read the book anyway. I'm so glad I did, I thought this book was thought provoking and although not the best written book it was still a good read.

The people Jennifer interviewed were interesting and a lot of thoughts I previously had about the homeless proved to be wrong. I recommend this book for anyone who never really had to live in surv
...more
Elizabeth
When I read RELIQUARY, a novel in which a prehistoric monster was terrorizing the tunnels under New York City, I noticed in the author's notes that her reference to an entire underground society in the New York City tunnels was absolutely based on truth. She suggested that anyone interested might read this book, THE MOLE PEOPLE: Life in the Tunnels.

Jennifer Toth is a journalist and author who earned the trust and cooperation of street people and New York police alike to gain unimaginable access
...more
Ben Chan
Good authors can make even the most mundane subjects interesting. In fact, sometimes it's the author's attention to minute details that makes for an interesting read. Jennifer Toth's book, "The Mole People", explores the interesting world of homeless people that populate the subway tunnels under New York City. Unfortunately, the author's uneven writing style subtracts from the intriguing subject-matter. Toth's overuse and repetition of adjectives renders her writing amateurish and irritating. Th ...more
Nycdreamin
A great book about the so-called "Mole People" of late-1980's era New York City who, for various reasons, finding themselves homeless, found a home in the subway tunnels beneath the city.

I read this book, fascinated with it's gripping tales of urban survival and later found out that there is much controversy surrounding the book and it's author, Jennifer Toth. It seems that the book, according to some, is filled with several factual innacuracies which call into question many of the stories Toth
...more
Kelly
the writing was decent, the story, or rather stories, were incredible. i had no idea the underground world was so organized. the various communities she explores are equipped with their own mayors, nurses and teachers, among other things.

i do have to give the author mad props for her bravery in researching this subject. as tough as i like to think i am, there's no way i would be comfortable venturing into the dark underground of new york city. i also thought she gave a balanced account of the h
...more
Julie
Dear Lord, this is the one of the most poorly written and edited books I have read in my life. It's not just that the writing is clunky, awkward, and pedantic; the actual order of the chapters and the way that the author presents the vignettes are jarring and confusing. Toth doesn't know whether she wants this to be a lurid expose or something to be taken seriously by academics. As such, the book fails to make a central argument.

That said, there are some interesting aspects of The Mole People. T
...more
kelly
This book was ok. Some of the stories were enjoyable, while others aren't. Jennifer Toth gets so personally involved in the lives of some of these 'mole people' that it left serious questions with me about its authenticity. If we are to believe that distrust of humans above ground drove these people underground, why do these tunnel dwellers trust her with their life stories? Some of her descriptions of tunnel life are also a bit of a stretch (hospitals and nurses?) -- but i dont want to write sp ...more
Alma  Ramos-McDermott
Author, Jennifer Toth, embarked upon the bravest adventure of her life when she decided to research homeless people who lived in tunnels under NYC during the early 1990's. The book is filled with a wealth of personal stories from those who lived on the subway level to those seven stories below the city. Along with their experiences, trials, triumphs, fears, and sorrows, these so-called "mole people" showed the readers they are humans, not animals, as they had often been called in the past. Anxio ...more
Ocean
i found this book totally gripping, fascinating and awe-inspiring. until i signed into goodreads i had no idea that there was so much controversy surrounding it.
a lot of the skepticism seems to be centered around the idea that the homeless couldn't possibly build communities & look out for each other & be real complex people, as toth portrays them. i think that's kinda fucked up. as someone who has hung out with homeless peeps extensively via food not bombs & my old job at the train
...more
Mel
I enjoyed reading this book and found it to be an interesting account about homeless people living in the tunnels and subways of New York City. I found parts of this book to be vary fascinating but they seemed far fetched. I did some research into this book. Well it turns out that Ms Toth has been under scrutiny for possibly making up some parts of this book or for just not verifying stories that she heard with cold hard facts. The fact that parts of this book may be fictionalized is not a reaso ...more
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