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

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  4,423 ratings  ·  593 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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oh, jennifer toth, you annoy the shit out of me.

how can you take a fascinating topic: the homeless of new york city; a study in 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 attractive"
Jon Nakapalau
"Tribes" of people living in the subway, railroad, and sewage tunnels of New York City. Their stories are both heart breaking and uplifting...revealing truths about society as a whole that many of us may wish remained hidden.
Jul 17, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jess Bensley
Dec 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I asked my dad what he would rate this out of five stars, and he also said 4.5. I asked him why. I said there was nothing I disliked about it, but there were some things missing. He said he wished Toth had included more of her own emotions, and I agreed. I also wish that Toth had spent a little more time developing everyone's stories and that she'd included more history. I found the history of the underground, in particular, to be very fascinating. When a reader wishes a book were l
Nov 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf-other
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
Jun 19, 2007 rated it liked it
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
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.
Sep 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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,
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
Mar 20, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Feb 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
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.
Feb 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
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).
Kaethe Douglas
Nov 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stricken, nonfiction
She didn't confirm anything she was told, she just happily believed that there is a race of mole people living under the city. It sounds like a Neil Gaiman plot.
Paul Haspel
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Mole People, as a title, originally referred to a science-fiction film from 1956 – a B-movie feature about semi-human subterranean creatures with clawed hands and bulging eyes. Yet the term has also been applied, in more recent years, to a community of homeless people living in the vast network of tunnels underneath New York City – a community whose stories Jennifer Toth seeks to tell in her 1993 book The Mole People.

Toth, a Columbia University-educated British journalist, planned this book
Dec 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Lori Anderson
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I saw a documentary on subway kids and so-called "mole people" and was intrigued. Watching and reading have me the same perspective outcome, but upped the creepy factor. There's something about hearing a voice three inches from you in the dark and they've been there all the time.

The book mainly talks to the vast community of homeless who live (in this case) up to six levels below the train and subway stations in NYC. There are so many reasons people go underground, and Roth interviews them, the
Oct 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
DUDE. Ridiculous. The book barely reads as true to begin with, and then when I went online there were pages and pages debunking her stories. I suppose the argument is that Jennifer is reporting the world of these underground homeless as it was told to her, making her job simply to report rather than evaluate. But if that's the device at use here, it doesn't work at all.

It's disappointing, because the author clearly spent some serious time in the company of the homeless and made incredible conne
May 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
I have worked in the subways for a good part of my career. Although Toth's book does have some interesting points it is mostly BS. Communities living in the tunnels? ? Maybe a few people scattered throughout the subway system but there is no vast civilization of skells running around on the BMT line.
Mar 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Awkwardly written and a tad redundant but compelling anyway. I read it on the subway, which is where it should be read because you can look up from the pages to peer down the dark tunnels...
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A look at the hard, disturbed lives of those who live in the network of tunnels below New York City. This is a pretty astonishing piece of journalism.
Jordan Johnson
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Picked this up expecting an intriguing read, but the author apparently wasn't up to the task. Sophomoric writing, odd tonal shifts, and many unanswered questions.
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