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Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  350 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
The catacombs of ancient Rome served as houses of worship for Christians. When surveyed in the early 1800s, the sewers of Paris yielded gold, jewels, and relics of the revolution. And thousands of people lived in the subway and train tunnels of New York City in the 1980s and ’90s.

What secrets do the Las Vegas storm drains keep? What discoveries wait in the dark? What’s ben
Paperback, 292 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Huntington Press (first published June 1st 2007)
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Aug 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
An interesting topic made boring by the author's ineptitude.
This is another book about urban exploration (sort of). Beneath the Neon is about the flood tunnels built under Las Vegas early in the 2000s when the city had dealt with the severe problem of flash flooding. I think O'Brien wanted this book to be about the tunnels them...selves and how spooky they are and what artifacts he finds. This is usually the thread which comes from books about urban exploration but turns out the book is about the people who live in the tunnels. This of course makes a who ...more
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Interesting on some levels, but not enough so to merit finishing it at this point. While new folk are introduced at rapid pace, you never quite get a feel for who they are... what you do get is repeated not-so-subtle "oh the juxtaposition of the bright lights of Vegas and those living beneath the city" moments.

I may finish it at some point down the road, when I'm out of other things to read.
Sarah Goodwin
May 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Heather *Awkward Queen and Unicorn Twin*
Here's what this book is about: People live in the flood tunnels of Las Vegas because a) they have a gambling problem, b) they have a drug problem, or c) both. The end.

Okay, it's not quite that simple. There are also numerous homeless veterans, and others are probably homeless for varying reasons. But nearly everyone the author spoke to had a drug or gambling problem (most of them were non-natives and apparently had no idea how to conduct themselves like normal humans in Las Vegas, leading them
Lauren Camarillo
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Our book club, being located in the Vegas/Henderson area, all of us being transplants from other states, decided to read this book in January 2018. We chose this book based on the fact that we all wanted to know a little bit more about our new home, the stuff that only locals would know, what’s really behind “the glitz and glamor” of Las Vegas. This book did not disappoint.

So as the title pretty much says, this book is about the underground tunnel systems that Vegas installed to solve the proble
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cultural backdrop for LV residents

I've lived in Vegas for 41 years and always wondered about the homeless seen begging or camping in the ragged places. I know some want to be there, but most don't. I'm trying to figure out which is which, having no mind to help someone who just wants a free ride at my expense.
This book should be required reading for those who live here & want to help those in need.
May 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
The book: Journalist decides to venture into storm drains. Journalist encounters an unusual assortment of folks living in the storm drains. Journalist encounters unusual items in storm drains. Repeat, chapter by chapter.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I was enthralled from the first page. Matthew O’Brien’s experiences jump off the page. He is funny, serious, honest, and so very real.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
What an interesting book! I'd heard about people living in the tunnels before moving to Las Vegas. Now I have a little more insight. I'd say it's a 3.5 stars. Maybe 4 depending on your interests. I wish there had been a few more photos, and that the ones that were included had been explained. Worth a read and pondering.
Aug 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I was a little disappointed with this book. I have read some of the author’s other material on Las Vegas including CityLife articles and his Blue Angel collection. I was expecting a more philosophical analysis of the storm drains of Las Vegas, but what I got was a pretty straight forward account of what one will find if they walk into the Las Vegas sewer. Not much surprised me; it was dirty, wet, full of creepy crawlers, and housing the occasional drug addict. I think the author can find more co ...more
Jun 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Journalist Matt O'Brien brings you with him on his underground journey into the storm drains of Las Vegas. It's an incredible contrast to read about the lives of those living beneath casinos when all you've experienced is the glamourous casinos themselves. It was a captivating book to begin with, but around 60% through, I just wanted it to end. It became a little repetitive and the chapters were quite long and didn't have a good spot to put the book down in between chapters.

The research behind
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2013
When I first picked this book up, I thought the author had found some secret network of tunnels under Las Vegas that I was unaware of. I admit I was a bit disappointed to discover he was writing about drainage tunnels, something I'm quite familiar with after having lived in the Southwest for many years. I hadn't thought about people living in them, but I wasn't surprised to learn that they did - Vegas is a rough town that chews a lot of people up and leaves them in difficult situations. Also, it ...more
Oct 08, 2008 rated it did not like it
It's kind of unfair of me to compare this book to the Mole People, but it's hard not to given the scarcity of books on people residing in the underground tunnel systems of urban areas. Matthew O'Brien is a journalist who decided to explore the tunnels of Las Vegas. It's an interesting book, especially the pictures, but the focus is much different than that of the Mole People. This book reads more as an exploration of O'Brien's experience conducting this work, with some information thrown in abou ...more
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
A pretty fascinating read about a writer for a Las Vegas alt-weekly paper who decides to explore the water diversion drains and tunnels of the city to see what, and who, exists down there. Kind of plays right into my thoughts and fears of what would happen to me if I was homeless like these people. All of them have some form of addiction, drugs or gambling, that has forced them to find a way to camp out deep in the drainage tunnels that divert the heavy waters that come during the rare rainstorm ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE social history being a history teacher and this has to be one of the best social perspective history books I've read. Easy to read and I was hooked and couldn't stop reading! I've heard of the tunnel people of Las Vegas being a resident, and this book took me into their world without having to take my germ and bug-a-phobic self into the tunnels. It was fun to read about places I could imagine, and Matthew wrote with such honesty and integrity and knowledge that it was an instant favorite ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are storm drains underneath Las Vegas that are dry enough to live in most of the year. Many homeless people take shelter there in stark contrast to the glitz and glitter directly above them. This is the story of a reporter who toured the storm drains, met the homeless and told their story. As you can imagine, most of the people he met were addicts, mentally ill or both. Most were men. Most were living in constant danger. When the flood waters come and wash away every thing in the tunnels, ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
The idea of a homeless community inhabiting the storm tunnels beneath Las Vegas is a compelling one, but I had a hard time getting through an entire book about it. There wasn't much to find beyond the facts, and there were only so many encounters with people who were down on their luck/broke/addicted/gamblers that could provide any illumination here.

Attempts to pad the book with comparisons to other tunnel people through the history of time were a decent idea, but they only pulled me out of the
Nov 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
I put this book down a long time ago, and just recently had to force myself to finish. What started as a promising premise, turned into me questioning: 1. Is this real? and 2. Did the author have a page requirement? Neither of those questions should be asked when reading any non-fiction book. Living in Las Vegas for the past decade, I believe that it is possible for people to be living in the drains, but most of these stories were too far-fetched to try and make this some social commentary about ...more
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Way more information than I ever wanted on the structure, environment, length, and condition of the Las Vegas underground drain system. What I would have liked was a lot more info on those that live there. That info was sprinkled sparingly throughout the ad nauseum detail about the tunnels themselves. How many times do I need to read about what the author wore, what he took with him for protection, where he parked his car. Should not have been the focus of the story, but it seemed that it was mo ...more
Victor Banos
Mar 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
reading is not my powerhouse, in matter of fact the most reading i do on my own time is magazines that interest me. but this book is such an eye opener to what is going on here in las vegas. when reading this book the narrator makes sure that the reader is intrigued the whole time. becuase not once was there a moment of distraction while reading this book. i recommend this book to any human being that has any interest in change in the world. although the main focus was in las vegas change can ha ...more
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Semi-interesting topic, but the writing is hokey, the metaphors juvenile and worse, repetitive. Use some imagination for your analogies, please! Nothing makes me cringe faster than a trite simile, unless it is the same trite simile used twice in two pages and then again two chapters later. Ugh. I wanted to smack him if I read that he 'slalomed through the columns' one more time. The author has an inflated sense of purpose and I found myself annoyed and questioning, rather aggressively by the end ...more
Mar 09, 2009 rated it liked it
fleshed out from original articles written by matthew o'brien, this brief but compelling book explores the subterranean underworld of the las vegas drainage system and its' reluctant inhabitants. tapping into a multi-perspectival approach, o'brien explores the various systems with daring and trepidation while delving into who lives below the hum of LV's 24-7 activity.

though some of the writing is not as solid as it could be at points, it's easy to overlook as the general affect is one that make
Sep 06, 2016 rated it liked it
For someone who introduced himself as a reporter to everyone he met, I'd have liked it better had the author been more reporter-like and not as severely biased against Las Vegas. He has the undercurrents of someone whose short time in the city has left them severely disillusioned and bitter. That jaded pessimism permeates this book like, well, mildew in a storm drain. It's a very interesting topic and premise that, unfortunately, gets mired in the author's shitty POV.
May 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Every year for the past several years I've gone to Las Vegas. Through Matthew's descriptions of where he was exploring I feel like I could see in my mind's eye where he was. When I go back again next year I'll be sure to pay more attention when I look out the window. I'm curious, now that it's three years later, what other kinds of things he's discovered "Beneath the Neon." I hope to read more of this author's writing.
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
The topic is facinating to me and lead me to impulse-buy this book. Beneath the Neon chronicles explorations of Las Vegas drainage tunnels. Similar to the documentary "Dark Days" there are a lot of things that happen below our feet often unbeknownst to most of us.

I could not stand the authors style. His writing is very very informal and the editing is a bit sloppy. Its a quick read though so its not too bad i guess.
Liz Carrasco
Sep 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Awesome investigation into the underground flood channels where homeless people live. Done by a local reporter, it is a fascinating account of his interaction with many homeless people. He tells their stories very well, as each person has a different reason for living down in the flood channels. It's hard to believe with all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas that there is a neglected underground right under our noses.
Oct 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Being raised in Vegas for 18 years, I never thought anything about the storm drains and tunnels and all the "mundane" details about my hometown. This book was great to read and the people the author encounters in the book are fascinating to read about. It made me want to take a look in the drains when I go home next time, but definitely not alone. As for his writing style, I saw no problem with it. It was easy to read and to follow, and that did not take away from the story.
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Parts of the book were memorable such as the conversations with those who live in the tunnels of Las Vegas and some of the history behind those who have lived in tunnels around the world. Some of the descriptions of walking through the tunnels and turning left, right, left etc became quite repetitive by the end.

Two thumbs up for the advocacy the author has done outside of the book to help those who live below the glitz of vegas.
Brent Dyer
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
The conceit of this book is a little weird: adventuring through the drainange tunnels of Las Vegas. But the writing is solid and the real point of the book---exploring the lives of the marginalized in Las Vegas---is brilliant.

If you love Vegas, the descriptions of its inner workings is a lot of fun. But, at the same time, the details of the lives of the lost and homeless will make you realize how much of what visitors experience is a Disney-like veneer.
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Matthew O'Brien is an author and journalist who's lived in Las Vegas since 1997. His first book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, chronicles his adventures in the city's underground flood channels. His second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, is a creative-nonfiction collection set in ...more
More about Matthew O'Brien

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