Title: Secret Subway: The Fascinating Tale of An Amazing Feat of Engineering
Author: Martin W. Sandler
ISBN: 9781426304620
Pages: 96 pages
Publisher/Date: National Geographic Society, c2009.

He was ready to begin. But in order to do so he would have to do something that no one in the world had ever done. Not only would he have to build a subway that would so impress city and state officials, the public, and the press that they would forgive his deception, but he would have to do it without anyone finding out about it until it was completed. The nation’s first subway was about to be built in secret! (49)

In the late 1860s, New York was known as having “the biggest, the fastest, the most, the tallest, the greatest!” But New York was also the busiest and most crowded, with thousands of people, horses, and vehicles on the streets every day. Alfred Ely Beach, a young inventor, was intent on fixing the city he loved and called home. He had an idea of moving people underground, which many took to mean in the dank, dark, and dreary. Those who saw the potential in the project were corrupt by greed and above ground taxi services. That is when Beach decided to tunnel under the busy city streets in secret.

This is a wonderful book, getting to the heart of the story and placing it in context with the time. Background information is provided on Beach, allowing reader a glimpse into his mind. Historical facts relevant to the story also related. If streets are busy now, just picture them with horse dung strewn across them, although I’m confused by how much was actually produced. “Every year just one of these horses left as much as ten pounds of manure on the streets every day.” (16) I’m not sure if that means that the horses are leaving ten pounds every day (which sounds anatomically high) or ten pounds every year (which sounds much too low). Kids can debate which they think is correct. 🙂

It would have been beneficial for the book to have a timeline, as specific dates are not mentioned in Beach’s efforts to instigate his subway. Copious original source material almost makes up for the lack of it, with pictures, drawings, and firsthand accounts of this phenomenon that is, apparently, still under the city streets of New York. It makes me want to take a trip to New York and find what essentially became a time capsule. The back of the book lists further reading suggestions including books and web sites, a detailed sources list, illustration credits, and an index that also includes illustrations. Kids looking for a little known inventor will enjoy this David takes on Goliath story, and might especially get interested in the secretive nature of the project and the ingenuity behind its ultimate creation. At less than 100 pages, it’s a wonderful fast read.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Shirley over at SimplyScience.wordpress.com.