BOOK REVIEW: A thrilling Cold War narrative of superpower showdowns, media suppression, and two escape tunnels beneath the Berlin Wall. In the summer of 1962, the year after the rise of the Berlin Wall, a group of young West Germans risked prison, Stasi torture, and even death to liberate friends, lovers, and strangers in East Berlin by digging tunnels under the Wall. Then two U.S. television networks heard about the secret projects and raced to be first to document them from the inside. NBC and CBS funded two separate tunnels in return for the right to film the escapes, planning spectacular prime-time specials. President John F. Kennedy, however, was wary of anything that might spark a confrontation with the Soviets, having said, "A wall is better than a war," and even confessing to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, "We don't care about East Berlin." JFK approved unprecedented maneuvers to quash both documentaries, testing the limits of a free press in an era of escalating nuclear tensions.
As Greg Mitchell's riveting narrative unfolds, we meet extraordinary characters: the legendary cyclist who became East Germany's top target for arrest; the Stasi informer who betrays the "CBS tunnel"; the American student who aided the escapes; an engineer who would later help build the tunnel under the English channel; the young East Berliner who fled with her baby, then married one of the tunnelers. Capturing the chilling reach of the Stasi secret police, U.S. networks prepared to "pay for play" yet willing to cave to official pressure, a White House eager to suppress historic coverage, and the subversive power of ordinary people in dire circumstances, THE TUNNELS is breaking history, a propulsive read whose themes still reverberate.
MY REVIEW: This is likely the first historical book I have read voluntarily, and I really enjoyed it. I knew there had been a Wall in Berlin, but had never heard much about it; I had no idea that people had dug tunnels under it.
When the Wall first went up, people frantically tried to get through/over it by driving through, swimming the river, hiding in car trunks, using false passports, jumping from nearby windows, and more. Tunnels were tried soon after.
Harry Seidel was one tunneler who was determined to get his mother out of East Berlin. He helped dig several tunnels, narrowly escaped capture a few times, and finally, after his last tunnel, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. As it happened, his mother snuck out on her own soon after that--no tunnel needed.
The first tunnels were short, about 100ft, and dug in sandy ground. Then three students (two Italians and a German) decided to dig a tunnel of their own. But they had a few problems: their tunnel was going to be over 400ft long, and dug in heavy clay. Quite different from the previous ones. This tunnel took five months to dig, and twenty-some workers.
I found this to be a fascinating book and well-written. Worth the time it takes to read. On the plus side, it is a beautiful, hardcover book with pictures in the center.
I received this book from BLOGGING FOR BOOKS in exhcange for my honest review.