Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Minding the Gap, 10 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Underground, Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube (Paperback)
"I visited the (East London) line shortly after it re-opened, noting that the refurbishment had done nothing to eliminate the brackish stink of the Thames at Wapping or the constant sound of rushing water. Standing in that station is like being in the cistern of a great toilet, and you rather dread the flush." - from UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND

"A friend of mine who works for the Underground said the only death-by-urination that he knew of involved a Metropolitan Line driver, who late one night was being given a lift back to the depot by another driver. He leaned out of the cab to relieve himself, and his head struck a signal post." - from UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND, examining the possibility of death-by-urination from the electrified rail

If you've read my other reviews on anything English or British, you'll know the affection I have for Great Britain and London in particular. And riding the Underground ("Tube") could front as the essence of my joy at being in the capital. I love the escalators, the advert posters, the occasional busker in busy tunnels, the Tube logo and maps, the Cadbury dispensers, the "Mind the Gap" announcements, the smell and blow of the air along the platform as a train approaches, the sway of a moving car (especially when standing and steadied by a hand-grip), and the magic of descending into a hole in the ground and emerging across town at my desired destination. The experience provides a rush both literally and figuratively.

In UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND, Andrew Martin distills the social history, network evolution, lore, and contemporary state of the Tube into one immensely readable volume affably told in a manner as it might be shared by the author over a pint at your favorite pub.

The only major flaw in the book is the absence of the famous Underground schematic. However, this is undoubtedly unavoidable as a single page couldn't possibly accommodate such and, even if it could, the cost of publishing a map in the de rigueur colors would be prohibitive. (I think we can all agree that a black and white version of the map simply won't do.) So, I didn't deduct a star for its absence; simply bring it up on your computer or iPad.

Mind you, as a resident in the Los Angeles suburbs, I've always been more than a little irritated that the bloody cab lobby has blocked the city's rudimentary light rail system from establishing a station inside Los Angeles International Airport. Therefore, I was slightly puzzled that Martin made no mention of the Piccadilly Line's arrival at Heathrow. After my first visit in 1975, I followed the progress of the line as it inched towards the airport and was thrilled the first time I could board a train at Heathrow Central for Earl's Court. Well, perhaps it wasn't locally such a momentous milestone as it seemed to me to be. You think?

One of the more notable aspects of the author's narrative is his obvious personal fondness for the Tube, which is apparent in the following excerpt:

"One benefit of the driverless trains is that you can sit right at the front and have that privileged, hypnotic, driver's-eye view of a ride through the tunnels. On the DLR (Docklands Light Railway)... I always try to sit at the front. (It's usually just a matter of elbowing aside some ten-year-old boys; I can then get on with pretending to drive the train.)"

While UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND might not hold any interest for one not an Anglophile or, at least, a railway buff, for me it was a book I couldn't put down.
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