The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall-and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill by Greg Mitchell
Crown, 2016. Hardcover, 382 pages.
Billed as a thrilling Cold War true story, The Tunnels attempts to tell the story of those tunneling under the Berlin Wall shortly after its construction. The focus is mostly on the summer of 1962, as two separate tunnels were being constructed and two major news outlets attempted to be the first to break the stories. Also woven throughout are the events unfolding in Washington, D.C. at the same time.
One tunnel was being constructed by Harry Seidel, a cyclist who had already helped dozens over the wall as it was constructed and shortly after its completion. A second tunnel was being constructed by a group of international college students, complete with an engineer. Meanwhile, the news stations wanted a story about tunneling and worked to ferret out a way to break the story. NBC struck a deal with some of the university students while CBS did the same with Seidel’s team. Mitchell also details the work done by the journalists to cover these events. Anyone reading the book will see how desperate all these participants were, especially the tunnelers who hoped to free friends and family, along with strangers, in the East. Then the book also detailed Kennedy’s policies towards the Soviets, Berlin as a whole, and the news outlets’ involvement in the tunneling, among other topics.
While this book truly shows the defiance of those in 1960s Berlin, both those escaping and those helping, it could have been better. The cast of characters was large and they were hard to keep track of; even a simple dramatis personae would have been enough to help (mainly to remember who was working on which tunnel). Also, I felt there was too much focus on what was going on in the Kennedy White House; a story about just the tunnelers and those they helped escape would have been much more focused. A separate book that addresses the events in Washington, D.C. would have been better, as those sections touched on more than just feelings and actions towards Berlin. In all, I think there was simply too much going on in this book. Going back to my first point, however, that spirit of defiance was strong. Those in the East were determined to flee at all costs and those in the West were equally determined to help despite the odds. This book really shows what happens when walls are built to keep people trapped and the willpower to overcome the barrier. This should be a clarion call in the current political climate.
Do you have another book about the Berlin Wall to recommend? Or about life in Cold War Berlin? If so, please share.
I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.