Picks and Pans Review: The Chunnel: the Amazing Story of the Undersea Crossing of the English Channel
For centuries people looked across the English Channel and dreamed of new ways to traverse its turbulent waters. Any number of schemes were hatched; some involved roadways held up by balloons, while others would float on the water. But not until 1987, when construction of the channel tunnel (popularly dubbed the Chunnel) began in earnest, did any plan get beyond the drawing board.
Newsday business writer Drew Fetherston tells the story of how the Chunnel was dug, exploring the extraordinary technical demands, political sensitivities and diplomatic wrangling surrounding the task. Though his account lacks drama, Fetherston does successfully draw out the larger cultural conflicts between the continental French and the isolationist British societies and capture the moon-shot quality of the Chunnel challenge: No one knew, for example, whether two tunnels being dug from opposite coasts (as the final blueprints specified) would actually meet. When the Chunnel finally opened for passenger traffic in 1995, it was years late and seriously in debt, but it was a modern miracle, of sorts.
Like Lindbergh's solo crossing of the Atlantic, the Chunnel shows what humanity can overcome with patience, a design and a dream. (Times Books, $35)