Book Review: Greg Mitchell “The Tunnels”


greg mitchell the tunnels berlin wall book

It is simply amazing the lengths that some people will go to to escape. To escape persecution, fascism, war — the list of reasons, sadly, seems to have no end. It is difficult to comprehend what one human will do to another. Author Greg Mitchell focuses on a very specific period of history that is well known for escape attempts: the Berlin Wall in his latest book, The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill.

The methods East Berliners used to flee to the West were limited only by imagination. Forged passports, trading clothes with nuns, hot air balloons, in cars, under cars. Some refugees even tried to go direct across the border, hoping to outrun the gunfire of the East German watch guards. Mitchell recounts a group that rented a party boat, got the captain drunk, then fled across the Spree to freedom. The attempts were unbelievable. The crazier the better, so it would seem. Anything to flee a separated Berlin. Sadly, many did not live to share the details of their escape attempt.

The Tunnels

In The Tunnels, Mitchell puts the focus on those who tried to take a subterranean path to freedom. The narrative has a strict attention to detail. And as Mitchell weaves in additional storylines — the infiltration of the tunnel group by a Stasi informant, the competition of American TV networks to get a scoop on the tunnels, and the struggle within the John F. Kennedy administration to avoid an all-out nuclear war with the Soviets — it really comes to life. These are not merely faceless names. Mitchell builds up these real-life individuals so that you understand them and their motives. The political chess game that plays out to readers in reality — by way of memos and transcriptions of recordings — is at times unfathomable. One of those moments that will have you shaking your head and remembering that fact, indeed, is stranger than fiction.

In The Tunnels, Greg Mitchell takes a direct approach with the book. At times it can read like a text book. But after a slow start, the excitement and investment the reader feels for this real life thriller takes hold. The book will educate all readers, regardless of your knowledge about The Berlin Wall prior to reading the book. If, for whatever reason, you don’t know how the tunnels end or if the NBC documentary airs, the book is an even more thrilling read. Towards the end, as the excitement builds, it becomes a real page turner. Mitchell educates us on our past without even drawing the clear and scary parallels to our present in The Tunnels.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill
by Greg Mitchell
Crown Publishers, 2016
400 pages

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.