Travel just five miles outside of New York City, venture off the crowded New Jersey Turnpike. and you will be surrounded by the Meadowlands, a much vilified but still untamed thirty-two-square-mile swamp that is home to rare birds and missing bodies, shiny corporate headquarters and the remnants of ancient cedar forests, tranquil marshes and burning garbage dumps. Robert Sullivan is this weird and wild place's unofficial naturalist, archeologist, and explorer, and here he reports back from the field. Revealing what he has found while traversing one of America's first -- and most fascinating -- frontiers.
A 1978 Federal Report described the Meadowlands as "a swampy mosquito-infested jungle...where rusting auto bodies, demolition rubble, industrial oil sticks and cattails merge in unholy, stinking union." But one man's trash is another man's treasure, and with incomparable wit and enthusiasm, Robert Sullivan reinterprets the reputation and legacy of an area considered by many to be one of the most disgusting in the country. He travels by canoe, bus, car, and foot to tour cities and swamplands and interview mayors, dump owners, and renegade mosquito-control officers. He describes the hideous pollution and the hidden natural wonders, the seedy motels and labyrinth highways, the local population and the indigenous, ubiquitous mosquitoes. The Meadowlands, he explains, is "a place that the forces of progress have perennially targeted but have never managed to completely control, a place that people rush past on their way to the rest of America." But Sullivan learns that, in fact, many things have been left behind here -- from garbage and treasure to the remains of crazy development schemes of generations past. Armed with pickax, shovel, and metal detector, he bravely sets out to find the two things believed to be dumped in the Meadowlands that particularly obsess him -- the elusive corpse of famed labor leader Jimmy Hoffa and Manhattan's once-glorious original Penn Station.
In the tradition of John McPhee and Ian Frazier, Robert Sullivan transforms the seemingly ordinary into the extraordinary with his sparkling literary style and superb sense of irony. Filled with eccentric characters and unforgettable stories, The Meadowlands is an ode to an overlooked American borderland -- a delightfully incongruous battleground marking the ongoing struggle between the forces of progress and nature. [via]