By Matthew Pearl
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400066575, February 21, 2012, 496pp.)
The Short of It:
Mysterious and thrilling. The Technologists is the best kind of historical thriller. Learn a little, enjoy a lot.
The Rest of It:
Boston, 1868. The story opens with a catastrophe that no one can explain. Ships, coming in from the harbor are suddenly unable to navigate with the instruments they have. As the instrumentation goes haywire, vessels of all shapes and sizes crash into the harbor one by one. A sight that is hard to imagine, but even worse to witness firsthand. What caused this? Who caused this? Will it happen again?
This mysterious event piques the curiosity of many. Including the students of The Institute who live and breathe science and know that there must be a scientific explanation for what’s occurred. Except, society as a whole has not accepted science as an answer and in fact, would do almost anything to discredit it. Especially the Harvard boys who believe it’s just a bunch of hooey.
This creates quite a challenge for the students of the Institute, led by Marcus Mansfield and the group called The Technologists. They band together, with the assistance of the Institute’s only female student, Ellen Swallow to solve the mystery of what happened in that harbor on that fateful day, and the other disasters that follow in its wake.
I have a tiny crush on Matthew Pearl. He doesn’t know it, but that’s okay. His name might be familiar to you. A few years back he released The Last Dickens which I reviewed here. I don’t know if it is his writing, the fact that he chooses Boston in the late 1800’s as a setting (love), or what, but whatever he is doing, I am liking. The other thing to note, is that his books tend to cross many genres and they never seem to bore me. That’s always a plus. For example, I love mysterious elements but I am not a fan of mystery as a genre. Somehow, he manages to present the mysterious elements within historical fact which is endlessly fascinating to me.
This book pulls you in quickly and has just the right amount of science to make it interesting. At times, I felt the book a tad too long. In between the excitement of the disasters themselves, there is a great deal of experimentation and let’s be honest here, I couldn’t wait for the next disaster to hit and got a little cranky in-between the events when things didn’t happen right away. However, the practice of science is not a speedy task. There are notes to be taken, results to be reviewed, etc. Had it been written any other way, I’m sure I would have found fault with it. So in the end, these experimental “asides” did not keep me from enjoying the novel.
Overall, the characters are realistically drawn and the events, thrilling. To think that science was at one time compared to black magic is almost too difficult to believe, but Pearl truly gives the reader a glimpse of how it was for that first graduating class at MIT and many of the characters are based on actual students.
If you like to learn something while being entertained, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. And if you’re lucky, you could win a copy of your own (see details below).
The publisher has offered me one copy of The Technologists to giveaway! Giveaway is open to the US and Canada. The publisher will send the book to the winner and the winner will be notified by me. To enter, complete the form below. Giveaway ends on February 19, 2012.
The giveaway is now closed!