The Technologists: A Novel Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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Praise for The Technologists
“The Technologists combines everything I love in a thriller: fascinating history, science, and a frightening mystery that demands to be solved. Matthew Pearl is one of my must-read authors. He never fails to intrigue and thrill!”—Tess Gerritsen, author of The Silent Girl
“Fascinating, mesmerizing, and richly atmospheric, The Technologists is the best yet from a true master of the historical thriller. I loved this novel.”—Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Buried Secrets and Vanished
“Pearl’s signature complex plotting, strewn with red herrings and populated with unlikely villains, leaves readers as shocked and intrigued as the Bostonians. . . . Pearl’s first three novels—The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens—were all New York Times bestsellers. His latest, another literary-historical thriller, seems certain to join the elite club.”—Booklist
“Pearl again blends detective fiction with historical characters (such as pioneering feminist and MIT-trained scientist Ellen Swallow), and his cast reads like a who’s who of nineteenth-century Boston. . . . Great fun.”—Publishers Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Matthew Pearl is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens, and the editor of the Modern Library editions of Dante’s Inferno (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. Pearl is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.See all Product Description
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So when I saw his new book among my Amazon Vine options, I reached for the SEND ME THIS BOOK button without hesitation.
This novel is set in Boston in 1868 -- the same era as The Dante Club, but down the street a few miles. Our heroes (including our primarily protagonist) are in the final few months at the newly founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose fifteen-member inaugural class is about to graduate. Meanwhile someone is doing dastardly deeds, beginning with a disaster in the Boston Harbor that cannot be explained (such as compasses that go haywire). And there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY anyone would ask the students from that weird Tech school to get involved, when there is the respectable Harvard University down the street whose assistance might be asked instead.
The MIT history is real. The science-based attacks in Boston, not so much. Which is just fine with me, because Pearl's story kept my mind whirring to separate the stuff I know (I've spent a lot of time in Boston) from the fiction. And because I learned so very much about what it meant to be a "technologist" in that era.
Today, we take the march of technology for granted. We may object to its overuse and its excesses and we may worry about automation taking away jobs, but it's part of our lives. In the late 1800s, when Darwinism was considered a cultish belief system that no self-respecting scientist would take seriously, the Institute of Technology was on very shaky ground. "When I was a student at Harvard," says an MIT professor in one scene, "My very interest in chemistry made me an outcast, and later Agassiz refused to allow me to teach it there. The Institute is on the verge of leading the way to a new age of scientific acceptance among the public, and we cannot risk delaying that."
The end result was a book that I didn't want to put down. Pearl drew me into the era completely... though perhaps my familiarity with present-day Boston gave the mental picture more depth. I liked the characters, and I was sometimes startled by the intersection of so many events; in 1868, Boston is still trying to come to terms with the end of the Civil War, for instance.
The Technologists is not absolutely perfect; some of the viewpoint-changing got on my nerves a teeny bit. And I wonder if a reader who is less scientifically-minded will follow some of the experiments.
I heartily recommend this book as a great historical mystery for techies. And probably for others, too (though they may give it 4 stars); Pearl is a good storyteller.
Then in the downtown section during the day a strange occurrence as the glass in the windows of all the businesses on that street start to melt! That's right the glass windows become liquid. But then as they drain out of their frames they reconstitute into glass and shatter as they hit the ground, or in the case of one unfortunate person they are encased in liquid glass that then becomes a solid cone of death.
What is happening? The police are stumped? Can the Technologist from MIT step in and provide clues or answers as to what is happening? Yes they could, but unfortunately the police and the other universities in the city do not think that they are a valid institution of higher learning and they don't want to enlist their help. As a matter of fact their students are looked down on as being from the lower classes and not as well educated.
Thus the basic battle of higher intellectual pursuits verses 'science.' Not only that but the other institutes were founded on Biblical principles and this new institute has a bunch of people who believe in Darwinism. So they are even more suspect.
The first third of the book flows well and kept my attention. But then I felt that the writing slowed down, the story slowed down and the author takes too much time building a backstory for one of the characters. Or at least the building of this backstory was boring.
The pace will pick up again, but not quick enough. Usually I get through a book pretty quickly. But I will admit that I set this down and went to two other books and read them completely until I pushed myself to go back.
So, while the story is intriguing for whatever reason it didn't keep my interest well.
As others have noted, the first 150 pages can be slow reading, as the author introduces a wide range of characters and their back stories to substantiate the world he is creating and also to widen the pool of suspects. I thought some of it was unnecessary, but that is the writer's call. I did find myself liking the characters more as I continued, so a purpose was served.
Once the half way mark is passed, the action really increases, as do the twists in revealing the culprit's identity, though I honestly figured it out fairly early- if you read enough mysteries I guess you get good at these sort of things.
Pearl does an excellent job of depicting the times, and being a big fan of Boston I really enjoyed this historical incarnation. Additionally, MIT really is a major, if not THE major, character, and a long time ago I was accepted as a graduate student there, so needless to say I was fascinated in reading about its early years. It will be shocking to some to see how a mere 150 years ago much of what we take for granted was considered almost heretical.
Reading this book, I found it a little Dickensian, which I guess is understandable. However, it also reminded me of Harry Potter - a group of young people in a mysterious school who set out to save their world using their almost magical abilities. Engineering as necromancy- something Arthur C Clarke talked about years ago. I wonder if this was Pearl's intention, or just me subconsciously influenced by Rowling's success?
All in all this was an excellent novel by an author who is getting better with each work. You will find yourself slowly but inexorably drawn into the lives of the Technologists as they deal with both their everyday concerns and interests while at the same time being forced to solve a mystery which threatens the lives of the people of Boston and their school's future. And you will cheer at the climax when all these young people come together to demonstrate the qualities which will lead America into its exceptional future.
Marcus Mansfield is a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who iwith his friends attempts to solve recent strange events in Boston which seem to defy the laws of science and threaten its industries. He takes on the challenge using his knowledge of the developing disciplines of applied science and cryptic notes given to him by his professor. In between adolescent rivalry with Harvard students, he and his MIT colleagues conduct their own experiments in secret.
The book is overly complicated with extraneous characters, backstories about the Civil War and various possible villains. The dialogue is cliched and the characters, with the possible exception of Ellen Swallow ( a historical character, the first woman to study at MIT although she could not attend classes) are sketchy and inconsistent. MIT and its students are posed as the underdogs in Boston society. This may have been true initially in a class sense, but the author takes an uncritical attitude to technology, and the very real dangers of boiler explosions, train wrecks, mining disasters, contamination of drinking water etc in the 19th century as new technologies were developed are put down as attacks on technology and industry. The truth is that the unrestrained growth of industry while providing opportunities for a few, created many challenges for the poor and vulnerable; but these are glossed over. The dialogue is in a masculine jolly ho ripping yarns style which does not ring true and sounds cliched. Pearl tries to cram in too much information about 19th century Boston and the Institute and the result is a book which does not flow well and is laborious to read. Perhaps if there had been a few more Ellen Swallows at MIT the future of technology and industry would have been different.
The novel's hero, Marcus Mansfield, is a working class senior at MIT, and much of the subtext of the story involves the "town and gown" tensions between the elitist Harvard students and those enrolled at the city's newest establishment of higher learning (including a very smart woman who is the sole female member of "The Technologists" and instrumental in solving the mystery).
From the opening chaos of the deadly harbor incident, we're drawn into a world where science and technology are beginning to emerge as forces that will shape the next century. Very soon after that the class lines between the Harvard students (particularly a snotty Harvard crew team member named Blaike) and the Institute of Technology students are drawn. We know that there's going to be fierce competition between them in many ways before the story is over.
Marcus is a very sympathetic character, a smart underdog (mom's a religious zealot, stepdad is a disappointed and bitter man) who is an athlete with a brain. His best friends Richard and Bob are a little on the "sidekick" side of character development at first, and the writer seems to strain for "humorous" dialogue at times, but we like these people.
Hammie is an interesting guy who reminds us a bit of the eccentric Sherlock Holmes in the current BBC version. He's clearly got some sort of ... problem, whether it's OCD or some syndrome along the autism spectrum ... but it makes him intriguing.
Blaikie is pretty on the nose as the arrogant alpha male who has achieved every goal he's hoped to reach but even so can't help but put other people down. (And we look forward to seeing him go down, especially after he has his team ram the boat Marcus and his buddies are in.) It's also hard to believe he would go to such extreme lengths to get Eddy back at Harvard. Ellen Sparrow is smart and lovely but there are times she reminds us of Hermione dealing with Harry Potter and Ron. (There are other times she reminds us of Mary Russell from Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes' novels.)
Once we get into the mystery, we are totally involved. What caused the mysterious flash in the harbor? What caused the navigational instruments to go haywire? The fear of technology, the fear of machines is an interesting backdrop to a story that is already rich with layers, including the prejudice against Catholics and the snobbery toward "townies." When Marcus despairs of being a college graduate, it reminds us a bit of Good Will Hunting. The two women vying for his affections, Lydia Campbell and Agnes Turner, are on opposite ends of the economic spectrum and we are happy that Marcus chooses well.
The steampunk elements work nicely in the story, especially the "Steam Man" that Hammie takes. The MIT history (which is apparently all true) gives the writer a nice canvas to paint on. The more real-life details he sticks into his story, the more real the construct. At its heart, this is a mad scientist story and there's a lot here to work with, and not just the mystery of who and what is causing the catastrophes. This book will definitely appeal to mystery fans as well as readers who like the true crime stories by Ben McIntyre (The Napoleon of Crime) and Larson.
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