Summary and book reviews of The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

The Technologists

A Novel

By Matthew Pearl

The Technologists
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Feb 2012,
    496 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2012,
    512 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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About this Book

Book Summary

The acclaimed author of The Dante Club reinvigorates the historical thriller. Matthew Pearl's spellbinding new novel transports readers to tumultuous nineteenth-century Boston, where the word "technology" represents a bold and frightening new concept. The fight for the future will hinge on...

The Technologists

Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between the past and the present, tradition and technology. On a former marshy wasteland, the daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rising, its mission to harness science for the benefit of all and to open the doors of opportunity to everyone of merit. But in Boston Harbor a fiery cataclysm throws commerce into chaos, as ships' instruments spin inexplicably out of control. Soon after, another mysterious catastrophe devastates the heart of the city. Is it sabotage by scientific means or Nature revolting against man's attempt to control it?

The shocking disasters cast a pall over M.I.T. and provoke assaults from all sides - rival Harvard, labor unions, and a sensationalistic press. With their first graduation and the very survival of their groundbreaking college now in doubt, a band of the Institute's best and brightest students secretly come together to save innocent lives and track down the truth, armed with ingenuity and their unique scientific training.
 
Led by "charity scholar" Marcus Mansfield, a quiet Civil War veteran and one-time machinist struggling to find his footing in rarefied Boston society, the group is rounded out by irrepressible Robert Richards, the bluest of Beacon Hill bluebloods; Edwin Hoyt, class genius; and brilliant freshman Ellen Swallow, the Institute's lone, ostracized female student. Working against their small secret society, from within and without, are the arrayed forces of a stratified culture determined to resist change at all costs and a dark mastermind bent on the utter destruction of the city.
 
Studded with suspense and soaked in the rich historical atmosphere for which its author is renowned, The Technologists is a dazzling journey into a dangerous world not so very far from our own, as the America we know today begins to shimmer into being.

Book 1
Civil and Topographical Engineering
I
April 4, 1868

Its proud lines intermittently visible through the early morning fog, the Light of the East might have been the most carefree ship that ever floated into Boston. Some of the sailors, their bearded faces browned and peeling from too much sun, cracked the last rations of walnuts in their fists or under their boot heels, singing some ancient song about a girl left behind. After wild March winds, stormy seas, dangerous ports, backbreaking work, and all the extremes of experience, they'd be handed a good pay at port, then freed to lose it to the city's myriad pleasures.

The navigator held the prow steady, his eye on his instruments, as they waited for the fog to disperse enough for their signal to be seen by the pilot boat. Although Boston Harbor stretched across seventy-five square miles, its channels had been so narrowed for purposes of defense that two large ships could not safely pass each other without the harbor pilot's ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. A major theme of the novel is the end of the Civil War and its lasting reverberations. Discuss the impact of the war on various characters—whether via their direct participation or through their failure to actively take part—and how society was changed as a whole. Compare and contrast Marcus and Frank, whose wartime experiences transformed them in vastly different ways.
  2. Agnes Turner and Ellen Swallow both wish to gain entrance to a world that has traditionally been closed off to them, and each faces her own set of challenges in doing so—Agnes in breaking free from her family's expectations, and Ellen in the fierce ostracism she faces from her classmates. While this attitude toward women may have been customary for the...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Technologists has me reaching for nineteenth-century circus poster adjectives: stupendous, extraordinary, death-defying! ...The moral heart of the novel is very endearing - Pearl gives us an insight into the nineteenth century that is affectionate and indebted. His heroes are honorable and humane and long-seeing. Readers can enjoy the book as an amusing, suspenseful romp and come away with some understanding about how we got to where we are, technologically and morally speaking.   (Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

Of appeal to fans of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, as well as aficionados of a good adventure layered with batteries, transformers, and navigational tools.

Booklist

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

Library Journal

Pearl has a special talent for making likable detectives out of historical figures (The Dante Club) and for pulling compelling plotlines from biographies (The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens). Here, MIT and Harvard are brought to the foreground and so well depicted that they become historical characters in their own right. This thriller won't disappoint Pearl's many fans.

Author Blurb Tess Gerritsen, author of The Silent Girl
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!

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The Steampunk Aesthetic

Furnaces, circuits, and laboratory paraphernalia; "gasometers, gauges, air pumps, and troughs of... galvanic fluid"; clocks and submersibles - these are the trappings of nineteenth-century science at work throughout The Technologists. These are also the elements that make up the aesthetic side of the "Steampunk" movement - Victorian design plus scientific invention, natural materials plus cutting-edge technology. The creative synthesis of the historical and the innovative has spawned a wide range of fantastically appealing visual creations.

Forevertron Park

Sculptor Tom Every ("Dr. Evermor") is the genius behind Forevertron Park, a sculpture garden of salvaged-metal creations with a distinct Steampunk look. Every's sculptures ...

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