Saturday, February 18, 2012

REVIEW: The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

 Synopsis (from Amazon): 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. 

My Thoughts: This was honestly a book that I wasn't sure I was going to like.  A bunch of MIT nerds embroiled in a mystery that involves lots and lots of science?  Science was never my forte so I was a little reluctant going in.  The book starts off with a catastrophe in Boston Harbor where the instruments to the many ships in the area go crazy causing boats to crash into each other and the docks which causes severe damage and trade losses due to cargo.  No one can understand what is going on and speculation runs rampant until another equally strange disaster follows closely on the heels of the destruction in the harbor.  It soon becomes clear that something not quite right is going on. The logical choice would be to request the brilliant minds at the new science college assist the police in tracking down the causes before another one occurs, right?  Apparently not because Harvard is the respectable college in town and those poor misguided young men (and woman) comprising the first class of MIT are for all intents and purposes considered a bunch of social misfits.  MIT actually gives working class people such as former civil war vet and factory worker Marcus Mansfield a shot at earning a degree.  They even have the nerve to admit Ellen Swallow-a woman!  Realizing that some may use the happenings in Boston to try to implicate the college and shut it down once and for all  Marcus teams up with friends Bob Richards and class genius Edwin Hoyt to investigate on their own.  Realizing that she is the best chemist they know they eventually enlist the help of Ms. Swallow as well.

This book was anything but boring.  Even the science portions were interesting to me.  The mystery surrounding who is responsible for the destruction occurring in Boston twists and turns in many directions while the unlikely foursome try to figure out the culprits next move.  I loved the different personalities of the four main characters: Marcus who is generally level headed but also a fighter, Bob who is impulsive and gravitates toward the fun pursuits, the shy but incredibly smart Edwin Hoyt and the cool, witty and at times saucy Ellen Swallow who won't let her gender hold her back from her love of science.  These four face many dangers throughout the novel and also attract the unwanted attention of a group of Harvard boys led by William Blaikie who seek to put the MIT group in their place.  The ending was exciting and not at all what I expected.  The sinister and mysterious character plaguing them throughout the novel was the last person I thought would be responsible.  This ended up being a really good thriller (science and all).  I will definitely be reading more of Matthew Pearl's books.

Release date: February 21st, 2012

 This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


  1. This one sounds good, thanks to your review, and is going on my TBR list. And I love the gothic simplicity of the cover!

    Have a great weekend, Holly!

  2. I've been looking at this book, but I too was worried about the science parts since I never quite understood all that in school. It's great to hear that it was a great novel nonetheless and that even the science parts were interesting. I'll definitely be picking this one up. Thanks for the great review!