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February 21, 2012 / Leslie

Review: The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

The Technologists
by Matthew Pearl

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: February 21, 2012
Format: Hardback | 496 pages
Rating: 5 of 5

The Technologists is historical fiction that is part mystery, part thriller set against the background of the newly evolving field of science and technology in 1868 Boston.

In Boston Harbor ships begin to crash into each other in the fog as compasses momentarily fail to function. Days later glass in the buildings in the financial district begins to melt causing destruction and panic only to solidify moments later, disfiguring anyone who touched it. The people are alarmed and demand that the perpetrator be stopped. Everyone fears another disaster will soon occur.

The police turn to Harvard, the preeminent and trusted institution, and ask the professors there to help them find an answer. Several students at the newly formed Massachusetts Institute of Technology want to help with the investigation but they are told to stay away. The public views MIT with distrust as the very word “technology” scares people. The trade unions fear the many new emerging technologies will eliminate jobs and the press sensationalized what they did not understand. A small group of MIT students form a secret society which they call The Technologists and surreptitiously begin their own research, determined to save Boston from the madman who is causing these disasters.

It took the first 60 to 70 pages for me to get oriented, figure out who all the characters were and get accustomed to the language of the time period or perhaps it was the author’s writing style. After that, the story just took off. The pace picked up and I didn’t want to put the book down. I enjoy historical mysteries and the addition of science made it irresistible for me. The characters were well-developed and believable, the protagonist likeable and the story a suspenseful mystery. It had the feel of a Sherlock Holmes adventure and there were a few great plot twists along the way to the mystery’s conclusion.

I especially enjoy a book that makes me curious about the history of the characters and the setting, and inspires me to learn more. Were they based on real people? I began looking them up on Wiki. Yes, some of them were. Two of the students were based on actual individuals who attended MIT in the early years, one being the first woman in America accepted to any school of science and technology.

It is apparent that the author did a remarkable amount of research that gave this novel an air of authenticity. 19th century Boston, a time and place I am not familiar with, comes alive. At the end of the book is a several page Afterword. The author cites his inspiration for the story, provides more information on the characters, the science of the day and some factual background on MIT’s fight for legitimacy in the early days when the concept of scientific education was considered dangerous.

I definitely recommend this for those who like historical mysteries and the techie types who like a little science mixed in will enjoy it even more. This was my first book by Matthew Pearl and I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

Source: Review copy.


Leave a Comment
  1. sagustocox / Feb 21 2012 7:04 am

    I’ve enjoyed some of Pearl’s previous books and I can’t wait to read this one.


  2. Mary / Feb 21 2012 9:17 am

    I’m such an impatient reader that I’m not sure I’d make it past the first 60-70 pages. I do know someone who would probably love this book so I’ll recommend it! Nice review.


    • Leslie / Feb 21 2012 7:32 pm

      The story starts fast. It just took me a bit to get all the characters straight. I almost started writing their names down, I’ve done that before, but all of sudden around 60 pages in they all just clicked.


      • Mary / Feb 22 2012 7:46 am

        I finished reading a book a few days ago where I wished I had a character list 🙂 I’ll keep this book in mind.


  3. BermudaOnion / Feb 21 2012 12:42 pm

    I wasn’t sure this was for me, but your enthusiasm for it makes me want to give it a try.


  4. Nan / Feb 21 2012 1:36 pm

    Thank you for this. I’ve been wondering about it. I so enjoyed his first book, but haven’t continued and I should.


  5. Debbie Rodgers / Feb 21 2012 5:15 pm

    Yes, by all means, read more Pearl. I loved The Last Dickens!


    • Leslie / Feb 21 2012 7:33 pm

      I intend to go back and read his earlier books.


  6. Carol / Feb 22 2012 4:08 pm

    Alright, now I can’t wait to read this one. I do tend to love historical mysteries, though.


  7. Joel / May 23 2012 12:40 pm

    I just finished and reviewed this over at my blog. I agree that it takes a while to get orientated, but one you are it more than makes up for it with its historical research and riveting storyline. I hope you don’t mind, I included a link back to your review at the end of the post.


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