The Technologists

By Matthew Pearl

(Random House, $26, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

Matthew Pearl, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., is known for writing best-sellers that mix real and fictional characters in literary-historical thrillers. He did that in “The Dante Club,” “The Poe Shadow,” and “The Last Dickens,” with great success.

He also is editor of the Modern Library editions of “Dante’s Inferno” (as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales.”

His educational background has served him well in his work. He has earned degrees at Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. 

What is this book about?

“The Technologists” is set in 19th century Boston just after the Civil War. An intellectual rival to hoary old Harvard has just been founded, and the new school will become that sanctuary for budding scientists we know as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When weird, mysterious calamities afflict the city, such as ships going out of control in the harbor and glass of all kind turning dangerously liquid, Bostonians are stunned and scared. Four students at the new college – Marcus Mansfield, a war veteran and former machinist; Robert Richards, rich kid par excellence; Edwin Hoyt, a genius geek; and lone female student Ellen Swallow – who call themselves the Technologists, set about to pool their talents and solve the mystery.  

Why you’ll like it:

Pearl takes a steam-punk slant in his books, mixing Victorian culture with futuristic science and intertwining made-up characters with folks we know from our history books. Here he combines a satisfying mystery with the history of science and the way new technology challenged the old ways of manufacturing, which threatened the trade unionists of those times. (That’s a battle still going on today.) He also has fun tweaking the stuffiness – and in some cases, downright evil – emanating from his alma mater, dear old Harvard. Pearl’s books follow a formula, but it’s one that entrances a host of readers.

What others are saying:

“Pearl’s faultless fourth historical mystery centers on Boston in the late 1860s and the newly founded college that will become the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) …. 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,” says Library Journal.

“…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 19th-century Boston. The novel is lighter than some of Pearl’s previous work, but still great fun to read,” says Publishers Weekly.

Brains and technology battle evil in Pearl’s … latest, an improbable but entertaining yarn of weird science. … It’s up to [Marcus] Mansfield and a team of proto-geeks at MIT to figure out what sort of devious soul would want to make like a whale and wreak Moby-Dick’s vengeance on the good Brahmins of Beacon Hill — and while the answer, which takes a good long time in coming, isn’t in the least bit predictable, it also makes sense once it comes into focus. Marcus’ enthusiasm for the chase is delightful –”We’ll need Tech’s best physicist on hand, of course!”– as is Pearl’s appreciation for both 19th-century science and technology and affection for Beantown and its history,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

You can find this book now at the Downtown and Ropkins branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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