PUBLICATION DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 2012
’ve been intrigued by Matthew Pearl’s previous books (The Dante Club, The Last Dickens), so I was glad to finally read him. And he does not disappoint.
The Technologists is set at the turn of the century, featuring Boston at the cusp of a technological boom. As far as educational institutions go, Harvard has been unparalleled for a long time, but now the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology has opened its doors to nurture the generation of scientific minds. Nicknamed “Tech,” the institute’s opening is met with criticism and struggles to recruit students, but is buoyed on by a few stalwarts of science.
The story features Tech’s very first graduating class, a diverse mix of characters that Pearl develops well. The whole city of Boston is in the grip of a madman who uses technology to cause chaos and fear, and it’s up to this group of students to stop him.
Pearl makes history come alive through his memorable characters. They grow on you until you find yourself rooting for them and for Tech to succeed. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered such well-developed characters. The ragtag group is led by Marcus Mansfield, charity scholar and former machinist, whose quiet fortitude and intelligence in the face of a city clinging to tradition remind me of Ayn Rand’s heroes in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
The writing is elegant. The scenes, the dialog, the details of everyday life—every bit of the novel brought me to a place and time I know absolutely nothing about, but ended up wanting to visit. This rarely happens to me, and the last time may have been as far back as Little Women.
About three quarters through The Technologists, though, I was starting to think it might have been too long; like Pearl had researched his subject too much and had fallen so madly in love with the world he’s created that he’s loathe to leave anything out, and some random editor gave him a free hand.
But by the end of it, I was satisfied: the mystery held till the end, and delivered the conclusion of an entirely clever plot that blindsided me all throughout. The Technologists is a pleasurable read and well-worth recommending to history and mystery lovers.