The Technologists

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“A terrific historical mystery in the fine old Arthur Conan Doyle style . . . Who knew that a mystery formed around the founding of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be so good? . . . There are cliffhanger endings and fortuitous escapes. . . . There are even a couple of very sweet romances.”—The Globe and Mail
Boston, 1868. The ...

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The Technologists

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“A terrific historical mystery in the fine old Arthur Conan Doyle style . . . Who knew that a mystery formed around the founding of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be so good? . . . There are cliffhanger endings and fortuitous escapes. . . . There are even a couple of very sweet romances.”—The Globe and Mail
Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between past and present, tradition and technology. The daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is on a mission to harness science for the benefit of all. But when an unnatural disaster strikes the ships in Boston Harbor, and an equally inexplicable catastrophe devastates the heart of the city, an antiscience backlash casts a pall over MIT and threatens its very survival. So the best and brightest from the Institute’s first graduating class secretly join forces to save innocent lives and track down the truth. Armed with ingenuity and their unique scientific training, gifted war veteran Marcus Mansfield, blueblood Robert Richards, genius Edwin Hoyt, and brilliant freshman Ellen Swallow will match wits with a master criminal bent on the utter destruction of the city.
Don’t miss Matthew Pearl’s short story “The Professor’s Assassin,” featuring characters from The Technologists, in the back of the book.
Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Fascinating, mesmerizing, and richly atmospheric, The Technologists is the best yet from a true master of the historical thriller. I loved this novel.”—Joseph Finder, author of Buried Secrets and Vanished
“A terrific historical mystery in the fine old Arthur Conan Doyle style . . . Who knew that a mystery formed around the founding of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be so good? . . . There are cliffhanger endings and fortuitous escapes. . . . There are even a couple of very sweet romances.”—The Globe and Mail
The Technologists combines everything I love in a thriller: fascinating history, science, and a frightening mystery that demands to be solved.”—Tess Gerritsen, author of Last to Die
“A marvel of moving parts [with] all the twists and turns a mystery lover could ask for.”—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Set in 1868 Boston, the latest historical fiction from Pearl (The Dante Club) finds protagonist Marcus Mansfield on the cusp of graduation from the newly formed Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studies intently, spies on the Catholic girls’ school, and fights Harvard’s unfriendly rowing team. Life at the school is upended after a strange set of calamities takes place. In foggy Boston Harbor, ships collide, and all the glass in the city’s central commercial district suddenly liquefies, maiming and killing Bostonians. The police are at a loss, not sure if these are crimes at all. Harvard’s best—and mostly incompetent—minds are enlisted to solve the crime, leaving Mansfield and his friends no option but to form a secret club and solve the mystery themselves. In order to do so, they must contend with a scarred man, Harvard’s satanic Medical Faculty (Med Fac) club, and antiscience trade unionists. Lighter than his previous novels, 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. (Feb.)
Library Journal
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). Three male students from different class backgrounds and the institution's sole female student team up to research a series of scientific mysteries baffling the Boston police. As part of MIT's first secret society, the Technologists, the students use chemicals, experiments, and such inventions as a primitive submarine to track a murderer whose abilities and education seem to parallel their own. The Technologists race to stay ahead of the police while dueling with their Harvard rivals and fending off antagonism from the trade unionists, who resent MIT's role in mechanizing factories. VERDICT 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. [Library and academic marketing; on December 5 the publisher released an e-original short story as a tie-in to this novel.—Ed.]—Catherine Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Brains and technology battle evil in Pearl's (The Last Dickens, 2009, etc.) latest, an improbable but entertaining yarn of weird science. Marcus Mansfield is trying to adjust to life as a civilian following years in a Confederate prison. He is a diffident and cautious fellow: "He did not volunteer for the war to be a hero, nor to change the world, either, but did think it was the best thing a man could do." He also wants to be left alone, having applied for a night watchman's job for the solitude and instead finding work in a dark corner of a machine shop, where he puts his talents to use designing things that are much ahead of their time. In a Boston scarcely bigger than a suburb today, he draws the attention of the head of a new school on the Back Bay along "surroundings that were grandly artificial, where the pupils would observe the way in which civil engineers could turn malodorous swamp...into a landscape of wide streets." All this comes just in time for the chase at hand, for someone has in turn been sabotaging the shipping in Boston's busy harbor, turning compasses upside down and sending freighters and schooners plowing into the docks at crazy angles. It's up to 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. 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812978032
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 138,238
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Pearl

Matthew Pearl is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens, and the editor of the Modern Library editions of Dante’s Inferno (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. Pearl is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Matthew Pearl's novels achieve the seemingly unachievable. They manage to be both informative and entertaining, utilizing historically accurate details about some very famous literary figures to fashion fictional thrillers that rival the works of Pearl's idols. While Pearl's work is indeed ambitious, he has the credentials to tackle such challenging projects that place immortals like Dante Alighieri, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Alan Poe in the middle of mysteries of his own creation. In 1997, Pearl graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in English and American literature. He went on to teach literature and creative writing at both Harvard and Emerson College. Pearl's impressive background in literature and research provided him with the necessary tools for making history come alive in a most unique way. He is also bolstered by a genuine fascination with the theme of literary stardom. "I am very interested by literary celebrity, and both Dante and Poe experienced it in some degree," Pearl explained to "Or, in Poe's case, he aimed for literary celebrity and never quite achieved it…Longfellow was more genuinely a celebrity. People would stop him in the streets, particularly in his later years. Imagine that today, a poet stopped in the streets! It was also common for writers like Longfellow to have their autographs cut out of letters and sold, or even their signatures forged and sold."

Pearl published his debut novel in 2003. The Dante Club is a small group of Harvard professors and poets (including Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes) who must track down a killer before he derails their efforts to complete the first American translation of The Divine Comedy. The novel became an international sensation. Pearl's attention to historical facts, his imagination, his vivid descriptions and fine characterizations awed critics and delighted readers. Esquire magazine chose The Dante Club as its "Big Important Book of the Month." Since its 2003 publication, it has become an international bestseller, translated into 30 languages.

Pearl followed The Dante Club with another cagey combination of historical fact and mysterious fiction. The Poe Shadow takes place during the aftermath of the death of Edgar Alan Poe. In a labyrinthine plot that would surely have made the master of the macabre proud, an attorney named Quentin Hobson Clark seeks to uncover the exact details that lead up to the peculiar death of his favorite writer. The Poe Shadow was another major feat from Matthew Pearl. If anything, it is even richer and more intriguing than its predecessor. Poe's status as a great purveyor of mystery and the mystery which Pearl conjures within his plot makes for a most provocative mixture. Critics from all corners of the globe agreed. From Entertainment Weekly to The Spectator to The Independent, The Globe and Mail, Booklist, Bookpage, and countless others, The Poe Shadow was hailed as another major achievement for Matthew Pearl. The novel has also become yet another international bestseller.

So, is Matthew Pearl heading for the kind of literary celebrity that so fascinates him? Well, Details magazine named the writer as one of its "Next Big Things," and Dan "The Da Vinci Code" Brown called him "the new shining star of literary fiction." Who knows? Maybe one day an aspiring young writer may see fit to place Matthew Pearl in the center of some fictional puzzler.

Good To Know

Pearl was placed on the 2003 edition of Boston Magazine's annual "Hot List."

His fascination with Edgar Alan Poe does not end with Poe's presence in The Poe Shadow. Pearl also edited a 2006 collection of Poe's C. Auguste Dupin mysteries titled Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales.

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Read an Excerpt

Book 1
Civil and Topographical Engineering
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 assistance.
The Light’s austere captain, Mr. Beal, strode the deck, his rare aura of high contentment amplified by the giddiness of his men. Beal could envision in his mind’s eye the pilot boat breaking through the fog toward them, the pilot dressed like an undertaker, saluting indifferently and relieving Beal—for once—of his burdens. Then would come the view of the stretches of docks and piers, the solid granite warehouses never quite large enough for all the foreign cargo brought in by the merchants, then beyond that the State House’s gold dome capping the horizon—the glittering cranium of the world’s smartest city.
In the last few years, with so many men returned from fighting the rebellion, even modest Boston merchants had become veritable industrialists, beset as they were by excess hands. This city had prided itself on its history from the time it was little more than a quaint village, but Beal was old enough to know how artificial its modern visage was. Hills that formerly sloped through the city had been flattened, their detritus used to fill in various necks and bays, the foundations for streets and new neighborhoods and wharves such as the one that soon would welcome them. He could remember when the Public Garden was plain mud marking Boston’s natural boundary.
A steam pipe bellowed from some unseen ship launching on its way or maybe, like them, gliding toward a journey’s end, and Beal felt a solemn comradeship with all unknown voyagers. As he glimpsed the crescent moon and thought he would soon have enough light even in this nasty fog to lay course, his pleasant reverie was broken by a bright light flashing low in the water. When the captain craned forward, a lifeboat caught in the current, right in the path of their prow, sprang out from the mist.
His lookout cried out while Beal seized his speaking trumpet and shouted orders to change course. A woman’s scream floated up. The schooner veered adroitly in efforts to avoid the small craft, but too late. The lifeboat’s passengers jumped for their lives as their boat split into pieces against the Light’s prow, the screaming woman thrusting a small child above the waves. To the shock of the captain, another obstacle broke through the dense curtain of fog on the schooner’s starboard side: a pleasure steamer, with its flags flying the signals of distress, and taking on water.
“Clear lower deck!” Beal shouted.
Light of the East had nowhere to go. The side of its hull grazed and then caught the stranded steamship, right through the forward bulkhead: Pipes snapped and scalding-hot steam rushed into the heavy air as the hold of the schooner was ripped open. Now it, too, took on water, fast.
Chaos reigned on and off the ships. Beal snapped an order to throw the cargo overboard and repeated it sharply when his men hesitated. If they didn’t unload right now, they would lose not only their profits, but also the ship and likely lives.
“Captain! There!” called his lookout.
Beal stared in astonishment from the railing as a stray breeze parted the fog. The wharf loomed ahead, but it was now clear they were approaching it from the wrong angle, parallel instead of perpendicular. Incredulously, the captain extended his spyglass. A bark flying British colors had wrecked against the tip of one of the piers and caught fire, while another schooner, marked the Gladiator, had drifted against the wharf, where its crew feverishly tried to tow it in. As he watched, fiery debris spread to the Gladiator’s sails, which an instant later were wreathed in flames.
At least half a dozen ships were visible in those few moments of clarity, and all were foundering in various states of distress across the once-orderly harbor, reverberating with shrieking whistles, bells, foghorns, and other desperate signals.
Beal frantically stumbled and slid on his way to the navigational instruments. The needle of the steering compass, held under glass by the wheel, spun around violently, as if bedeviled, while on his pocket compass the needle was 180 degrees off the mark—north was south. He’d sailed by these navigational instruments—finely tuned with the expertise of nineteen centuries—for his entire life as a seaman, and he knew there should be no way for them to fail all at once.
The pleasure steamer they had crashed into suddenly lurched forward with a boom. In seconds it was entirely underwater. Where it had been, a vortex opened, sucking under those already stranded in the water, and then spitting them out high into the air.
“To the lifeboats!” shouted Beal to his thunderstruck crew. “Find anyone alive and get as far away as you can!”
Submerged. As the waves soothed his naked body, his athletic strokes worked in concert with the rhythm of the current. The first week in April had not yet promised any warmth, the water still rather icy. But he willingly endured the chill ripping through his body for the better feeling swimming afforded him. It was a feeling of being alone but not lonely, a sense of freedom from all restrictions and control. Floating, kicking, somersaulting—try as he could to make noise, the water rendered him irrelevant.
Throughout his boyhood in a port town, he’d heard so many people spoken of as “lost at sea.” Now it seemed to him the strangest turn of phrase. As long as he was in the water, he could not be lost. He could bask, bathe, disappear, and the water sheltered him as much in Boston as it had back home. Not that he ever felt homesick, as some of the other Institute students did who had come from outside Boston. He still traveled the forty miles back and forth to Newburyport by train every day to keep down living expenses, although it cost him more than an hour each way.
To his mother and stepfather, the Institute remained a strange detour from his good position at the machine shop, and a daily interruption to his help at home. His stepfather, James, had always been unhappy, plagued by a partial deafness in his left ear that made him shun all society and friends. He worked as a night watchman for a jeweler because he preferred the solitude and uneventful nature of the position. He assumed people were speaking ill of him because he could not hear what they said, which led him to the further conclusion that city life, being loud, was an evil cacophony of deceit. As for his mother, she was a religious zealot of the old Puritan kind who saw danger in urban life and no value to the son’s studies in Boston.
Even now, when he was a senior, graduation a mere two and a half months away, they did not accept that he—Marcus Mansfield, of all people!—was a student at a college.
Marcus plunged his head back into the cool water, ears tingling as he surveyed the river—a tranquil and forgiving lane that ran between Boston and Cambridge, lined by a gentle, sloping green sward that would shade swimmers and oarsmen from the hot days to come. Unseen behind the thick weather, above the riverbank and the fields and marshes skirting it, there lurked the crowded brick and iron and gold-domed city, propelling Marcus forward with the powerful thrust of a gigantic engine.
At the shallow bend of the river Marcus took another big breath and sank, closing his eyes and relishing the drop. Down below, pieces of debris and lumber had lodged in the muddy riverbed. As he brushed against the foreign articles, he heard a voice beckon, distant, as though issued from the sky:
“Mansfield! Mansfield! We need you!”
Marcus bobbed up from under the water and then grabbed onto the side of a boat.
“Mansfield! There you are! You’re late.”
“How did you know I was swimming?”
“How did we—? Ha! Because I saw a pile of clothes back there on the shore, and who else would dare plunge into this freezing Styx!” The tall, blond oarsman dangled a suit of clothes above Marcus’s head. “Actually, it was Eddy who recognized your clothes.”

“Morning, Marcus,” said the second, smaller oarsman with his usual open smile.
“And since Eddy and I were both ready,” continued Bob, “we pushed out to find you.”
“Then you were early,” said Marcus, treading water toward the bank, “before I was late.”
“Ha! I’ll take that. Get dressed—we need our third oar.”
He shook himself dry on the bank and climbed into his gray trousers and light shirt. His two companions presented a study in opposites as they helped him into their boat: Bob, with the quintessential New Englander’s clear skin and crown of handsome curls, standing carelessly at the edge of the shell; Edwin Hoyt, slight and frail-looking, throwing the little weight he possessed to the other side in anticipation of a tragic drowning.
Despite knowing the water and boats pretty well, Marcus had not grown up indulging in such impractical pursuits as rowing for pleasure, with its arbitrary rules and catchwords. Some weeks before, Bob had announced one morning, “This is the day, fellows!” to Marcus and Edwin, their fellow Institute of Technology senior, as he bounded ahead of them on the way to a lecture.
“Which day?”
“Spring is here, Mansfield, and since it’s our last one at the college it’s time I showed you rowing just as I promised. Why, I hardly knew one end of the oar from the other until I was nine years old. A scrawny boy I was, the smallest Richards ever!” This served to emphasize what a commanding twenty-two-year-old Bob had become. Marcus could not actually recall Bob promising to teach them, but let that pass, given Bob’s enthusiasm.
To his surprise, Marcus found rowing not to be the wasted time he expected, and it took his mind away from worrying about the looming future away from the Institute. It was at once calming and exciting, a thrill when the shell launched across the surface of the water as though alive. They tried to recruit more oars among their classmates to join them, but the few willing candidates never did find time.
As their small vessel pushed steadily along, Bob began laughing to himself. “I was just thinking of my brothers,” he explained. “They used to warn me about the sea serpent of the Charles. Nearly one hundred feet long, they said, with humps like a camel and a cry like a braying donkey crossed with an elephant’s trumpeting. You know how I have to take it upon myself to investigate anything in nature. Well, for three months I searched out old Charley, until I determined that the water wouldn’t sustain a sea serpent’s diet.”
“But how did you know what a sea serpent ate?” Edwin asked seriously.
“Bob, would you mind rowing farther east today?” Marcus proposed.
“A quest! Where to?”
“I haven’t seen the harbor since . . .” Marcus did not finish his sentence.
“Better not to, Marcus,” Edwin said quickly. “I caught sight of it this morning after it was all over. The whole harbor was up in smoke. It was like looking into the face of a bad omen.”
“Eager to see the destruction?”
“Actually, Bob, I was hoping to learn something from seeing how they begin the repairs,” Marcus corrected him. “There is already some debris on the riverbed that must have drifted on the current.” He stopped when he saw Bob’s face narrow as he looked out on the water behind them. “What is it?”
“Just my luck,” Bob said. “Faster, fellows! Go! Come on, Mansfield, faster! Well rowed, Hoyt! All clear, come on!”
A forty-nine-foot shell had shot out of the trees sheltering a narrow adjoining channel with the speed of a lightning bolt. Six flashing oars creased the surface of the river in synchronized strokes, throwing off white streaks behind them. The rowers were bare from the waist up, with crimson handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads, and their flexing muscles glistened in the strengthening sun. As Marcus peered back at them, they looked like highly educable pirates, and he knew it would be a lost cause to attempt to elude whatever this boat was.
“Who are they?” he marveled.
“Blaikie,” Bob explained as the three of them pulled as hard as they could. “His is the best Harvard six there ever was, they say. Will Blaikie—he’s the stroke oar. I’d rather stare into the mouth of the serpent.”
Edwin wheezed between strokes, “Blaikie . . . was . . . at Exeter . . . with Bob and me.”
The other vessel came on with a spurt too powerful to shake, now just a length behind.
“Plymouth!” cried the lantern-jawed lead rower on the lightning bolt. The boat went by theirs and then reversed and ranged alongside of them.
“Why, it is you, Plymouth!” said the stroke oar, Blaikie, to Bob with a gleaming smile. Even seated in his shell, he presented the particular mincing swagger of a Harvard senior. “It’s been ages. You’re not forming a randan team, are you?”
“We’ve been borrowing a shell from the boat club,” said Bob, motioning for his friends to stop rowing. Marcus could not remember seeing his classmate so deflated.
“Don’t tell me you’re still dragging your heels over at that embryo of a college, Plymouth?” Blaikie asked.
“We are seniors now, like you.”
“Tant pis pour vous,” interjected one of the Harvard boys, eliciting chuckles from the others.
“I fear civilizing your classmates into respectable gentlemen will take more than teaching them to grip an oar,” Blaikie went on cheerfully. “Science cannot substitute for culture, old salt. I used to agonize, Plymouth, what I would most rather be, stroke of the Harvard, president of the Christian Brethren, or First Scholar of the class. Now I know what it is to be all three.” He was reminded by one of his oarsmen not to forget president of one of the best college societies. “Yes, Smithy! But it is best not to speak of the societies to outsiders.”
“We are doing things far more important—things you wouldn’t begin to understand, Blaikie.”
“Just how many of you Technology boys are there?”
Throwing out his chest, Bob answered, “Fifteen men in the Class of ’68. About thirty-five in the other three classes, and we expect more than ever in the next freshman group.”

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Reading Group Guide

A  Conversation Between Classmates:

Matthew  Pearl and Benjamin Cavell  were college classmates, but met and became friends about six years after graduating, at a photo shoot for a Boston magazine. Benjamin is a producer and writer of the FX drama Justified as well as the author of Rumble, Young Man, Rumble, an award-winning collection of short stories. In honor of the technologi- cal themes of the novel, Matthew and Benjamin decided to discuss The Technologists via an online chat.

Benjamin Cavell:  Each of your  previous  books  has focused on the work  of a  particular literary  figure as  a source of or a  solution  to the various mysteries. Was it a conscious  decision  to move away from that model? Wait, now it’s telling  me you’re offline.

Matthew Pearl: No, I’m here. I just  went invisible  so nobody would interrupt us.

I meant to phrase the end of that question  better but then I rushed it because it said you disappeared.

MP: That’s fine how you have it.
BC: But obviously it’s conscious. I guess the question  should  be why you  decided to move away from it?

MP: I think it was more that writing  three books tied together—by lit- erary history—had at some point  become my plan, and then when that “set” was completed it was  a matter of looking  over my list of ideas and deciding what was next.  Many  of my ideas are centered around  literary history, but a number  are not, and this  one, originally  listed  in my idea document only as “MIT novel,” jumped out at me and at the few people (you included) whom I asked for input.  In some ways, it would have been easier to continue  with literary history because that had become a sort of security blanket.

Your previous   books  were  set  at  a  time  when  publishing   and American literature were entering some kind  of early modern age; this book  takes place at a moment when science (or technology) is doing the same. Is that why you chose MIT as your  setting  as opposed to Harvard, which is obviously a place you  have an association  with  and a place  that has featured in your previous work (with varying levels of significance)?

I definitely  had more connections with  Harvard  as a place,   but the idea started with  MIT  and then went from there (rather than start- ing with the history  of science). Before writing  the book, I’m not   sure I  even knew  more  than  one  or two  people who  had any  affiliation with MIT, but my removal from the place made me more interested in peeking inside  its origins. It is and was  such  a unique world in itself. Counter to the axiom, I tend to want to write  about what I don’t know. Actually, I didn’t know Harvard  would play any part in this  story  until  I started doing research and found that Harvard  and its professor Louis Agassiz were opponents  of MIT  and all  the new sciences that MIT represented.

BC: How closely does the book hew to the actual history of MIT’s founding?

MP: I don’t think I’ve ever used “hew.”

BC: I don’t think I have either  but I’ve always wanted to. The Marcus character is wholly  invented, yes? But  many of the others  are based on people who were actually in that first graduating class.

Wait, I didn’t answer the last question!

I’m expanding the question.

MP: The story  of MIT’s  founding is pretty  accurately represented, with  some of the details streamlined or simplified so not to weigh the plot or reader down. It really was this  controversial   place at the start, very  different  than what had come before it, or even what would  come after it established its foothold.
I think the academic politics  and tensions  were what got me into  the story  before the fascinating science, which  of course is splashier  mate- rial. Marcus is fictional but his circumstances  are drawn from very real people who were among the first students from the “industrial” class, while  most of the others  are historical (except Hammie).  At one point, I wanted  at least one appearance from each of the historically first gradu- ates, though  I think  by the final draft some of them were left behind.

You mention the fascinating science. How  did you come up with the various  technology-based attacks?

MP: That  was an uphill  climb. There was  a moment   early  on  when  I almost  gave up  the whole  book  because in spite  of the fact that I loved my characters, I didn’t know if I could  create attacks that were interest- ing enough. I had some help from  scientist  friends  and contacts, but most  of the ideas that made it into the final version started with the sci- entific journals  from the time period. Really  tedious to read through, then you’d come  upon   a nugget  about  an experiment or an accident buried  in there somewhere and that would  expand outward.  Dissolving the glass, for example: that was actually inspired by  a scientific journal column written  by an MIT  student about experiments they were doing there. Then  I’d build  on that and convert it into something malicious and dangerous.

BC: What  about other difficulties?  I think  people would  be interested to hear about your  main sticking points.

MP: Well, you  heard about most  of them  at the time  because I would call you for advice.

BC: True.

MP: One was how to start the novel. Do you remember we talked about that? At first,  I thought I would start with a scene of Marcus  being re- cruited while he worked at a machine shop. You had the idea that there could be an accident, some kind  of malfunction on the shop floor,  and after Marcus  shows  his  quick thinking, Rogers, the MIT founder, would recruit him  to go to the college. I started writing  that scene and still have it saved somewhere.  For some reason, the transition  felt choppy from that  to  the  “present” (i.e.,  four  or four  and a half years later, when Mar- cus is a college  senior),  so instead I started the book with the first disas- ter, and at some point  early on we flash back to Marcus  being recruited, though  no accident is involved. I used the accident idea in a classroom scene, but then ultimately  took that scene out, too. There were many things like that that you (and other trusted  readers, as well as my editor and agent, of course)  helped me with  when  I got stuck  along the way. It’s a tough part of novel writing,  trying  to get help and input,  because it’s  such   a complex, long-term  project. For example, I knew I wanted Marcus to get into  a fight so I consulted with you, since you were a boxer and are generally  more capable of being  in a fight than I am. When  was the last time you got into a real fight?

Outside  the ring?  College, I guess.

MP: Really? With another student?

Yeah, but it wasn’t terribly serious. We were messing  around and it escalated. Maybe we should  talk a little  about the war stuff.  Research,  etc.

MP: Is he still scared of you?

BC: I haven’t seen him since graduation.

I’ve never been in a fight in my life.

Why   are you interviewing   me all of a  sudden? I liked where we were headed, to the war and your  research. You’ve never actually put us into a war or a prison camp that I can remember.

Not in the same way as here. Originally, I thought Marcus would be  a war hero, but actually, I ended up having it that he never was in a battle, he is captured early on while  helping  an injured soldier. He has this insecurity, these regrets, that he wasn’t a big enough help to the war. Bob Richards  has different trauma from not having served in the war at all.

BC: And was the torture-by-technology  really used in Civil War prison camps?

MP: The details of prison-camp  life  come out of research, especially from firsthand accounts of what it was like, which generally I prefer to secondary sources. I researched many prison  camps, so some of what I say happened at Smith might have been more likely to have happened at another prison  camp, and certainly conditions like this weren’t limited to the South;  the North  had similarly awful camps. One thing that was terrific to discover, from a  storytelling  point  of view, was the use of a former   tobacco warehouse as  a prison. There would  be these tobacco presses, complex machines, not being used, and the prisoners   would start trying  to take them apart, which  I thought was a great  way to show Marcus  and Frank using and learning  engineering  while  prisoners.

Did you  exaggerate at all the general mistrust and even fear of tech- nology  that seems to pervade the world  of the technologists—or, at least, the city of Boston?

MP: I don’t think I exaggerate the fear, though of course I’m spotlight- ing it. Just as there are today, there would have been people fearful  of and other people inspired by technology, though much more in the former category, proportionally, and with  far less  understanding,  plus  more in- tense religious hesitations about changes on that front. That was impor- tant to the novel in establishing the alienated position of MIT, which is obviously  underscored by its location in a sort  of swampland of Boston.

But  do you think we have gone from that extreme mistrust  to an almost worshipfulness? I.e., that technology will  ultimately save us from ourselves.

We’ll get fearful  again, though, I think, as more of our technologies run  to their logical conclusions. I think  many of the same fears, maybe rightfully in some cases, will come back to us  about what is natural or not. For The Technologists I tried to find lots of representations of scien- tists in literature from that time. You can probably  guess what I found. That’s your  cue.

Evil? E-vil.

Well,  sometimes. Very  strange, confused, amoral, and areligious figures, for the most part. That era really is when the mad scientist figure is hammered out. Most  of those scientific characters, like Henry Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein, end up doomed in those stories.

BC: But isn’t part  of what  we’ve learned about technology/science and part of what The Technologists is ultimately  about is that technological advancement and discovery is fairly  inevitable  and that by marginalizing the scientists  themselves  we cede power to the individuals  or corpora- tions  who see the potential  and make sure they’re the only ones capable of exploiting it.

I mention in my historical note to the novel that one of my grand- father’s cousins was at Los Alamos  and was the metallurgist for some of the atomic bomb development.  I think  that additional moment of his-
tory really captures that feeling of inevitability   and grasp for  control. My relative apparently felt it would  mean the end of war forever. I don’t know  that the novel tries  to put forth  any answers but the characters believe in science, and I let them. Novelists  in the nineteenth century seemed to feel too conflicted or confused about science to allow scien- tists  as characters to keep their faith in its powers.
Ben,  thank  you  for  agreeing to  talk  about the  book  again . . . after listening to me chatter about it for so long while it was being written  and completed.

BC: You’re  very  welcome. Can’t wait to start reading  drafts of the next one.

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 con- trast 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 fam- ily’s expectations,  and Ellen in the fierce ostracism she faces from her classmates. While this attitude toward women  may have been customary for the era, were there any aspects of it that particularly surprised  you? On  the other hand, what characters or trends  ran against the prevail- ing sensibilities? Did you ever feel that Agnes and Ellen   were treated unjustly within the special microcosm  represented by the Technologists society? How  might the members’ feelings toward their  female cohorts have evolved over time?

3. One reviewer called Marcus  Mansfield  “an  American archetype—the plucky  outsider” who pulled  himself  up by his bootstraps  to lead the  charge of  technological  advancement. What  does  this say  about what it means to be an American  and, based on that, are there any other characters who might also qualify  as an “archetype”? Why or why not? How is Marcus’s situation echoed by other  elements  of the novel?

4. The clash of religion versus technology—faith versus reason—is a key conflict within  the novel. At one point, Agassiz accuses Edwin  of not believing in God  because he also sympathizes  with  Darwin’s the- ory of evolution. On a larger  scale, Tech is condemned for  not requir- ing its students  to  attend chapel—to which  Marcus  responds, “Our laboratories  are our  chapels. . . . It is not  a matter of holding  religious sentiment.” What is the significance  of Tech maintaining a  separation between the church  and the institution of education, and how might  this have enabled  its students to maintain ties to both pursuits?  Are there elements in the novel that suggest the two must  be mutually  exclusive? Does Harvard’s stressing the importance of religious practice somehow ground it in the traditional  ideals that MIT  was striving  to transcend? How  does the tension between science and religion embody some of the novel’s greater  themes?

5. The novel explores the idea that those who own technology also own power, whether that power is used for good or for evil. Similarly, it examines the fear that science will advance so quickly  that mankind will essentially become the “tools of our  tools.” Do you think this struggle for power goes hand in hand with  technological progress,  and do you see this  as still being an issue  in the twenty-first century?

6. Matthew Pearl is known for his colorful  metaphors and references. At one point, he draws  an allusion to the book of Genesis, in which we’re told there is a flaming sword placed to the east of the Garden of Eden so that mankind  would  never be allowed to enter again. Did  you make anything  of Cheshire’s deeming himself   the “avenging angel”  whose tongue is a “flaming  sword”?   Elsewhere,  did you see any significance in Frank’s Ichabod Crane sculpture and its destruction  at the hands of the Med Fac members? Were there other  metaphors  and images that you found especially resonant?

7. Several  of the characterizations  were inspired by Pearl’s research into  actual Tech students—Bob Richards  and Edwin  Hoyt  were real people, Marcus  and Hammie  are compilations  of several Tech boys, Ellen  Swallow was the first female to attend the college, and, of course, William   Barton Rogers was the original   founder,  among others.  How did these renderings inform your reading and what did you find most interesting  or unexpected  about these  individuals?  How  would you compare or contrast these students and their  world  with  today’s  aca- demic precincts?

8. Did you  find  that Marcus  had a   stronger  loyalty  to  MIT  as   a “working-class” student than those who came from more privileged up- bringings? How else did  you see the class struggle manifest, both within and outside  of Tech?

9. Were you surprised  to learn that MIT  wasn’t granted the power to present  degrees until   weeks before its first graduation,  even though  it had been seven years since the college was founded?  How  does this  co- incide with the following  claim: “Those who embrace the new sciences, who experiment forthrightly and dare search for  truth,  will be seen as harboring  secrets and dark intentions.  Science explains so much, any- thing unexplained is pinned to it.” Do you think there’s a tendency   to try to limit the boundaries  of scientific exploration, and  what  can be gained or lost  by doing so?  What  else about this  period  in education struck you?

10. Ellen tells Bob that her father has always lived by the motto, “Where any one else has been, there I can go,” to which she responds, “It was not  a bad working motto, but I like to think  adventurous spirits do what has never been done before. That is a pioneer.” Discuss how the defini- tion  of a pioneer   is exemplified throughout  the novel, both in terms of characters  and institutions. Are there any who  might  fit the bill even though their intentions  are unsavory?

11. Like  The Technologists, Matthew  Pearl’s  first three  novels—The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens—have all been set primarily   in the vibrant milieu  of mid-  to late-nineteenth-century America. What  scenes and motifs from The Technologists were the most memorable to you,  and did  you  draw any similarities   to these prior works? The Technologists might  also be said to be somewhat  of a depar- ture from Pearl’s other  novels,  which  are all rooted in literary history. What  do you make of his transition into the realm of historical  science and education?

12. Were you surprised   when the source of the catastrophes was re- vealed? How  do you interpret  the motivation and psychological  turmoil behind it? What do you think  it is that makes some characters abuse their superior knowledge of science and technology, while others who are equally  as capable are never  tempted  to use these tools  as a means   to exert their authority?

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    fight for the survival of a university which has since become a force within the academic world.

    Reviewed by Dr. Karen Hutchins Pirnot for Readers Favorite

    In The Technologists, author Matthew Pearl has brilliantly portrayed the first precarious years in the development and survival of the Massachesetts Institute of Technology. It is 1868, and MIT is to graduate its first class. And then, frightening things begin to happen in the city of Boston, events which threaten to jeopardize the credibility of the MIT students as well as the very institution itself. There is conflict between Harvard and MIT, and sabotage is suspected. When people are injured and others die, four potential graduates decide to take matters into their own hands. Bob, Hammie, Eddy and "charity student" Marcus team up with the first female MIT student, Ellen, to try to solve the mysteries which threaten their very existence as well as the reputation of MIT.

    The chapters are brilliantly sculptured into the original teaching areas of MIT, and each section reveals itself to be critical to the uncovering of clues and the eventual solution of the mystery. President Rogers, the founder of MIT, is revered by the students, and when he falls ill, his banner is taken up by his loyal students. They go forth with a firm resolve to clear the name of MIT and to show the world that the institution is a valid and superior place of learning.

    Matthew Pearl carefully develops his characters such that the reader can begin to visualize who might falter and who will prevail. He skillfully weaves in clues without giving away the mystery, and he makes the reader want to become part of the class of 1868 to fight for the survival of a university which has since become a force within the academic world.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    CSI Meets 19th Century Boston

    Matthew Pearl's "The Technologists" is a historical mystery set in post-Civil War Boston. Pearl does a magnificent job of recreating a 19th century Boston that I can only compare to the New York City of Caleb Carr's "The Alienist". The book is sort of a CSI-Boston (1800's).a cast of strong characters sleuth a series of attacks on the city and use science to uncover a growing plot.

    Pearl centers his mystery on a few members of the first-ever graduating class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT's creation comes at a time when the country is feeling the impact of the Industrial Age. Factories and their smokestacks dot the Boston landscape. Heavy machinery is being operated by the uneducated masses. A generalized fear creeps across the city - the fear of technology, of what it can do, of what it means.

    In this context reside two schools: the well-established, respected, and religiously-based institution that is Harvard; across the river in a partially filled building is the upstart and technology-focused MIT. Not only does this new school focus exclusively on the scientific arts, but they provide scholarships to the underprivileged, and they have a female student on their rolls.

    And so the themes of technological emergence, and class and gender equality combine with a wonderfully evocative 19th century Boston to provide the backdrop of this terrific piece of historical fiction. The core plot revolves around two inexplicable attacks on the city itself. The first occurs in the Boston harbor one foggy evening. Navigational compasses go awry on dozens of ships which leads to mayhem and destruction. The next week, all of the windows on the buildings in the financial district of the city literally melt away.

    The people of Boston are frightened. In a world where science and magic are virtually indistinguishable, MIT staff and students worry that the finger of blame will be pointed in their direction. Four students band together to uncover the cause of these accidents and prevent any further attacks. Modeling themselves after Harvard's secret student society, they call themselves The Technologists.

    The story hums along at a pretty good pace, despite the character and relationship-heavy middle third of the book. Pearl has developed a very good piece of fiction, with enough depth to push this above standard fictional fare.

    I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    An Enter­tain­ing Read

    The Tech­nol­o­gists by Matthew Pearl is a fic­tional book about the early days of the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT). The story takes place in the years after the Amer­i­can Civil War dur­ing a very frag­ile time in our history.

    A Civil War vet­eran & POW by the name of Mar­cus Mans­field is attend­ing the first class of the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy as a char­ity stu­dent. Even though he is not as rich as his coun­ter­parts, Mar­cus is smart and a sci­en­tist n heart and mind.

    Mans­field and his col­leagues decide to inves­ti­gate recent strange occur­rences which hap­pened in the Boston Har­bor and the city itself. What’s at stake is the future of MIT as well as mod­ern sci­ence itself.

    The Tech­nol­o­gists by Matthew Pearl is an enter­tain­ing read with won­der­ful his­tor­i­cal detail and a bunch of nerdi­ness thrown in for good mea­sure. While I wasn’t sucked into the book as much as I would have liked, I found the char­ac­ters cap­ti­vat­ing and the plot line interesting.

    The author does a great job inter­weav­ing real­ity and fic­tion as well as the dia­log which was spo­ken in that time period. The harsh social norms of the time are pre­sented in the form of a lone MIT female stu­dent who is forced to study in isolation.

    There were sev­eral intrigu­ing aspects of this book, it is writ­ten almost as a futur­is­tic novel, but of course with tech­nol­ogy most of us con­sider anti­quated. The ones I thought were the most inter­est­ing where the tech­no­log­i­cal aspect, Har­vard’s reli­gious aspects, and flash­backs of the pro­tag­o­nist to the Amer­i­can Civil War.

    The over­reach­ing tech­nol­ogy which the MIT stu­dents dealt with, old in today’s stan­dards but pre­sented in the book as the lat­est inno­va­tions (rem­i­nis­cent of steam­punk) are explained in an inter­est­ing way. Tech­nol­ogy, then as is now, is some­times seen as an evil, espe­cially when it looks as if it might cost a whole class their liv­ing wage.

    I have always held Har­vard as a for­ward think­ing uni­ver­sity. This novel, and a quick con­fir­ma­tion on Google, taught me that it wasn’t always so. From my pre­vi­ous read­ing on Amer­i­can his­tory it seemed to me that Har­vard has always strove to inno­vate, but it seems that around that time Har­vard upheld its reli­gious stan­dards higher than its sci­en­tific ones. The uni­ver­sity wouldn’t admit stu­dents who aren’t Chris­tians as well as oppose ideas which do not agree with the Chris­t­ian dogma based on noth­ing but the ridicu­lous idea that reli­gion shouldn’t be questioned.

    A few of the chap­ters are told in flash­backs to the char­ac­ters’ Civil War expe­ri­ence and how that expe­ri­ence came to influ­ence the

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    "The Technologists" offers an interesting look at pos

    "The Technologists" offers an interesting look at post-Civil War Boston and the earty years of MIT, but as a "thriller" it isn't very thrilling. Pearl nails the Harvard-MIT rivalry on the head (I went to MIT in the 50s), but the plot is tedious and unfocused and the characters needlessly stereotypical. The "Technologists" of the title feel like a blend of the Tom Swift novels and the Our Gang films. I read and enjoyed "The Dante Club." This book disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2013

    Highly recomend *****

    I found out about The Technologists from a favorable review, I read, in the Sunday NY Times Book Review. I was very pleased with the book. It was a page turner and the ending was satisfying.

    The book deals with students in the first senior class from MIT and how the school has to fight with Harvard to prove it was a legitimate university. The book is a novel and deals with mysterious physical catastrophes occurring and how the students, using the skills learned at MIT, solved the mysteries.

    I ordered another book, on Nook by Matthew Pearl to see if this author was a 'one book wonder'. I haven't read it yet because I rotate the types of books I read. But I recommend you give The Technologists a chance.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013

    Great Concept Sloppily Executed

    I found the concept enticing since I graduate degrees in physics and I really enjoyed Pearl's Dante Club. This was not the same caliber. It was disjointed and tended to ramble and frankly the dialog, of which most the story depends, is rushed and cartoonish. It is as if he did not know what kind of story to write. There is a love interest that was not needed and in the end it did nothing to help the story and actually detracted from the plot. There were twists in the plot that were not fully exploited and were often resolved as quickly as they arose. Just sloppy writing or lack of a strong editor to guide the writer who is indeed talented, but now seems to want to follow a formula. I think that the meticulous work on the research for the book took all of the time and then it was a rush to just get it over with. This could make for an entertaining movie of the National Treasure variety after some cuts and coherency.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I'm torn between giving this book a "good" or "ve

    I'm torn between giving this book a "good" or "very good" rating -- so I settled on the latter. I enjoyed the characters and the setting in post Civil War Boston. The idea of the first class of MIT students investigating a mystery is intriguing. Too often, however, the characters behavior conforms more to the convenience of the plot than of genuine motivation. And the plot twists seem to have come from a Hardy Boys novel. Still, I was entertained and compelled to keep reading, and that's the bottom line. Hence the "very good" rating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Wasn't sure I would enjoy all the above-my-pay-grade science, bu

    Wasn't sure I would enjoy all the above-my-pay-grade science, but Pearl has crafted a very interesting and accessible story, especially if you are interested in the history of American education.

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  • Posted June 14, 2012

    Matthew Pearl has done it again, Do not miss this book

    Matthew Pearl has again done a masterful job in delving into history.

    This book is a fictionalized version of the early beginnings an trials that occurred in the development of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the problems from Harvard and the admission of women. A thoroughly interesting work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2012

    My favorite Mathew Pearl book to date!

    Having read The Dante Club, The Last Dickens, etc., I was already a fan of Pearl's historical fiction work, but he has taken his character development to entirely new levels in this latest effort. The other works were good reads, but left me wanting something more from the characters, to bring them off the page...he has accomplished that goal with The Technologists!

    His blending of the history of the founding of MIT with a first rate mystery plot really takes his work in a new direction, I look forward to future page turners!

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  • Posted April 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    FIRST YEAR OF MIT HISTORICAL MYSTERY The Technologists is about

    The Technologists is about the first graduating class of MIT and the predjudice society felt for this type of institution along with a series of disasters inflicted upon the city of Boston by an unknown person. The MIT students, mostly male along with the first female student enrolled there, set out to figure out who is committing these awful acts against the city to prove it isn't them, the science that they are studying and therefore the institution of MIT that is to blame. This story is a filled with scientific facts. It was a little slow in the plot, but there is a lot of information to get through. The main characters are well developed. It was interesting to see how the first female student among all the men was treated( I believe this was a true story line). It turned out to be better than I thought it would be .

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  • Posted March 31, 2012

    Technologically lacking

    I enjoyed The Dante Club and I enjoy historical fiction so expected to like this book. The characters seemed well developed and that kept me reading. Unfortunately the pseudo-technology or even wrong technology is annoying to someone who considers himself a technology buff.The "climax" was a real let-down.

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  • Posted March 29, 2012


    The plot is interesting. Every time you think that you know who the culpret is, you are wrong. Very exciting.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 27, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Another fantastic book by Matthew Pearl! A page-turner that I never wanted to put down! Pearl has become one of my favorite authors and I can't wait for his next book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    A fun book! Pearl captures perfectly the time period of 1868 th

    A fun book! Pearl captures perfectly the time period of 1868 through his discriptive verbage and the diaglog of his characters. Throw in the history lessions on the way and the, "Technologist," is a thoroughly great read. One of my favorites of the last couple of years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    Excellent Read! I love Matthew Pearl

    This was very interesting because some of the people were real students at MIT and the story was great. I always enjoy the afterward which tells you what was real and what was just part of the story. Set in Boston with the first graduating class of 1868 and the rivalry of Harvard. Enjoy.

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  • Posted March 20, 2012

    I bought The Technologist because it was rated as an historical

    I bought The Technologist because it was rated as an historical thriller. Perhaps were I again13 years of age, I might have thought so. It is on a par with Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans. I didn't enjoy that for many of the same reason, but the 13 year-old girl downstairs thought it awesome.
    I found the read stilted, transitionally awkward and contrived, not at all thrilling, and not even remotely interesting on the historical aspect.
    It isn't pleasant to give a bad review and, certainly, it isn't pleasant to have had to endure the read till it's end to make sure one has been fair; in case, at some point along the line, the story manages to somewhat redeem itself. I am awfully disappointed. If the book were "satisfaction guaranteed, I would have asked my money be returned. Sorry old bean.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    Haven't read it yet

    I haven't read it yet.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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