Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel

Supposedly invented by Professor Archibald Campion in 1893 to prevent “the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations,”  the titular Boilerplate is a robot whose exploits this lavish coffee table book documents in fun if exhaustive detail. An impressive array of visuals-from black-and-white photos of Boilerplate at the South Pole to commemorative paintings of Boilerplate charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders-support text that playfully places what Roosevelt calls “my mechanical ‘mule'” in the middle of dozens of pivotal historical events. The Boxer Rebellion? The Second Battle of the Marne during World War I? Lawrence of Arabia’s guerrilla campaigns? Boilerplate was there, sometimes in the starring role, sometimes as part of the backdrop. The doctored images and the original art replicating styles from various periods will delight readers, but it’s the text that stops Boilerplate from being just lavish eye candy. The authors have cleverly used their robot as a delivery system for sometimes detailed analysis of historical events, even including maps of battles or spheres of influence. A section called “Popular Depictions of Boilerplate”  provides much-needed contrast from the main narrative, with an imaginative parade of old magazine covers, posters from Boilerplate-inspired movies, Cubist representations of the robot, and even comics and collectible figurines. As for Boilerplate himself, he passed out of history during World War II, his fate connected to the so-called “Lost Battalion,”  but his legacy lives on in this wonderful book suitable for all ages.