Title: The Technologists
Author: Matthew Pearl
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical Thriller
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4 out of 5
The year is 1868 and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT) is about to graduate its first class. Many in Boston, especially at its rival institution, Harvard, doubt the necessity or wisdom of pursuing this new avenue called technology. When a series of unexplainable attacks hits the city, many blame the new university for the incidents. A group of students, including scholarship winner Marcus Mansfield, decide to investigate the attacks against the wishes of their school, calling themselves the Technologists.
The Technologists is a novel investigating the beginnings of MIT. Pearl describes the time period incredibly well. Even before the attacks, the population is skeptical of the school as a whole. Teaching at the school is enough to put one’s scholarly reputation in doubt. The novel deftly captures that line between tradition and modernity. The Civil War has just ended; the population isn’t quite ready to let go of the past and forge ahead. Pearl ensures that this inner conflict permeates the entire novel and sets is tone from beginning to end.
Marcus Mansfield is the main character of The Technologists, and he’s a layered, complicated character. He needs Tech, as much as the university needs brilliant students like him to populate its classrooms. As a result, he’s completely dedicated to the institution and is willing to do anything to save it. Marcus has an interesting backstory, though admittedly, its fleshing out constituted some of the slowest parts of the novel. It was necessary, but this aspect of the book felt like it dragged a bit.
The best term to describe The Technologists would be a literary thriller, or more accurately, a literary historical thriller. Pearl takes his time building the story, crafting each element until it is absolutely perfect. As a result, the first part of the story moves at a slower pace, establishing the characters and circumstances. That’s not to say it’s boring, but just that Pearl seems to relish the vivid descriptions and ensuring that every tidbit is exactly in place before unleashing the action on the reader. And he does that, brilliantly so. Once the novel really starts moving, it doesn’t let up, making for a breathless race to the end.
Overall, The Technologists was a brilliant read, full of science and politics, and the fact that it incorporated a mystery was just a cherry on top. While I won’t say the book flew by (there were times I definitely felt its length), it moved at a good pace and held my interest from beginning to end. Pearl has really become a master of this genre, and he picked a fascinating time to write about with this book. I’m looking forward to seeing where and when he goes next.
Other books by Matthew Pearl: