Take a look at Matthew Pearl’s latest vision

The TechnologistsThe Technologists by Matthew Pearl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would take a vivid imagination to conjure up a way to dump enough iron in Boston Harbor to interfere with the compass of every ship that comes in — and spook thousands of superstitious sailors. Even more so to find a way to rig all of the fire hydrants on a city block so that they release a noxious gas that turns all of the glass on that block to liquid. And then to use the railway system to…well, I can’t tell you everything.

I can tell you that this latest offering from the author of The Dante Club is not only lively in terms of the hijinks that its characters unravel, but it is also dynamic in terms of presenting members of the first graduating class from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The rivalry that a practical school had with its liberal-arts sibling, the (even back then) sainted Harvard, the tensions that were still simmering years after the end of the Civil War, and even the foibles of young love all make an appearance.

The best parts of this story center on the struggle that former factory workers undergo to find acceptance on a university campus — back then, the idea that college was for everyone would have been laughable. Pearl’s historical novels are exhaustively researched, but read nothing like a research paper. The fruits of his labor take the form of a novel that is an open doorway into the past — which should be the goal of any historical fiction writer. The characterization and the research make this a book well worth reading.

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