Mary Shyne's Reviews > The Technologists

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
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Mar 13, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

This book suffers from a marketing problem. The blurbs call it a thriller, but it's written like a straight historical fiction. Pearl does his damndest to end every chapter -- and sometimes every section! -- dangling off a ledge, but somehow the adrenaline just doesn't kick in. The lush writing style defuses the urgency and the pacing's slow (it's 500+ pages but it seems like 200 pages could've been removed; editors? editors?). All the technobabble, while thorough, makes the mind glaze over. Also, it's tough to care about MIT's future when we know they go on to become a world-renowned institution, and it's REALLY tough to care about MIT vs. Harvard (especially to the extent that Pearl cares about MIT vs. Harvard) when you're outside Boston or Cambridge.

That said, it's a hell of a historical fiction. The depth of Pearl's research is mind-boggling, and it can be enjoyed as a window into a long-past era at the very worst. (Writers, even American writers, tend to explore the nineteenth century from a British lens, and good God it's refreshing to see that time period in America. And this book is so American it made me want to chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!") Pearl makes Boston into a character the same way Algren treated Chicago. In fact, the anthropomorphizing of Boston is what enables the reader to invest in the book, even if you could care less about Ivy leagues.

Speaking of characters, that's what'll make you stay with the book. Although it's easy to roll the eyes at Righteous Marcus Mansfield, and even easier to cringe at Agnes "I'm Just Here to Give Marcus Depth" Turner, Marcus' cohorts are FLAWLESS. Bob Roberts is a charming rake, Ellen Swallow's grit (and surprising tenderness) makes up for the archetyping sins of Agnes and Chauncy Hammond Junior ... let's just say historical fiction needs less All-American geniuses ala Marcus and more Asperger's-y geniuses ala Hammie.

Summary -- it takes patience to get into, but the pay off isn't in the plot -- it's in the characters and historical Boston.
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03/19 marked as: read

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Bryan Slater why give it 4 stars and such a review? I agree with everything you say - so one star


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