The inaugural class at the new Massachusetts Institute of Technology is just a few months away from graduation. The handful of seniors is working hard to finish their coursework and is engaging in a bit of rivalry with nearby Harvard. But their peaceful existence is disrupted by a series of strange disasters. During a heavy fog in Boston Harbor, the ships’ instruments go out of control causing fiery collisions. A few days later on a street in the heart of Boston all the glass in the area….windows, eyeglasses, watch covers…becomes liquid, flows out and then hardens again, shattering as it hits the street. The city panics. The police are mistrustful of the activities at the new technical institute. After all, the school will admit anyone who can meet the entrance requirements, even the “lower class”. So they turn to a scientist at Harvard to solve the mystery.
Scornful of the ability of the Harvard professor, a few of the M.I.T. seniors decide to try to uncover the source of the disruption. Led by a Civil War veteran and “charity scholar” Marcus Mansfield, the group consists of a “blue blood” Robert Richards; Edwin Hoyt, the class genius; and Ellen Swallow, a freshman and the only woman student at M.I.T. This is basically a mad scientist story. And it’s a fun read. Sort of like Hardy Boy Geeks.
Matthew Pearl is a master of the historical thriller. The setting is authentic; the characters speak and act as they should in 19th century Boston. Most of his protagonists are based on real people, or combinations of real people and the story of the founding of M.I.T. is real. All of which makes the reader feel that just maybe the disasters could have been real too.
The book is listed as adult fiction and is a bit long but it should appeal to teen techies.
NetGalley Review Publication date 2.21.12
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