by Matthew Pearl. Just finished it. Awful, awful beyond words, the tongue of man is not sufficient to describe the awfulness thereof. Kept slogging through it because it's about MIT, and, you know, I thought I might get some insights into what life at "Boston Tech" was like. But the characters are insanely one-dimensional, and about three-quarters of them are comic-book villains that do everything but laugh "bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!" The characterizations are clumsier than a 1950s Superman comic book, certainly clumsier than any modern adult-audience "graphic novel."
The chemistry and physics of the infernal contraptions that imperil Boston are completely impossible, not even a nod to feasibility, except possibly for the ergot-poisoning episode. I admit I haven't done the math, but I don't think you could disrupt the compasses of every ship in Boston Harbor even if you sunk a whole operating 3-Tesla MRI machine into it, let alone an old trunk full of soft iron bars and some batteries. I don't think Tesla himself could do it.
The institutional, social, and class rivalries are insanely exaggerated--P. G. Wodehouse's depiction of Bertie Wooster is delicately nuanced by comparison. The Harvard men hate the MIT men, the wealthy MIT men hate the MIT scholarship men, everyone hates female student Ellen Swallow, the factory workers hate the "collegies," Louis Agassiz hates evolutionists, and the Boston cops don't like anybody very much.
Let me put it this way: he writes almost
as well as Dan Brown.
I can't say I know much about the era but certainly the real Charles Eliot (MIT chemistry professor and later president of Harvard) was a humane man with egalitarian views, so I figure I can't trust the book's depictions of William Barton Rogers, Ellen Swallow, etc. either.
I think the unforgivable thing is that this book reads as if it were intended
to be made into a movie. Whatever vision it has is completely cinematic. Some of that stuff might work as a sort of steampunk movie, but one made from a graphic novel, not a book.
As penance, I have set myself the task of reading at least a little bit of Ellen Swallow Richards' Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment--A Plea for Better Living Conditions as a First Step Toward High Human Efficiency.
And when I bog down in that, as I expect to, I have Samuel Prescott's When MIT Was Boston Tech
requested through interlibrary loan.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.