It’s The Technologists, by Matthew Pearl and read unabridged by Stephen Hoye, out on audiobook CD by Random House Audio. Here’s what they have to say for themselves:
The first “Tech” boys really had the weight of the world on their shoulders. Their futures depended on a radical new school that couldn’t even promise them degrees, and that school’s credibility and longevity in turn hinged on its students’ uncertain futures. As depicted in the novel, Harvard sought assiduously to stifle or swallow up Tech, and its well known professor Louis Agassiz was a champion of faith-based science (creationism, etc.) vs. Darwinism, and empiricism as championed by MIT. The Institute pioneered the study of applied science and technology, at a time when there was widespread fear and suspicion of such pursuits, which were popularly viewed as dangerous tampering with unpredictable forces of nature, and by other segments of society such as the trade unions and the upper classes as threats to the comfortable status quo.
The villain and the crimes at the heart of the novel capitalize on these fears. Ellen Swallow, the sole female student at MIT, was a real person. She was sequestered in her own lab and not permitted to attend classes. She would later teach at MIT where she was a renowned pioneer in women’s education and in environmental and nutritional sciences. Her unlikely marriage with Robert Hallowell Richards, another real historical figure, was a very real embodiment of science and intellect (among other things!) trumping class. William Edwin Hoyt was another real student. Bryant Tilden’s disciplinary scrapes remain on record in the MIT archives, as do Albert Hall’s immaculate class notes, which allowed Pearl to “enroll” in the original curriculum. The Technologists shows the modern world we know coming into being, and beautifully presents the genesis of some of the cultural debates still raging today.
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