In April 1868, a number of ships in Boston Harbor have their instruments fail simultaneously, ships crash together, creating panic and great damage. Officials want to turn the investigation to the Harbor Police but it is suggested to ask the newly formed Massachusetts Institute of Technology which specializes in science and is about to graduate its first class.
Marcus Mansfield is one of the students nearing graduation and we witness him listening to a speech by the school president. The administrator discusses a new technology that puts the lights of the city on a circuit allowing them to be lit at one time. It would save all the time and effort of lighting each street light individually. The speech is going well but is interrupted by unionists who claim that this is taking away jobs.
Thus, the theme of the novel, advancement in technology and cost savings against tradition and jobs.
Another incident causes havoc where the glass windows downtown melt. An MIT professor feels that they should take the lead in investigating since they are the only institution devoted to science and technology. However, there is public mistrust and some feel science is akin to witchcraft.
Marcus and a small group of friends from MIT feel that a madman must be at work and form a secret group to find the answers. Their main opposition is a professor at Harvard who is a traditionalist.
Fans of Caleb Carr's "The Alienist" will enjoy this analytical, historical novel. The author did painstaking work in giving the readers the scientific process. Although admirable, this may be interesting to a science minded reader but to a non scientist, I found this tedious.
The strengths of the story are the excellent dialog, the original story, the comparison of science to witchcraft and the research. These all provide an interesting read.