Thursday, February 8, 2018

Making the Monster - Nonfiction Review

Rating: I Liked It
Source:  Publisher

Description: The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science fiction genres. The name Frankenstein has become part of our everyday language, often used in derogatory terms to describe scientists who have overstepped a perceived moral line. But how did a 19-year-old woman with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein? The period of 1790-1820 saw huge advances in our understanding of electricity and physiology. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, and newspapers were full of tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

It is unlikely that Frankenstein would have been successful in his attempts to create life back in 1818. However, advances in medical science mean we have overcome many of the stumbling blocks that would have thwarted his ambition. We can resuscitate people using defibrillators, save lives using blood transfusions, and prolong life through organ transplants--these procedures are nowadays considered almost routine. Many of these modern achievements are a direct result of 19th century scientists conducting their gruesome experiments on the dead.

Making the Monster explores the science behind Shelley's book. From tales of reanimated zombie kittens to electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Mary Shelley and inspired her most famous creation, Victor Frankenstein. While, thankfully, we are still far from being able to recreate Victor's "creature," scientists have tried to create the building blocks of life, and the dream of creating life-forms from scratch is now tantalizingly close.

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I Picked This Book:
  I loved Harkup's book, A is for Arsenic, about the poisons Agatha Christie used in her books so I couldn't resist this one!

My Impression:
  I don't think I realized just how little I knew about Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy Shelley or what was going on around Mary when Frankenstein was being written.  Shelley's childhood was chaotic and lacking in any kind of formal education yet she was incredibly curious and well read.    What little I knew about Mary Shelley I knew even less about what was going on in scientific world at the time and was very surprised about the number and scope of experiments involving electricity.

This book was fascinating.  I had never really thought about putting Frankenstein in historical context and didn't realize just how much that would add to the story.  While I found it interesting from the start it took me awhile to get invested in the book.  This isn't a nonfiction book that reads like a novel, however, once the book got past Mary's childhood (about 10 - 15%) the pace picked up and I found it a really compelling read.

While this was a really interesting standalone I think it would be even better as companion read to Frankenstein.  The book talks quite a bit about influences in the book itself which I think would make Frankenstein a richer and more interesting read.  This was a compelling read with an unusual focus and a book that will bring fresh perspective on a classic.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?
  I would!  This is the 2nd book by this author that I've enjoyed and I love her nonfiction analytical approach to famous fiction.

Would I Recommend this Book?
  Absolutely!  If you're reading Frankenstein or are a fan of the book this is a must have companion book.


  1. This sounds like quite a phenomenal read even though it had a slow start. I really enjoy getting the backstory that's tied to the writer. Thanks for passing this on! Hugs...RO

  2. This sounds fascinating, and I love reading about this young author.

  3. Wow, I had no idea she was so young when she wrote Frankenstein. I've watched the movie many times but have never read the book. Would like to read it and this one sometime.

  4. This sounds interesting though I have never read Frankenstein. I do prefer when nonfiction reads more like a novel though. Still I would check out this authors other works for sure. Great review!

  5. I have never read Frankenstein but I really think I should at some point. This does sound interesting so maybe after I read Frankenstein, I will take a look at it.

  6. I have not read Frankenstein all the way through, yet. I have started it two or three times, but always have migrated to a different book and forgotten about it. I need to look for this one at the library and read them both!

  7. This sounds really interesting! Of course, I should probably read Frankenstein first. ;-)

  8. I have commented twice and it hasn't posted. :(

    Let's try again. I have tried reading Frankenstein two or three times, but always ended up migrating to another book and forgetting to finish it, ha ha. I need to see if the library has this one and read them both! :)

  9. Have you read The Diabolical Miss Hyde? This book reminds me of Frankenstein and them.

  10. I would like to read Frankenstein at some point and I think this would make a great companion book to it. I will definitely have to keep this in mind and add it to my wish list.