Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup
Published February 6th, 2018 by Bloomsbury Sigma
Genres Nonfiction, History
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.
I found Making the Monster to be a really interesting book. It is both a biography of Mary Shelley, as well as an exploration of the scientific achievements of that time. The book also explores Shelley’s famous novel, Frankenstein. This book goes into all of these aspects in trying to explain how such a young woman wrote a book in the early 1800’s that is still very popular today. Anyone familiar with pop culture knows that this book has not only inspired other books, but television characters, television shows and movies.
The book does explore Shelley’s life including her family, education and what might have inspired her writing. Then the author explains Shelley’s creation of the fictional character Frankenstein, but also discusses the history of science up until this point. I will say that the pace of this book is a bit slow, especially as it discusses the scientific aspects, but is very interesting since it encompasses so many different aspects. In the back of the book, there is also a very detailed timeline that includes both scientific events and personal events. Also, the cover of the hardcover edition of this book is beautiful. Overall, a very interesting book both about the author and the science of that time.
Thank you to the publisher, Bloomsbury, for sending me a review copy of this book.