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Monturiol's Dream: The Extraordinary Story of the Submarine Inventor Who Wanted to Save the World Hardcover – June 29, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

How do submarines fit into utopia? Stewart (The Truth About Everything: An Irreverent History of Philosophy) recreates the volatile politics and culture of mid–19th-century Barcelona and of a generation of men attempting to throw themselves and their city into the modern age. Of the myriad methods they employed, the most striking is Narcís Monturiol's plan to build a submarine for the betterment of mankind. Having fled the city with the police on his heels one too many times, utopian revolutionary Monturiol had a vision of a submarine to free coral divers from hardship and then free the world from the tumult of the atmosphere. Stewart explores this fantastic connection and comes admirably close to capturing the transcendent weirdness of Monturiol's quest. Equally intriguing is his account of Monturiol's self-education concerning underwater mechanics, conveying the inventiveness and dogged persistence of his work. The reader is filled with relief and almost disbelief when in 1859 the submarine slips safely under water in the Barcelona harbor and confidently rises again. Yet Monturiol's work appears to have been a dead end. Like so much in modern Spanish history, he seems frustratingly invisible to the world at large. Stewart weaves this failure into a meditation on and celebration of Barcelona's own mercurial, passionate, backwards entrance into the modern world. B&w illus.
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From Booklist

In terms of technology, he was decades ahead of his time; in politics, perhaps eternally. Spaniard Narcis Monturiol was an idealist of the ilk Karl Marx ridiculed as "utopian socialists." In the 1860s he redirected his dreams of human liberation from revolution to--the submarine. Readers met him in The Submarine, by Thomas Parrish [BKL My 1 04], and Stewart's biography expands to efflorescent fullness the man's energy and eccentricities. To establish Monturiol's character and ideals, Stewart describes his happy marriage and his editorship of moral and political journals in Barcelona until forced into exile. One day at the seashore, distressed by the sight of an injured coral diver, Monturiol was rapturously transported by the idea of the submarine as a remedy to at least some of humanity's ills. Gregarious and obsessively focused, Monturiol raised money, conducted experiments, and constructed two submarines--but the craft seemed less useful to the Spanish navy than to the uncompromising pacifist Monturiol. With cleverness that never slides into cynicism, Stewart creates an absorbing portrait of a unique personality. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414398
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,146,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Narcís Monturiol dreamed of bringing peace and democracy to the whole world. He did not just dream, but he acted. He was an inventor, and he meant for his great invention to become the revolutionary spark to bring humankind into the rosy and egalitarian future. His invention: the most advanced and only reliable submarine of his time, the mid-nineteenth century. In _Monturiol's Dream: The Extraordinary Story of the Submarine Inventor Who Wanted to Save the World_ (Pantheon), Matthew Stewart has written an entertaining biography of the forgotten submariner, whose name is absent even from many histories of the submarine. There are many contingencies that conspired to keep him an unknown, and many tiny events that could have gone differently so that his invention would have descendants and we would know him as "The Father of the Modern Submarine." As it turned out, he was one of those inventors that didn't get the recognition he deserved, and his life only seems successful in retrospect. Nonetheless, he was a fabulous dreamer, thinker, and tinkerer, and deserves the rescue from oblivion provided by this volume.

Monturiol, born in 1819, was a surprise entry into the submarine inventing game. By 1856, he was "pretty much your typical utopian socialist revolutionary." He was not an engineer. He had much to learn, teaching himself the chemistry by which he could produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the air. He developed thick glass for portholes, and once he realized how dark it was down there, he developed an external lighting system that worked just fine.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Martin Duffy on September 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm Irish and live for some years now in Berlin. On a recent trip to Ireland, I came upon this book in a bookshop. I enjoyed reading it so much, I ordered a copy of it through Amazon to be sent to my eldest son who lives in the USA - I wanted him to read it, but I didn't want to give away my copy.

This is a great story. I always enjoy a well written history book, particularly because a good one can take a potentially boring subject (history!) and bring it to life. Monturiol is the Don Quixote of submarines, and I really felt for him and his band of dreamers as he followed the call of his quest.

Next step for me is a plan to some day go to Barcelona and see the remains and replica of his submarine.

There is a quote I heard somewhere; 'A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for'. So is it with Monturiol. But in writing this book, Matthew Stewart never fails his reader.

Read the book and enjoy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sitspin on January 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I came across this book in a store and discovered a virtual unknown, who appears to have received essentially no credit for invented a modern submarine. It is a fascinating story both from a romantic and technical viewpoint. Highly recommend!
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