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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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 TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved