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The Intuitionist: A Novel by Colson…
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The Intuitionist: A Novel (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Colson Whitehead

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1,246336,360 (3.76)43
Member:CalvinBoesch
Title:The Intuitionist: A Novel
Authors:Colson Whitehead
Info:Anchor (2000), Edition: 1st Anchor Books Ed, Paperback, 255 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (1999)

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The Intuitionist takes place in a city full of skyscrapers and other buildings requiring vertical transportation in the form of elevators. The time, never identified explicitly, is one when black people are called "colored" and integration is a current topic. The protagonist is Lila Mae Watson, an elevator inspector of the "Intuitionist" school (not to be confused with Intuitionism). The Intuitionists practice an inspecting method by which they ride in an elevator and intuit the state of the elevator and its related systems, including whether or not it is in jeopardy of falling. The competing school, the "Empiricists" (again, not to be confused with Empiricism), insist upon traditional instrument-based verification of the condition of the elevator. Watson is the second black inspector and the first black female inspector in the city.

The story begins with the catastrophic failure of an elevator which Watson had inspected just days before, leading to suspicion cast upon both herself and the Intuitionist school as a whole. To cope with the inspectorate, the corporate elevator establishment, and other looming elements, she must return to her intellectual roots, the texts (both known and lost) of the founder of the school, to try to reconstruct what is happening around her.

In the course of her search, she discovers the central idea of the founder of Intuitionism – that of the "black box", the perfect elevator, which will deliver the people to the city of the future.

( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
http://www.weather.com/travel/worlds-craziest-elevators-20130418?pageno=2

I read Whitehead's 'Zone One' for post-apocalyptic book club, and liked it - someone at our meeting recommended 'The Intuitionist' to me - but all they would say is 'Well, it's about elevator repairmen. But I think you would like it.'

Admittedly, I didn't immediately think that reading about elevator repair sounded like the most thrilling activity. You may not be instantly hooked by that description. You might even think it sounds dull. Well, you would be wrong!

'The Intuitionist' is set in an alternate-history late-1950s-early-1960's, in a United States where elevator technology has changed the world by introducing verticality to urban centers. Moving far beyond mere functionality, elevators are a both a rich field of study and a lucrative business. There are business conventions. There are corporate rivalries (and espionage). There is a conflict between the two main 'schools' of elevator inspection theory (The Empiricists and the Intuitionists). And there is the mystical philosophy of Theoretical Elevators.

In this world, we are introduced to Lila Mae - an excellent elevator inspector, an Intuitionist, brilliant and passionate about her field, and a trailblazer - the first black woman to become an Inspector in an overwhelmingly white boys' club.

A terrible accident occurs - and it looks like Lila Mae is going to be framed as the one culpable. To clear her name, she will have to both navigate a hostile world and delve deeper into the hidden secrets of the history of elevator inspection.

Colson Whitehead's writing is just gorgeous, and the intricate combination of social commentary, philosophy and technology woven through the story means, I believe, that this book would appeal both to fans of steampunk and cyberpunk - it's doing a lot of the same things, just in a different era. (What if William Gibson tackled the recent past, rather than the near future?)

( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This started out really interesting, but as I went on I had a harder and harder time staying focused and into it. I barely finished it. I think the author was trying too hard to make it allegorical--more specific details about the time and place and world the characters inhabited would have made it better. As it was, I had a hard time picturing the story and setting in my head and couldn't keep a lot of the characters straight. ( )
  nicole_a_davis | Sep 27, 2015 |
I wanted to like this book set in the unlikely environment of the elevator inspector business, but id did not do so much for me. Did not finish it. ( )
  ohernaes | Mar 7, 2015 |
This debut novel is absolutely brilliant! Whitehead's writing reminds me of Ayn Rand, of Millhauser and Auster. Under the guise of a political battle amongst factions of the guild of elevator repairmen, Whitehouse is able to at one and the same time tell a gripping, suspenseful story and also offer up scathing commentary on racism, on human striving and lack thereof, of man's fear of lack of control, and the ups and downs, so to speak, of the human imagination. At once witty, yet raging, at once absurd and profound. I will definitely read more of this author's work! ( )
  hemlokgang | Mar 3, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385493002, Paperback)

Verticality, architectural and social, is the lofty idea at the heart of Colson Whitehead's odd, sly, and ultimately irresistible first novel. The setting is an unnamed though obviously New Yorkish high-rise city, the time less convincingly future than deliciously other, as it combines 21st-century engineering feats with 19th-century pork-barrel politics and smoky working-class pubs. Elevators are the technological expression of the vertical idea, and Lila Mae Watson, the city's first black female elevator inspector, is its embattled token of upward mobility.

Lila Mae's good ol' boy colleagues in the Department of Elevator Inspectors are understandably jealous of the flawless record that her natural intelligence and diligence have earned, and understandably delighted when Number Eleven in the newly completed Fanny Briggs Memorial Building goes into deadly free fall just hours after Lila Mae has signed off on it, using the controversial "Intuitionist" method of ascertaining elevator safety. It is, after all, an election year in the Elevator Guild, and the Empiricists would do most anything to discredit the Intuitionist faction. Everyone on both sides assumes that Number Eleven was sabotaged and Lila Mae set up to take the fall. "So complete is Number Eleven's ruin," writes Whitehead, "that there's nothing left but the sound of the crash, rising in the shaft, a fall in opposite: a soul." Lila Mae's doom seems equally irreversible.

Whitehead evokes a world so utterly involving to its own denizens that outside reality does not impinge on its perfect solipsism. We the readers are taken hostage as Lila Mae strives to exonerate herself in this urgent adventure full of government spies, underworld hit men, and seductive double agents. Behind the action, always, is the Idea. Lila Mae's quest reveals the existence of heretofore lost writings by James Fulton, father of Intuitionism, a giant of vertical thought, whose fate is mysteriously entwined with her own. If she is able to find and reveal his plan for the Black Box, the perfect, next-generation elevator, the city as it now exists will instantly be obsolescent. The social and economic implications are huge and the denouement is elegantly philosophical. Most impressive of all is the integrity of Whitehead's prose. Eschewing mere cleverness, resisting showoff word play, he somehow manages to strike a tone that's always funny, always fierce, and always entirely respectful of his characters and their world. May the god of second novels smile as broadly on him as did the god of firsts. --Joyce Thompson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An elevator inspector becomes the center of controversy when an elevator crashes. The inspector, Lila Mae Watson, is a black woman who inspects by intuition, as opposed to visual observation, and now she must prove her method was not at fault. A study of society's attitude to technology and a debut in fiction.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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