Mason & Dixon

Mason & Dixon

eBook - 2012
Average Rating:
Rate this:
A Time magazine and New York Times Best Book of the YearCharles Mason (1728–1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733–1779) were the British surveyors best remembered for running the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that we know today as the Mason-Dixon Line. Here is their story as reimagined by Thomas Pynchon, featuring Native Americans and frontier folk, ripped bodices, naval warfare, conspiracies erotic and political, major caffeine abuse. Unreflectively entangled in crimes of demarcation, Mason and Dixon take us along on a grand tour of the Enlightenment's dark hemisphere, from their first journey together to the Cape of Good Hope, to pre-Revolutionary America and back to England, into the shadowy yet redemptive turns of their later lives, through incongruities in conscience, parallaxes of personality, tales of questionable altitude told and intimated by voices clamoring not to be lost.Along the way they encounter a plentiful cast of characters, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Samuel Johnson, as well as a Chinese feng shui master, a Swedish irredentist, a talking dog, and a robot duck. The quarrelsome, daring, mismatched pair—Mason as melancholy and Gothic as Dixon is cheerful and pre-Romantic—pursues a linear narrative of irregular lives, observing, and managing to participate in the many occasions of madness presented them by the Age of Reason.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781101594643
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Alternative Title: Mason and dixon


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Mar 21, 2017

An easier Pynchon book (and also damn good) is Vineland--about aging Humboldt hippies--probably some personal experience, there.

Mar 20, 2017

This is a great book so far, Pynchon must have done an amazing amount of research because it feels like it was written in the 18th century not about it. Normally I finish a book this long in a week but I'm on half way through it and renewed it twice already (almost due for a third). I probably would have put it down if it wasn't for the wiki because of all the obscure references, and the wiki leads to other links which accounts for the amount of time it's taking. For instance when it mentions Ben Franklin wearing a pair of tinted glasses I'm reminded of Jack Rackham in Black Sails wearing shades (which I thought was an anachronism at the time) and then of course have to follow the link to the history of glasses. I'll have to go back and reread Stephenson's Baroque Cycle if I ever finish this.

Nov 01, 2016

I got a couple of hundred pages into this and decided to put it down and move on. I read somewhere that the story really picks up after pg. 200 but I was really struggling to keep going.

I started this as an attempt at getting into Pynchon. I'll probably try again later.

Mar 30, 2016

Contrary to the comment below I found M&D gave much joy in return for all of it's difficulty.
I read it in 1997 and re-read with a group of friends 15 years later. We discussed it over pints, which worked perfectly since this is such a tale of taverns. I also found it the Pynchon with the most warmth and soul.

Dec 11, 2015

"But it's America, Sir! Competition is of her Essence!" Since his debut with "V." in 1963, Thomas Pynchon has enjoyed a reputation as perhaps our greatest post-modern fabulist (or whatever you want to call him, he defies categorization), as well as a recluse to rival the late Salinger. Unlike Salinger, he never gave up writing and seems content to let his massive, sprawling, and sometimes hermetic novels to speak for him. His output is small (but his books are not), 8 novels and one collection spread out over 5 decades. He's been on somewhat of a run lately, releasing three books in the past 10 years. "Mason & Dixon" ranks with his masterpiece "Gravity's Rainbow" as an exhausting, exhaustive, difficult book. It's something of an American "Ulysses," embracing as much as it can and standing as a hyper-novel, an "everything" novel. The story of the British surveying team, it is a historical novel that also is written in the style, vernacular, and syntax of an 18th century novel. It touches on everything from politics to astronomy to religion to American identity. Franklin and Washington have cameos. It is ambitious and impressive? Yes, it stands with "Infinite Jest" as the most demanding American novel of the 90s. Is it enjoyable to read? Hardly. It wears you out without giving much back and it is one of the more difficult books I've read. Am I glad I read it? Yeah, sure, but I'll never pick it up again.

Dec 09, 2015

This is a mad book, and wonderful to read. It’s dense and took me months to get through but it’s so much fun that I read the last hundred pages with some sadness, knowing that it was approaching the end.
What I liked about it was the sheer imaginative creation of so much colour and incident, such weird characters and a setting that brings out not only the founding myths of the USA, but also contemporary issues like racism, paranoid fantasy, imperfect science vs. popular culture. The stories of the increasingly powerful mechanical duck, or the fortune-telling English dog, mysterious palaces in the forest, or the subterranean world are so numerous that by the end I just wanted to go back and check them out again. Some are so striking that they stay with me, such as the confusion and loss felt when the calendar was reformed to eliminate 11 days. But this is a book that academics can (and do) study to understand the meaning of the details, while casual readers can read just for the pleasure of the stories. You can get hung up on the details and the archaic language, but it’s more fun just to enjoy it as a fireside story with plenty of incident.
It is genuinely comic to read, including satirical portraits of English, American and South African class cultures. And yet it comes together in a touching way as Mason and Dixon work out their antagonisms and develop a kind of closeness and friendship. One of the themes that comes through all the mad detail is how the working friendship helps two very different men find connections with their societies and their families in tumultuous times.
For me, the key theme and the central story in the book is the founding of America, so-called. The form of the book itself, written in a faux-18th century style, is a first person narrative of someone who claims to have been at some of the central events leading up to the American Revolution. Yet his story is obviously made up to entertain his listeners so that he can stay on living comfortably with his relatives. He makes up absurd and impossible, but highly entertaining, incidents involving Franklin, Washington and other Americans, as well as their British colonizers. I love the idea that the political discussions of the time all take place in coffee houses so thick with smoke that people cannot see each other and are intoxicated with caffeine, nicotine and alcohol – they don’t know who they are talking to or what they are talking about. They best political strategies don’t come from the intellectuals, but from pirates planning insurrection in the warehouses along the New York harbour. The talk of liberation comes in a society in which casual racism, slavery and aboriginal massacres are endemic. This points to the myths that underlie the foundations of any nation, and the unreliable but convenient stories that they are based on. It’s good that it is Pynchon, a respected American intellectual, who shows this, because it would be unwelcome from many other voices. It is curious that the theme, which to me seems so significant, has not shown up in any of the reviews I’ve read of the book. I think it’s also interesting that Pynchon ends the story on a meditative tone with Dixon’s family populating the new country and giving up the old country with its ghosts. Yes, it seems to conclude, there’s a lot of ridiculous storytelling going on, but let’s acknowledge that and get on with making a good life.
In the end, I enjoyed this book so much that I look forward to reading more Pynchon, whom I have not read for decades. But first I’ve decided to read a real 18th Century picaresque, Tom Jones. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf in a lovely leather binding of 800 pages, so it too will take some time to read, but there I look forward to another extended visit to the 18th Century.

Aug 13, 2014

Don't normally think of Pynchon as summer reading, but this one caught me up in early July and held me through the entire month, across several continents, a 2 week trip to Sweden, the Blue Lagoon, a heat wave, thunderstorms, and finally let me go as August arrived, somewhat relieved, but mostly chagrined that Mason and Dixon are no longer part of my life.

Loved this book. I grew up in PA and so much of it struck close to home. But I feel like I know so much more about where our country came from now that I've read this book. Thank you Mr. Pynchon.

Apr 13, 2014

No star rating, as I could not get interested in the book based on style.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at GRPL

To Top