In 1910, Edwardian England was scandalized by a murder: a mild-mannered American named Hawley Crippen had killed his wife and buried her remains (well, some of her remains) in the cellar of their North London home. He then went on the run with his young mistress, his secretary, Ethel Le Neve. A Scotland Yard inspector, already famous for his part ...
In 1910, Edwardian England was scandalized by a murder: a mild-mannered American named Hawley Crippen had killed his wife and buried her remains (well, some of her remains) in the cellar of their North London home. He then went on the run with his young mistress, his secretary, Ethel Le Neve. A Scotland Yard inspector, already famous for his part in the Ripper investigation, discovered the murder and launched an international hunt for Crippen that climaxed in a trans-Atlantic chase between two ocean liners. The chase itself was novel, but what captured the imagination of the world's public was the role played by a new and little understood technology: the wireless, invented by Guglielmo Marconi. Thanks to Marconi's obsessive fight to perfect his invention, the world was able to learn of events occurring in the middle of the Atlantic as they unfolded - something previously unthinkable. Police, jurists, and editors of the time all agreed that if not for Marconi, Crippen would have escaped. But Marconi had struggled to gain acceptance for his invention as a practical technology (many viewed the wireless as a novelty or a supernatural device, while distrust of foreigners remained prevalent in England and America). It was the Crippen case that helped convince the world of the potential of Marconi's miracle technology, so accelerating the wireless revolution that eventually produced radio, television and cell phones. With a cast of colourful, captivating characters "Thunderstruck" is Larson at his commercial best, doing what he does so irresistibly well: cleverly bringing together two seemingly disparate yet inextricably linked lives to paint a fascinating, exciting portrait of a hugely significant age of cultural, social and technological change while evoking the darker side of human nature.
Another excellent book by Erik Larson. He has a way of writing well-researched, incredibly gripping books, almost to the point of "I can't put this down until I'm finished." I wish he would write more.
Jul 28, 2011
Thunderstruck--not as exciting as the name implies
Thunderstruck is not nearly as interesting as Larson's previous works. Isaac's Storm dealt with a hurricane and huge loss of life. The Devil in the White City covered the Columbian Exposition and a serial killer. Thunderstruck is about Marconi's involvement in the development of radio, and a single homicide--a much different book than the previous two, and to this reader, pretty lame. It's a good book if you are REALLY into murder mysteries, or the history of radio. Thunderstruck certainly does not live up to the standards set in disaster coverage and true crime that the previous two books established.
Dec 27, 2007
Builds up and then belly flops
I have only read one of his other books--White City--and mainly bought that book because it was about my home town. I love murder mysteries that combine real history so thought this one might be good. He does a great job of fleshing out the characters and building suspense but left me asking lots of questions such as why the murder remained in England rather than return to the US permanently (he could have just left his wife behind and started a new life in the US). I learned a lot about Marconi though and what he went through to insure his invention was recognized and utilized. But the ending was kind of lame--basically within a few sentence: bad guy was caught and executed, Marconi went on to become famous (duh). I felt the same way about White City so I think it is a flaw of the writer. I just find this writer's books inadequate, they kind of whet your appetite but then never serve the meal.
Oct 9, 2007
Erik Larson has done it again. Another wonderful book of real history that reads like fiction. Here he tells the story of Dr. Crippen who murdered his wife in London and Marconi the developer of wireless communication. The two tales weave in and out of each other without the reader ever losing interest in either one. This is popular history at its best. No one should miss it.
Jul 26, 2007
Book Club Choice
My book club chose this book for our book club based on Larson's previous book, Devil in the White City. We found the writing style to be good fodder for discussion. The descriptions of the (real) people in the book to believable, the history to be fasinating. To be able to talk about technology and crime was unique. The way he tied the two together was nerve-wracking, and even though we all knew Crippen was guilty, how he was caught was crime fighting at it's best. How he was caught before the science we have now showed how good police work can triumph.
Publishers Weekly, 2006-08-14 In this splendid, beautifully written followup to his blockbuster thriller, Devil in the White City, Erik Larson again unites the dual stories of two disparate men, one a genius and the other a killer. The genius is Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless communication. The murderer is the notorious Englishman Dr. H.H. Crippen. Scientists had dreamed for centuries of capturing the power of lightning and sending electrical currents through the ether. Yes, the great cable strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean could send messages thousands of miles, but the holy grail was a device that could send wireless messages anywhere in the world. Late in the 19th century, Europe's most brilliant theoretical scientists raced to unlock the secret of wireless communication. Guglielmo Marconi, impatient, brash, relentless and in his early 20s, achieved the astonishing breakthrough in September 1895. His English detractors were incredulous. He was a foreigner and, even worse, an Italian! Marconi himself admitted that he was not a great scientist or theorist. Instead, he exemplified the Edisonian model of tedious, endless trial and error. Despite Marconi's achievements, it took a sensational murder to bring unprecedented worldwide attention to his invention. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a proper, unattractive little man with bulging, bespectacled eyes, possessed an impassioned, love-starved heart. An alchemist and peddler of preposterous patent medicines, he killed his wife, a woman Larson portrays lavishly as a gold-digging, selfish, stage-struck, flirtatious, inattentive, unfaithful clotheshorse. The hapless Crippen endured it all until he found the sympathetic Other Woman and true love. The "North London Cellar Murder" so captured the popular imagination in 1910 that people wrote plays and composed sheet music about it. It wasn't just what Crippen did, but how. How did he obtain the poison crystals, skin her and dispose of all those bones so neatly? The manhunt climaxed with a fantastic sea chase from Europe to Canada, not just by a pursuing vessel but also by invisible waves racing lightning-fast above the ocean. It seemed that all the world knew-except for the doctor and his lover, the prey of dozens of frenetic Marconi wireless transmissions. In addition to writing stylish portraits of all of his main characters, Larson populates his narrative with an irresistible supporting cast. He remains a master of the fact-filled vignette and humorous aside that propel the story forward. Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world. 14-city tour. (Oct.) James L. Swanson's most recent book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, was published by Morrow in February. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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