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Thunderstruck Hardcover – October 24, 2006
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A true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush.”
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.
Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners; scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed; and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect murder.
With his unparalleled narrative skills, Erik Larson guides us through a relentlessly suspenseful chase over the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate.
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- ASIN : 1400080665
- Publisher : Crown; 1st edition (October 24, 2006)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781400080663
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400080663
- Item Weight : 1.7 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.41 x 1.48 x 9.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #43,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Thunderstruck, uses the same format as the "Devil in the White City", where he interweaves two stories together. One story is about Marconi, who invented the wireless. The other story is about Dr. Crippen, who murdered his wife. The two stories are connected because Marconi's wireless is used to capture Dr. Crippen as he tried to escape to America.
First let me talk about the Marconi part of the book. As stated above, Erik Larson does an amazing job researching this book. He has a "Notes and Sources" section at the end of the book, where he shows his sources. For the first half of the book, I was riveted to the Marconi story. Mr. Larson does a great job explaining how Marconi created the wireless, how he tried to improve on the wireless, and how other people also claimed credit for creating the wireless before Marconi. This story at times drags though in the second half of the book. Mr Larson tries to write about all of his research, an at times it felt that what he was saying was not advancing the story. It felt repetitive at times, even though the event happened at three different locations.
Just an FYI, Mr. Larson sometimes goes on historical tangents. Usually I found these tangents extremely entertaining and informative. But I can see some readers finding them unnecessary for the story. But please note, I am extremely happy he put them into the book.
The other part of the book is about Dr. Crippen. For the first half of the book I found this part of the story somewhat boring. Once Dr. Crippen meets Ethel, the story become really interesting. If you are looking to read about a sick and devious murderer, this is not the book for you. Dr. Crippen and Ethel seem like really nice people, while his wife is not that likeable.
One thing the reader needs to take account is this murder actually happen, and it occurred in the early 1900's. No matter how well Mr. Larson investigated this story, he couldn't find all of the answers. He can't go into the mind of Dr. Crippen, he can only state the facts as he know them. Thus some aspects of the murder, Mr. Larson can't explain. He will give different theories, but he can't say for sure how the murder went down.
Also, some actions of Dr. Crippen really confused me as a reader. Here is an example of the one that bothers me the most. His wife always was threatening to leave him, and telling him that other men would wan't her in a minute. She even takes steps in terms of leaving him. Why did Dr. Crippen not just leave his wife. instead of murdering her? Mr. Larson as an historical writer can't answer that question, but it is a question that really bothers me.
The reason I gave this book 4 stars is that the story about Dr. Crippen is boring for the 1st half of the book. And sometimes the author goes overboard about Marconi. A good editor should have seen this problem and fixed it. Thus I recommend this book, with those small caveats.
Note on Larson's research: He doesn't just provide a fact, he shows his relentless research in things like the cat used in the forensics study of Belle. He not only knew the cat's name but that it survived and was adopted by a medical assistant, had a littler of kittens and was done in by a dog. He doesn't do research by halves.
Top reviews from other countries
Larson's other books have stuck to a winning formula, and he does not deviate from this simple framework for Thunderstruck. In the Devil and the White City the story of the Chicago World Fair, and the awesome demonstration of science and technology that went with it, was narrated alongside the gruesome story of mass murderer [ ]. In the Drowning of Galveston the nascent science of meteorology was tested and found flawed with devastating consequences, and again Larson wove a story of technological progress around human suffering.
In Thunderstruck the technological progress takes the starring role. The main thrust of this book is the story of radio waves, wireless telegraphy and the intriguing personalities that developed them. This is the story of Marconi, Fleming, Lodge and Tesler in an age where the transmission of messages through the ether to once isolated ships seemed as miraculous as the psychic and metaphysical demonstrations of mediums that fascinated late Victorian England.
But once again Larson ties the story of progress with something darker. In this case it is the case of Dr Crippen, his domineering and eventually dismembered wife Belle and Ethel Le Neve, his mysterious mistress. Most people will be familiar with the story of Crippen, the body in the basement and his eventual capture by use of wireless telegraphy. This is the connections that binds the two stories.
What makes Larson such an enjoyable and consummate writer of historical prose is his gift with the language, his ability to pace the stories to gripping, electric finishes and the diligent research which ensures he is able to inject life and interest into the past.
Anyone who has read any of his previous work and enjoyed them will be well served by this latest offering. Any one unfamiliar with Larson, but who enjoys deliciously well written history, would be advised to give them a go.
Would give 4.5, but obviously the Amazon rating system won't allow this!
There, the 'White City' as a human construct, built to highlight the brightest of men's achievements, serves as an unknowing and unwilling lure to the deadly and dark ensnarement of 'The Devil' - Almost a case of "The brighter the light, the darker the shade"; In this book the tales of Marconi and Crippen are also related in parallel, but in a slightly hazy chronological order sometimes, and the two stories really only touch, make contact, at the end.
It doesn't make it any less satisfying which is why I've given it a 5*, and it's fascinating to read about people's incredulous amazement that any kind of messages could be sent through the ether (given how wireless technology in all its forms is absolutely embedded in our civilisation, just a hundred or so years later).
On a total side-note, years ago I'd read a book about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, captained by Henry Kendall - It was interesting to get a glimpse into his eventful past and the part he played in the capture of Dr Crippen.