Author: Erik Larson
Pages: 392 (463 with notes, indexes etc.)
Published: 2006 Three Rivers Press
Read For: Book Club #1
My Rating: 3.5 stars
from the back cover:
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the stories of two men--Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Gulielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication--whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.First of all, before beginning this book, what exactly are we reading? It looks like a novel, but the synopsis sounds like history. Is it a nonfiction scientific historical account of wireless telegraphy and a grisly murder? Or, as the LA Times says, "A ripping yarn of murder and invention"? On one hand, it is both. On the other, I think judging it as nonfiction (which it is) is an important distinction in comparing quality and interest to anything else you may be reading.
This is probably the most engaging, well written piece of nonfiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading. (And I've heard his previous book, The Devil in the White City, is even better.) I can't say that I'm very interested in either science or murder, but I can say that the book was an interesting read. One thing that would have made the book much better would have been a little less coverage of Marconi's many failed experiments, since the history and psychology behind the murder was far more fascinating. The intersecting point in these two stories is the fact that Marconi's wireless successes enabled the capture of Hawley Crippen, as well as the ability for world-wide coverage of the event.
Erik Larson has quite the talent for comparing facts:
Crippen joined an estimated 15,000 of his countrymen already living in London, which number by coincidence equaled the total of known lunatics residing within the city's five asylums.While there were a vast number of characters and facts introduced--making it somewhat difficult at times to keep track of everyone and everything--some of those tidbits ended up being my favorites. If you pick this book up, be aware that it is totally okay to skim some of the Marconi details until the story picks up the pace in the second half of the book. If you've read Erik Larson before, can you tell me what you thought?