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Thunderstruckby Erik Larson
In this remarkable follow-up to his hit thriller Devil in the White City, Erik Larson applies his considerable skill to craft a story of invention and murder. A tightly written page-turner.
Synopses & Reviews
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 crime.
With his superb narrative skills, Erik Larson guides these parallel narratives toward a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on 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. Thunderstruck presents a vibrant portrait of an era of séances, science, and fog, inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives, all presided over by the amiable and fun-loving Edward VII as the world slid inevitably toward the first great war of the twentieth century. Gripping from the first page, and rich with fascinating detail about the time, the people, and the new inventions that connect and divide us, Thunderstruck is splendid narrative history from a master of the form.
"[Signature] Reviewed by James L. Swanson 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Larson has a knack for creating genuine suspense in his writing, and his latest is thoroughly enthralling." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[F]itfully thrilling....At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson." Kirkus Reviews
"Larson has produced another masterpiece of popular history....Larson has done a marvelous job of bringing the distinct stories together in his own unique way. Simply fantastic! Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Larson juxtaposes his oddly slapdash crime drama with a trivia-packed account of...Guglielmo Marconi's travails....The development of the wireless has its fascinations, but against a gory sexual psychodrama it doesn't stand a chance. (Grade: B-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[L]ucid explanatory prose....Readers will be forgiven...if the story of the murder and the fugitive couple proves more absorbing than the story of the development of wireless technology." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[Larson] has taken an unlikely historical subject and spun it into gold....The only question is whether we're getting true magic or mere sleight of hand." New York Times
"[A] rare nonfiction tale that stays riveting from the opening prologue to the final chapter." Seattle Times
"Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale....He beautifully captures the awe that greeted early wireless transmissions on shipboard." The Washington Post Book World
"[Larson] interweaves gripping storylines about a cryptic murderer and the race for technology in the early 20th century. An edge-of-the-seat read." People
Larson tells the true stories of two men whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. Gripping from the first page, and rich with fascinating detail about the time, this story is splendid narrative history from a master of the form.
About the Author
Erik Larson is the bestselling author of the National Book Award finalist and Edgar Award–winning The Devil in the White City. He lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, and a dog named Molly.
Table of Contents
The mysterious passengers — Ghosts and gunfire — Betrayal — Secrets — An inspector calls — The finest time — Pursuit by thunder — Epilogue : into the ether — Coda : voyager.
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