Monday, February 25, 2008

[Book Review] THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson

Nonfiction/Crime & Criminals

Sarah Frierson reviews THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson (Crown Publishers, 2006)

Erik Larson amazed me with the very popular The Devil in the White City by his ability to weave together two seemingly disparate tales to create a very engaging nonfiction read. So I was very excited to finally get the chance to sit down and take in Thunderstruck.

Thunderstruck again tells two very different stories, not noticeably connected except for their setting in turn-of-the-century London, until a climactic intersection at the end of the book. First, there is the story of Guglielmo Marconi and his quest to send wireless messages across the Atlantic. Although not a trained scientist, Marconi had a good idea and then spent years using a trial-and-error approach to bring it to fruition. Larson explains not only Marconi's efforts to perfect wireless telegraphy, but also his fight to form a company and fend off competition and scrutiny from more established members of the scientific community.

The other half of this complex tale is Dr. Harvey Hawley Crippen, a gentle and unassuming homeopathic doctor and his wife, Belle Elmore, a woman as overwhelming as he is mild. When Belle suspiciously vanishes, their community is shocked by what the investigation uncovers.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it all culminates in a transatlantic chase that utilizes Marconi's technology not only to apprehend the suspects, but to announce to the world each step of the action as it occurs.

In a world where news is instantaneous and wireless communication is considered standard, this story is a nice reminder of the novelty of such ideas and the wonder that once accompanied both the possibility and the eventual reality of the new technology.

Sarah Frierson, Business and Science Department

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