Book Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Title: Thunderstruck
Series: Standalone
Author: Erik Larson
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 10/24/2006
Publisher: Crown
Genre(s): Biography, History


"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."


The title and cover of this book grabbed my attention at the library. The author could probably make just about any topic engrossing. The research is only as good as the storytelling, and this book is a a story capably told. Marconi and Crippen were as unlike as two men could be, but the author portrays their lives in such a way that I felt empathetic to both. I am quite eager to read The Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm in short order.

(Note: I read the hardcover edition which accounts for the difference in the publishing date above from the Kindle edition's.)