Sunday, November 30, 2008


Thunderstruck is Erik Larson's most recent book. Previously, he has written among others, The Devil in the White City, which I have not read, and Isaac's Storm, which I have read and which I highly recommend to anyone interested in history and/or natural disasters.

I similarly recommend Thunderstruck. Larson adopts a particular story-telling stratagem which does take a little getting used to, but it does work in the end. He has two stories to tell, one of the development of wireless telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi and the second of a mild mannered wife murderer, Dr. Hawley Crippen. Larson tells these two stories as separate but interleaved tales and for the first half of the book this is a little distracting but as you approach midway, the logical connection becomes more compelling. It works. Larson is a storyteller in the old fashioned, strong narrative style of Walter Lord.

I have had this book for some while, repining in various stacks around the house. I kept putting off reading it because I have in the past read two, three or maybe even four chapter length accounts of Dr. Crippen's crime and I knew of its significance in terms of wireless telegraphy. I am glad I did eventually pick up Thunderstruck and begin reading though. Larson is a masterful story-teller and brings to life this fascinating period of technological progress and social change. A sample paragraph of his very evocative writing style:

Despite the war Hawley enjoyed a childhood of privilege. He grew up in a house at 66 North Monroe, one block north of Chicago Street, at the edge of an avenue columned with straight-trunked trees having canopies as dense and green as broccoli. In summer sunlight filtered to the ground and left a paisley of blue shadow that cooled the mind as well as the air.

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