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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2007
Two very different stories, one a tale of betrayal, intrigue and murder and the other the crackling history of the development of radio transmission, but melted together in this third delicious offering from historian and writer Erik Larson.

Larson's other books have stuck to a winning formula, and he does not deviate from this simple framework for Thunderstruck. In the Devil and the White City the story of the Chicago World Fair, and the awesome demonstration of science and technology that went with it, was narrated alongside the gruesome story of mass murderer [ ]. In the Drowning of Galveston the nascent science of meteorology was tested and found flawed with devastating consequences, and again Larson wove a story of technological progress around human suffering.

In Thunderstruck the technological progress takes the starring role. The main thrust of this book is the story of radio waves, wireless telegraphy and the intriguing personalities that developed them. This is the story of Marconi, Fleming, Lodge and Tesler in an age where the transmission of messages through the ether to once isolated ships seemed as miraculous as the psychic and metaphysical demonstrations of mediums that fascinated late Victorian England.

But once again Larson ties the story of progress with something darker. In this case it is the case of Dr Crippen, his domineering and eventually dismembered wife Belle and Ethel Le Neve, his mysterious mistress. Most people will be familiar with the story of Crippen, the body in the basement and his eventual capture by use of wireless telegraphy. This is the connections that binds the two stories.

What makes Larson such an enjoyable and consummate writer of historical prose is his gift with the language, his ability to pace the stories to gripping, electric finishes and the diligent research which ensures he is able to inject life and interest into the past.

Anyone who has read any of his previous work and enjoyed them will be well served by this latest offering. Any one unfamiliar with Larson, but who enjoys deliciously well written history, would be advised to give them a go.

Would give 4.5, but obviously the Amazon rating system won't allow this!
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on 19 June 2015
Wonderful and accurate account of a murder case that caused a sensation at the time, but made even more famous because its resolution was possible thanks to the use of a new technology for the period: radiotelegraphy.
This is a very long book that on the one hand tells us about the figure of Guglielmo Marconi from his boyhood until his death, and on the other hand narrates the story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his wife. Behind the writing of this book is a huge research work. The author, in fact, always tells the events as they happened, reporting all the sources. Actually the last twenty percent of the book contains numerous explanatory and bibliographical notes, where you can find confirmation of the facts narrated.
I have to admit that up to two thirds of the book I found the story of Marconi far more interesting, which I didn’t know at all, while the life of Crippen and the persons associated with him was pretty boring. In the last part, however, starting from the disappearance of Cora I got caught by the narrative of the events and, although I figured out how it would end (even though I hadn’t read the description of the book), I was a bit sorry for poor Crippen.
But what really makes this book wonderful is the genius of Marconi. Much of the technology that we take for granted exist thanks to his perseverance, the maniacal way with which he carried on his empirical experiments (he wasn’t a “real” scientist) and thanks to the fact that this genius was in the hands (and mind) of a person who had the opportunity to put it into practice.
If you love science and technology, this is a book you must read.

Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli, author of Red Desert - Point of No Return
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on 24 April 2007
As an ex radio officer I bought this book to read more about Marconi. I found myself becoming equally interested in the story of Dr Crippen. The two stories are woven together excellently. at no point was I bored by excessive detail. An excellent read
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on 2 April 2007
I received this as a surprise Christmas present and probably wouldn't have picked it as an obvious book to read. However once I started reading I found the story (or in fact the inter-weaved stories) fascinating, and this turned out to be a book I couldn't put down. The stories of Crippen and Marconi are cleverly alternated which really kept my attention. (I suspect they both had the potential to be a bit dry on their own). The book is very readable and really keeps your attention to the end. A few more photographs would have enhanced it further perhaps.
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on 26 April 2011
A fascinating piece of social and technical history, well written and with occasional moments of levity. Erik Larson's repeated the device of interleaving two stories together like his previous book, but it doesn't quite work as cleanly this time round.

There, the 'White City' as a human construct, built to highlight the brightest of men's achievements, serves as an unknowing and unwilling lure to the deadly and dark ensnarement of 'The Devil' - Almost a case of "The brighter the light, the darker the shade"; In this book the tales of Marconi and Crippen are also related in parallel, but in a slightly hazy chronological order sometimes, and the two stories really only touch, make contact, at the end.

It doesn't make it any less satisfying which is why I've given it a 5*, and it's fascinating to read about people's incredulous amazement that any kind of messages could be sent through the ether (given how wireless technology in all its forms is absolutely embedded in our civilisation, just a hundred or so years later).

On a total side-note, years ago I'd read a book about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, captained by Henry Kendall - It was interesting to get a glimpse into his eventful past and the part he played in the capture of Dr Crippen.
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on 24 September 2009
In THUNDERSTRUCK, Erik Larson tries to repeat the successful formula that made his previous book THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY so compelling. One again he tries to tell two parallel stories that intersect at one Earth-shattering point in history and this time it is the downfall of the notorious Doctor Hawley Crippen in 1910 by the invention (or at least practical application) of wireless telegraphy by Guglielmo Marconi.

On the whole this is a successful formula as both stories are fairly interesting in themselves, although the life of Marconi doesn't generally come across as being all that compelling, and Crippen is actually a rather less interesting and more pathetic figure than might previously have been thought (given his rather high profile in Madame Tussaud's for example) the alleged murder being possibly the most interesting (and - of course - completely unacceptable) event from an otherwise fairly dull life. In this way the stories just don't take off in the way they did in THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, but that might just be because the stories of Crippen and Marconi are less surprising and more widely known, or maybe just less totally horrifying (although we should still be horrified) than in the previous work.

Another problem is that the timelines are not as concurrent as they were in the previous book, but the book still persists for the most part in alternating chapters between the two stories, so that events in 1910 are followed by events in 1902, so the book seems less seamless than its predessessor. Structurally, however, I can see this is all very well - that Crippen's fate is sealed before he lifts a finger by events happening 8 years earlier is very ironic - but it does tend to upset the flow, and just when you are getting involved in one storyline you then hit a full stop and have to leap into the other for a while. THUNDERSTRUCK really doesn't get into its stride until it concentrates solely on the story of the pursuit of Doctor Crippen and his companion Ethel Le Neve across the high seas in the latter stages of the narrative, and in many ways the alternating story of events on the two ships involved is the more successful one.

Other slight disappointments are that Marconi's problems with the mysterious physics of his system are built up throughout the text but never really get a satisfactory conclusion within the book itself. I'm sure you can go off and find out more about the workings of Wireless if you want to, but the payoff within the book itself is slightly unsatisfying. Equally, Miss Le Neve's long life after her acquittal gets a scant couple of pages, and whilst it is probably not hugely relevant to the stories being told here - and again you can go off and find out more if you so wish - with the amount of detail the rest of the book has, just a little more would have seemed richer.

On the whole, though, this is an extremely good and well written, well researched and compelling book. The tragedy that is the life of Crippen is evoked extremely well, and his fate - and whether there really was enough evidence to support it - tells us more about the times he lived in than much else written about that era. Marconi however, comes across less sympathetically on the page, but then again, so do many of his colleagues and rivals, and with the level of pre-war hostility towards all things "foreign", perhaps the flaws in his character are more understandable.

The level of research required to produce a work such as this is incredible and gives it an overall richness that makes it very difficult to put down when you get involved with it. Sadly, it just falls short of being truly great, but it was always going to have a lot to live up to as a follow up to the previous book. Lightning still - alas - doesn't strike twice in the same place after all.
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on 29 April 2016
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Doctor Hawley Henry Crippen is infamous for the alleged murder of his wife, Cora, who called herself Belle Elmore. Their marital home at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Road, Holloway, London was far from being a happy one. Dr. Crippen was a small, mild-mannered man who was dominated by his larger and demanding wife. No amount of clothing or jewelry was ever enough for her. She seemed to like putting her husband down in public. She also admired (and may have had an affair with) another man, Bruce Miller.

All of that changed when Belle disappeared on January 31, 1910 following a party at their home. Dr. Crippen said she had run away, gone back to America. He later claimed that she had died and was cremated. But Belle’s friends were suspicious. Dr. Crippen had taken up with his secretary, Ethel Le Neve. Miss Le Neve was even openly wearing Belle’s clothing and jewelry. Detectives searched the home on several occasions and found nothing.

Then came a rather disagreeable discovery. There was flesh under the floor, a body without hands, head, or even bones...

But Dr. Crippen was spooked. He and Le Neve fled England posing as father and son. Their alias was John Robison, Sr. and Jr. Their luck had already run out. Despite their attempted disguise, they were recognized by an alert Captain Henry George Kendall, who was skipper of the ship they chose to cross the Atlantic, the Montrose.

But it was the inventor Guglielmo Marconi who provided the means by which Crippen was tracked and arrested, the wireless telegraph. If not for the wireless, Crippen and Le Neve might have reached Canada and vanished before authorities were alerted to their presence. Due to the wireless and a faster ship, Inspector Drew of Scotland Yard was able to arrest the couple before they disembarked. Crippen was later hanged.

Erik Larson, the man who has made history as interesting to read as fiction, tells the story of the second most famous murder in London against the backdrop of Marconi’s struggles with perfecting the wireless. He manages to keep the reader’s attention even as he shuffles back and forth between the two stories until the moment is ripe to bring them together. History was never this exciting in school!

Readers fascinated with true crime and readers who love to read history as it was lived will both enjoy this book. It is a solid five stars!

Quoth the Raven…
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Erik Larson is one of those writers who has a real knack for making history read like a novel. Part of it is his style, almost cinematic in the way he uses snappy sentences and short paragraphs and chapters, moving back and forth between his twin storylines, breaking off the narrative at critical moments, using plenty of foreshadowing language. And part, of course, is his choice of topics.

In this book he takes as his subject one of the famous of Victorian murders, Dr Crippen. The case itself is not exactly remarkable - the list of men who murder their wives and elope with a mistress is after all depressingly long. However, what made the case of Dr Crippen stand out is the use of the new technology of wireless telegraphy in his capture. The sensational drama of the chase, Dr Crippen and his mistress sailing the Atlantic oblivious to their fate whilst wireless was used to communicate and coordinate every aspect of the chase to police and the public on both sides of the Atlantic. The other strand to this narrative history, therefore, is the story of Guglielmo Marconi and his invention of the technology that would revolutionise communication and make the world a much smaller place, much to Dr Crippen's cost.

I have to confess, I am not remotely interested in science or the history of inventions and found little of any real note in the Dr Crippen case either. Therefore the fact that I so thoroughly enjoyed this book is true testament to the author. I've read several other of Erik Larson's books and they have all been equally as good. He isn't an historian I would turn to for any great depth or insight, but for a rollicking good read, and a true one, to boot, he's hard to beat.
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on 19 August 2014
Wow ! I can't say enough great things about this book. Cover to cover it was pure entertainment with all of the great features of suspense, historical facts, and social history with little known antecedotes, romance, and wonderful character development. I learned a great deal about Marconi and was entertained by Dr. Crippen, Ethel, and Belle and the cast of characters that all came together so nicely. Of course, Bruce Miller's role in the story immediately got my undivided attention. The book was well researched and I thought the comments and summaries of the interviews conducted by the descendants of the luminaries were very interesting. I can't say enough good things about this story ! Everything that Erik Larson writes is exceptionally well done. I am now going to start Devil in the White City and looking forward to another fabulous story ! This book gets my highest recommendations and I have already shared it with several of my contemporaries in the Communications Department.
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on 24 September 2012
The author presents an impeccably researched book that intertwines seamlessly the three main characters of
Dr Crippen, Marconi and Dew.
Crippen the mild mannered murderer, Marconi the obsessed inventor and Dew the Scotland Yard detective leading the manhunt for Crippen..

The tale unfolds in an interesting and well paced way, and is incredibly detailed without being boring.
I would recommend this book and shall certainly be looking for more books by this author.
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