three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
Erik Larson
user_rating: 
0

A-ThunderstruckGuglielmo Marconi was the child of wealthy parents, a young inventor searching for wireless transatlantic communication. Though he knew little of science, he knew a great deal about business. An Italian, he was beleaguered by British rivals who were outraged by his temerity at patenting devices he believed in but didn’t quite understand. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen was a wealthy American physician living in London. He poured money into his noisy and noisome wife’s failing theatrical career, fell in love with his pretty French secretary, and murdered his shrewish wife. Erik Larson details the coincidental intersection of Marconi’s and Cippens’s stories, linked by news of the murder through the wireless transmissions to newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic—a critical development in Crippen’s arrest.
Crown. 480 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400080665

Seattle Times 5 of 5 Stars
"Thunderstruck is an electrifying book, a rare nonfiction tale that stays riveting from the opening prologue to the final chapter. The story is so dramatic, and so well told, that I found myself pausing between chapters because I didn’t want it to conclude so quickly—which says a lot for a nearly 500-page tome." Charles R. Cross

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 4.5 of 5 Stars
"While some authors get bogged down with details, Larson finds the right balance, maintaining a quick, almost fictionlike pace. … With Thunderstruck, Larson again demonstrates that he’s one of the best nonfiction writers around and proves that real-life murders can be as compelling to read about as fictional ones." Andrea Ahles

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Larson deftly builds the suspense, confidently allowing the converging storylines of inventor and killer to intertwine in their own sweet time—perhaps too sweet for impatient readers who might want a little less Marconi and a little more Crippen at the front end. It is at most a minor quibble, especially since the last 120 pages fly past at breakneck pace." Larry Lebowitz

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Larson had a better story with a serial killer running amok at the World’s Fair [in The Devil in the White City]. But in Thunderstruck, he captures the human capacity for wonder at the turn of the century, making us long for a quieter time, an innocent age when science had the power of magic." Andrea Simakis

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For someone to whom the workings of the telephone, television and all things wireless is a mystery that borders on the miraculous, a bit more explanation of the science behind the achievement would have been welcome. But Thunderstruck is a ripping yarn of murder and invention as well as a captivating book that brings to life … the last days of what Degna Marconi later called ‘the Great Hush.’" Eric Lax

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"The details of the inventor [Marconi]’s many attempts, failures, and reapplied efforts to perfect his system are probably only slightly less tedious to read about than they were for him to pursue. … As frustrating as I found the book at times, these pages stand out as some of the most crisp and effective popular history I’ve ever read." David Liss

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"With this book and his much more effective Devil in the White City, Mr. Larson has made himself a writer with a formula: pair a true-crime story with an interesting moment in history and pretend that they are indisputably connected. In the earlier book this method was disarming; this time it’s predictable, and the strain shows." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The constant shifts between his two plot lines become strained and confusing. … Even so, Larson’s gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale." Lauren Belfer

Critical Summary

As with Erik Larson’s previous book, The Devil in the White City ( 2.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2003), Thunderstruck alternates between the perspectives of two historical figures, one a scientist and one a killer. Opinions vary as to whether Thunderstruck is as successful as its predecessor. The murderer’s story is deeply compelling, but the recounting of Marconi’s tribulations and triumphs as an inventor occasionally fails to hold some readers’ interest. Moreover, the two stories take place in different years, which creates perspective shifts that some critics found disorienting. Reviewers uniformly praised the pacing and language, however, and admired Larson’s choice of main characters, both of whom are as fascinating as they were a hundred years ago.