ERIK LARSON is the author of the national bestsellers Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm. ErikLarsonBooks.com
In this splendid, beautifully written followup to his blockbuster thriller, Devil in the White City, Erik Larson again unites the dual stories of two disparate men, one a genius and the other a killer. The genius is Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless communication. The murderer is the notorious Englishman Dr. H.H. Crippen. Scientists had dreamed for centuries of capturing the power of lightning and sending electrical currents through the ether. Yes, the great cable strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean could send messages thousands of miles, but the holy grail was a device that could send wireless messages anywhere in the world. Late in the 19th century, Europe's most brilliant theoretical scientists raced to unlock the secret of wireless communication. Guglielmo Marconi, impatient, brash, relentless and in his early 20s, achieved the astonishing breakthrough in September 1895. His English detractors were incredulous. He was a foreigner and, even worse, an Italian! Marconi himself admitted that he was not a great scientist or theorist. Instead, he exemplified the Edisonian model of tedious, endless trial and error. Despite Marconi's achievements, it took a sensational murder to bring unprecedented worldwide attention to his invention. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a proper, unattractive little man with bulging, bespectacled eyes, possessed an impassioned, love-starved heart. An alchemist and peddler of preposterous patent medicines, he killed his wife, a woman Larson portrays lavishly as a gold-digging, selfish, stage-struck, flirtatious, inattentive, unfaithful clotheshorse. The hapless Crippen endured it all until he found the sympathetic Other Woman and true love. The "North London Cellar Murder" so captured the popular imagination in 1910 that people wrote plays and composed sheet music about it. It wasn't just what Crippen did, but how. How did he obtain the poison crystals, skin her and dispose of all those bones so neatly? The manhunt climaxed with a fantastic sea chase from Europe to Canada, not just by a pursuing vessel but also by invisible waves racing lightning-fast above the ocean. It seemed that all the world knew-except for the doctor and his lover, the prey of dozens of frenetic Marconi wireless transmissions. In addition to writing stylish portraits of all of his main characters, Larson populates his narrative with an irresistible supporting cast. He remains a master of the fact-filled vignette and humorous aside that propel the story forward. Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world. 14-city tour. (Oct.) James L. Swanson's most recent book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, was published by Morrow in February. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A milquetoast doctor murders his hen-pecking wife in Edwardian London, then glides off on an ocean liner with his mistress. He would have gotten away with it, too, but for Marconi's newly invented magic. With a 14-city tour; reading group guide. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Larson's page-turner juxtaposes scientific intrigue with a notorious murder in London at the turn of the 20th century. It alternates the story of Marconi's quest for the first wireless transatlantic communication amid scientific jealousies and controversies with the tale of a mild-mannered murderer caught as a result of the invention. The eccentric figures include the secretive Marconi and one of his rivals, physicist Oliver Lodge, who believed that he was first to make the discovery, but also insisted that the electromagnetic waves he studied were evidence of the paranormal. The parallel tale recounts the story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, accused of murdering his volatile, shrewish wife. As he and his unsuspecting lover attempted to escape in disguise to Quebec on a luxury ocean liner, a Scotland Yard detective chased them on a faster boat. Unbeknownst to the couple, the world followed the pursuit through wireless transmissions to newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. A public that had been skeptical of this technology suddenly grasped its power. In an era when "wireless" has a whole new connotation, young adults interested in the history of scientific discovery will be enthralled with this fascinating account of Marconi and his colleagues' attempts to harness a new technology. And those who enjoy a good mystery will find the unraveling of Dr. Crippen's crime, complete with turn-of-the-century forensics, appealing to the CSI crowd. A thrilling read.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
"Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes." --The New York Times Book Review "Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale...He beautifully captures the awe that greeted early wireless transmissions on shipboard...he restores life to this fascinating, long-lost world." --Washington Post
"A ripping yarn of murder and invention." --Los Angeles Times
"Of all the non-fiction writers working today, Erik Larson seems to have the most delicious fun...for his newest, destined-to-delight book, Thunderstruck, Larson has turned his sights on Edwardian London, a place alive with new science and seances, anonymous crowds and some stunningly peculiar personalities."
"[Larson] interweaves gripping storylines about a cryptic murderer and the race for technology in the early 20th century. An edge-of-the-seat read." --People
"Captivating...with Thunderstruck, Larson has selected another enthralling tale--two of them, actually...[he] peppers the narrative with an engaging array of secondary figures and fills the margins with rich tangential period details...Larson has once again crafted a popular history narrative that is stylistically closer to a smartly plotted novel." --Miami Herald
"As he did with The Devil in the White City, Larson has created an intense, intelligent page turner that shows how the march of progress and innovation affect both the world at large and the lives of everyday people." --Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Captivating...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." --Dallas/Forth Worth Star-Telegram
"[Larson] captures the human capacity for wonder at the turn of the century...[he] has perfected a narrative form of his own invention." --Cleveland Plain Dealer
"An enthralling narrative and vivid descriptions...Larson has done a marvelous job of bringing the distinct stories together in his own unique way. Simply fantastic!"
"Splendid, beautifully written...Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world."