Thursday, March 8, 2007

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is an excellent book. It is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. It tells two dueling, but interconnected tales. One is about Marconi and his invention of the wireless telegraph, and the other story is about Dr. H. H. Crippen, the "London Cellar Murderer." The murder involved in this novel is the "second most famous in England."

Larson writes with vivid detail about Edwardian England (1900-1910) - one almost believes you are there. Marconi's story involves his trials and tribulations with inventing the wireless and making it work. Especially among skeptical scientists in England who did not like his trial Edison method approach to invention. Marconi's greatest feat was trying to get a wireless signal sent across the Atlantic ocean. It also describes Marconi's personal life - and he did not seem like a very likeable fellow.

Crippen's story gives the background to his life, his tragic first marriage, and his second marriage to the fiery Cora. While Crippen is a meek, likeable fellow, Cora is very demanding and runs all over Crippen. Life continues like this until Crippen meets the woman of his dreams. . .

One very interesting detail for me is the Crippen is from Coldwater, Michigan. I was stunned to read this on page 29. I had no idea!! I guess I can understand why Coldwater might not be proud to have a famous murderer from it. I enjoyed reading the few pages about Coldwater and Branch County's past. Who knew it was a Methodist and Spritualist haven in the 1800's! There was also a musical about Crippen that played in London in the 1960's that had a song called "Coldwater, Michigan." :-) Larson thanks the Coldwater Library at the end of the book as he did his research on Crippen's early life there. It seemed surreal to me that Erik Larson, an author who I greatly enjoy, was at the Coldwater library, a place I loved to hang out at when I was a youth. It's a small world!

I received this book for Christmas from my brother-in-law, and it was also my book club's selection for this month. I think it will give us plenty to talk about during our meeting next week!

I also read Larson's book The Devil in the White City two years ago. It was also an excellent book and I think it is still my favorite of the two. Mostly because H. H. Holmes was such an evil, almost unbelievable person that I found fascinating to read about and the construction of the Chicago's world fair was so interesting - especially reading it as an engineer.

If you haven't read Erik Larson yet, I highly recommend him. Both books are great, but if you can only read one, I'd read The Devil in the White City.

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