Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck is about events that mainly took place during the late Victorian era and during the reign of Edward VII.  It was a time of great progress, great superstition, and great wonders: spiritualism gained in popularity, magicians were celebrated entertainers, and scientists, researchers, and inventors could be major celebrities.  The German Max Planck originated the quantum theory, another German, Albert Einstein, launched the theory of relativity, and an Italian-Irish young man, Guglielmo Marconi, sent wireless signals across the Atlantic – something science at the time claimed to be impossible (due to the curved shape of the planet).

Science and magic were not always distinctly separated. Magic could contain scientific elements and science could seem magical. And while magicians might use scientific advancements to trick the crowds, the progress of science was so rapid that scientific claims sometimes were viewed as little more than magic tricks.  Some colleagues ridiculed Einstein for his theories and Marconi’s claims were often doubted.  The opposition remained fierce no matter what the young inventor did; no PR stunt or demonstration seemed to be able to do away with the negative criticism of the non-believers.

But opposition died down after his invention, the wireless Marconi system, in the most spectacular and public way had been part of a manhunt that reached from Europe to North America. The wanted man was a Dr. Crippen, a mild-mannered American gentleman living in London, who had (so it was believed anyway) committed the most grisly crime imaginable.

In Thunderstruck, the author tells the story of Marconi and Crippen, and how the two – so to speak – came to meet. Larson’s book can be described (and perhaps dismissed) as creative non-fiction as he actually manipulates the reader. Sometimes, for example, it seems as if he is writing about concurrent events when, in fact, they are separated by several years. But is the research solid? Yes, it is. And is it a good read? Oh, yes.

Find and reserve this book in the library. 

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One Response to “Thunderstruck by Erik Larson”

  1. Tamara Says:

    I am hooked on Erik Larson’s stories and writing. This one’s next, and if you haven’t read Isaac’s Storm, put it on your list!

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