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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
December 5, 2019
Erik Larson - image from his site

First off, while this is an interesting and engaging story, it is not the top-notch book that Devil in the White City was. Here, Larson tells parallel tales of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless, and Hawley Crippen, a relative nobody who gained infamy by doing away with his wife. Where they intersect is when the new-fangled wireless machine is used to track the fleeing killer and his mistress as they cross the Atlantic in a passenger liner. Larson is excellent at imparting a sense of a time, 1910 in London, and various locations in Europe and North America. He offers much information about Marconi as a person, a scientist, a suitor, husband and father, and a businessman. While Marconi’s name may stand out to us today through the foggy details of history, there were several other individuals whose scientific investigations were also critical to the development of wireless communication. The politics, and the legal and business scheming that went into the wireless, make for a fun read. But, while Crippen and his pursuit by Scotland Yard may have represented the 1910 predecessor to helicopters trailing the white Bronco, Crippen seems such a minor presence as to stand out purely as literary device by which Larson can tell us about the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. Larson is a gifted writer and he clearly takes delight in presenting us with a smorgasbord of details of the day. You will learn things you did not know before. There is considerable visual imagery that makes one yearn for a skilled film director to be on call. It is only when comparing it to Devil in the White City that it…um… pales.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

Other Erik Larson books I have read
----- 2015 - Dead Wake
----- 2011 - In the Garden of Beasts
----- 2003 - The Devil in the White City
----- 2000 - Isaac’s Storm - not reviewed
Profile Image for Brian.
709 reviews352 followers
April 16, 2020
“At that moment the world changed…”

Erik Larson has a winning formula that he deploys well in his books. He takes on a historical event(s), links them with other things happening in the same period, sometimes thru a specific study of a person, and while combining those elements he explores the age in which the events he focuses on happened. It works. “Thunderstruck” is no exception, although I think it works slightly less successfully than in his other books.
The events that Larson connects in “Thunderstruck” are Marconi’s invention and development of the wireless telegraph, and a murder that enthralled London (and through the tool of Marconi’s wireless, the world) in the early 20th century. Although the connection is a bit tenuous at times, this text gives a nice insight into both events and into the Edwardian period/culture in general.
The last 100 pages or so are gripping reading. Larson has not disappointed me yet, and “Thunderstruck” is a unique take on some interesting events that shaped the 20th century.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
269 reviews17 followers
January 2, 2018
I enjoyed parts of Thunderstruck and really had to force myself through others. The chapters about Marconi were often boring and too technical for my non-scientific mind. Larson sort of expects his reader to already understand certain elements of how radio waves works, which I don't. However, when Larson wasn't droning on about building towers and antennae, Marconi's story still captured my attention. (I'm sure more scientific minded people would enjoy the aspects that I didn't.)

In the end, I ended up quite disliking Marconi. I find it interesting when we have images of historical figures in our heads, and then we find that the image and the reality don't match up. I have a tendency to forget the humanity of such people. Marconi, as is sometimes the case, has the brilliant mind, but lacks the social astuteness necessary for having a happy and truly successful life, no matter what invention/discovery he has made for society: He took credit for many things which others had truly done and delved himself completely in his work without regard for his family or others around him.

As far as Crippen, Elmore, and Le Neve are concerned, the half of the book dedicated to their story fascinated me. Larson weaves in little tidbits of life at the turn of the century, creating a close to complete vision of the time. When I got to the parts about the discovery of the murder, I did skim some pages, I will admit. I couldn't fathom, as those who knew him, how Crippen could have committed such a crime because he was so mild and kind.

The last 80 or so pages were absolutely the best--the chase. I have to say that my very favorite person in the novel was Captain Kendall. Unfortunately, he is not in the story as much as I would like, but he is the smartest and most daring person we meet. I loved (loved isn't a strong enough word; I finished the book one night and woke up talking about this part the next morning) that the whole world knew what was happening except for the unsuspecting Crippen and Le Neve. Mostly because the story is true, this is the most magnificent irony any story could produce. I laugh a little at the perfectness of it all.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,254 reviews237 followers
December 8, 2022
“The idea arrived in the most prosaic of ways … in that summer of 1894 when he was twenty years old …”

is a story of two men who, except for what they might have read in news articles, were almost certainly unaware of one another.

The first, Guglielmo Marconi, through a serendipitous combination of persistence, vision, self-confidence and self-promotion, narcissism, an abundance of scientific intuition based on reasonable guesswork (not, to be sure, directed by even the least amount of direct scientific research or knowledge), is now regarded as the erstwhile inventor of wireless telegraphy. He was a self-centered, driven man and, while he might have been considered a decent catch by some ladies owing to his considerable wealth and reasonably prominent social position, he was definitely a poor example of a husband and often might have even forgotten that he was actually married.

The second, Hawley Crippen, was an unlikely murderer. A meek, mild, soft-spoken and unassuming man who apparently allowed himself to be mercilessly browbeaten, henpecked and dominated by a social-climbing woman who, despite being utterly talentless, considered herself qualified for stage and theater, Crippen was, in fact, a brilliant, coldly calculating murderer with nerves of steel, who came within an ace of executing the perfect murder. Despite that, the obvious depth of his love for his second wife, was charming and clearly evoked sympathy even in the mind of the investigating detective who ultimately tracked him down and arrested him.

THUNDERSTRUCK was set in Edwardian London and Cornwall just after the turn of the century and prior to the commencement of World War I hostilities; the weather beaten and Atlantic windswept shores of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Cape Cod; in the stuffy, erudite halls of theaters presenting lectures on the latest advances in the scientific understanding of electromagnetism; in (definitely less than erudite) theaters presenting entertainments ranging from opera to bawdy vaudevillian crudités; and on board the latest and the finest trans-Atlantic cruise ships. The description of the geography and the settings in which the story took place were colorful, evocative, and often (in my opinion, at least) quite luscious. Not that it had anything to do in particular with the story in England, I was particularly taken, for example, by this portrayal of Marconi’s childhood home in Italy:

“ … a large stone box of three stories fronted with stucco painted the color of autumn wheat. Twenty windows in three rows punctuated its front wall, each framed heavy green shutters. Tubs planted with lemon trees stood on the terrace before the main door. A loggia was laced with paulownia that bloomed with clusters of mauve blossoms. To the south, at midday, the Apennines blued the horizon. As dusk arrived, the turned pink from the falling sun.”

Despite the interesting backdrop of Edwardian history conveyed with loving attention to detail, I ultimately felt that the connection between Marconi and Crippen was tenuous and forced at best solely for the purpose of shoehorning two interesting characters into a historical tale that ultimately reached no higher than the level of moderately entertaining. While I’m pleased to have read it and am happy to recommend to readers of non-fiction history, I’ll close with my opinion that THUNDERSTRUCK is not in the same league as Larson’s IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS or THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,482 reviews104 followers
April 8, 2022
I read this book when it first came out in 2006 and it moved me to read all of Larson's works, which I have. I saw this at the library and thought I would refresh my love of this author.

Larson takes two disparate issues of history and blends them into a story where the issues overlap. In this case it is the development of wireless communication invented by Marconi and the hunt for Dr. Crippen, the British wife murderer. It takes place at the turn of the 20th century.

There is more information about Marconi, his years of work, legal battles and some of his personal life. He was not a very likeable man personally but was a dedicated scientist who was determined that he could develop the necessary tool to provide the world with trans-oceanic communication.

Inversely, Dr. Crippen was a sweet, shy individual who was the antithesis of a murderer. His wife was a vulgar, overbearing spendthrift who "ruled the roost" and made Crippen's life miserable. She suddenly disappears and enter Inspector Walter Dew, who is suspicious of the circumstances.

How do the two historic events tie together? Crippen and his "friend", Ethel LaNeve attempt to flee to the US, aboard the Montrose, one of the luxury passenger ships so popular at the time. The circumstances of the murder are made public through the use of Marconi's telegraphy and the Captain of the ship believes that the suspects are aboard his ship. Hundreds of "Marconigrams" are exchanged between the ship and Scotland Yard and Inspector Dew takes a faster ship to intercept the Montrose to confront the suspects who are unaware that their story is known by everyone but them.

This is an interesting history with personal touches that hold the reader's attention throughout. It is easy to read even though there is maybe just a bit too much technical information about Marconi's work. But it is not enough to slow the reader down. Recommended as are all of Larson's books.

Profile Image for Mara.
401 reviews283 followers
March 6, 2015
In classic Erik Larson style, Thunderstruck is told through parallel lives and events. In this case, more so than in The Devil in the White City, it's not immediately evident how the elements will come to intertwine.

Guglielmo Marconi (below) was smart, contributed to society in the end, blah, blah, blah, but he was also kind of a jerk (that's my opinion, not expressly stated in the book). Larson chalks it up to a lack of social skills, which may be true, but it doesn't mean I have to forgive him for it.
Guglielmo Marconi

It would still be a few more decades before Robert Merton would outline his "norms" of modern science, but in the face of a spiritualism frenzy, "real" scientists were trying to distinguish the components of, well, "good" science. Marconi (an entrepreneur, more so than he was a scientist, which he, ironically, noted in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics) was not on board with key components of this like communality and letting skeptics in on the experiments.

On the other side of town (or the ocean, depending on the day), our second story line involves a homeopath, an aspiring actress/singer (lacking in the skill department - think American Idol outtakes), and, of course, a mistress.
Dr. Hawley H. Crippen

If Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen were a woman and/or late 19th-century jurists had access to the Law & Order franchise, we might think his was a case of battered wife syndrome (in these PC days, "battered person syndrome"). I feel like just looking at the pictures of Crippen (above) and his wife,Corrine "Cora" Turner/Belle Elmore (below) you might get a sense of what a truly terrible match theirs was.
Cora Crippen

The details of how this all plays out are intriguing, and involve plenty of deceit, betrayal and a dash of 19th century detectivery and forensic science.

Skipping ahead, the story lines converge when Dr. Crippen and his mistress, Ethel Le Neve (below), take to the seas- in this instance, dressed as father and son. (Le Neve really should have seen bad things coming at this point, being asked by your lover to dress as a little boy should always be a deal-breaker!)

Ethel Le Neve

Without giving away too much, the SS Montrose essentially becomes the "white Bronco" of this whole affair, and (here comes the Marconi tie in), thanks to the advances in science, this was basically the first instance of live tweeting the hunt for a murderer on the run. The public appetite for this type of thing, it would seem, has always been high- so this was pretty much the best publicity Marconi could have ever hoped for.
Crippen Le Neve Arrest

I would give this more stars if it weren't Larson, who I know can (and does) do better. It's worth reading, I just wouldn't put it up there with his more recent books.

Bonus Archer reference:

"Thanks Guglielmo Marconi...who I think invented the radio."

Thanks Guglielmo Marconi Archer Thanks Guglielmo Marconi Archer Thanks Guglielmo Marconi Archer Thanks Guglielmo Marconi Archer
Profile Image for Julie .
4,080 reviews59k followers
August 3, 2012
Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson is a non fiction account of the infamous murder of Belle Elmore by her husband, Hawley Crippen, and the story of Guglielmo Marconi,the inventor of wireless telegraphy. The story of both men was riveting. Marconi was obsessive about his work, probably had Aspergers syndrome. He battles it out with competitors over patents and rights. It was like a soap opera sometimes, all the accusations, and back biting. The details behind the invention was also very interesting. This man dedicated his life to his work, but it was a crime and the role his invention played in the apprehension of Hawley that really put his invention on the map.
Crippen, was an unassuming man. He married a rather flamboyant woman, that eventually drove him to commit an unspeakable crime. Crippen leads Scotland Yard on a history making chase through the ocean. Crippen was described as being "kind hearted" . The last person one would expect to commit murder. But, man, this guy was one cool customer all the way to the bitter end.
I am not a big fan of non-fiction history, because while it can be interesting, it is usually very dry. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, however. But, my son gave me this book for my birthday a few years ago, and it finally made it to the top of my TBR list. I had read "The Devil and the White City several years back , after reading the stellar reviews, so I was really looking forward to this one. Larson's style is to write a few chapters about the invention and those involved with that, then he switched to the Crippen and what was happening with him. The suspense builds up as we see the struggles of each man and those involved with them, and as we see the two stories come together. Larson's books read like a novel making history seem very interesting and anything but dry.
Profile Image for The.Saved.Reader.
414 reviews84 followers
July 17, 2011
This one turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me. I loved The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America and was expecting something similar here.

Unfortunately, I was so weighed down in details of Marconi and his electrical engineering project, I could barely keep my head above water. There was simply too much detail when describing Marconi's work towards engineering wireless. Although an electrical engineer or any person interested in early communication methods might find this one engaging, it was too much for me.

I will not let this book deter me from reading other Erik Larson books. I have heard good thing about In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin and am looking forward to reading that one.
Profile Image for Dale.
Author 29 books50 followers
March 14, 2008
There's a certain style of storytelling which I have an affinity for, both in terms of telling stories myself and listening to them (or reading them). The style, in a word, would be called "digressive". I know this style doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me. I like talking about or hearing about the little things that don't necessarily advance the plot or aren't crucial to understanding the point of something. As long as the digressions are interesting in and of themselves, I think they have a corresponding value.

Thunderstruck really brought this point home for me. I enjoyed the book a lot, but I was well aware that it was full of digressions. (This fact was hard to miss - Larson acknowledges it and half-apologizes for it in the introduction to the book.) But, the digressions were interesting.

In keeping with my suddenly burgeoning interest in historical non-fiction, I picked this book up because I thought a story about the invention and spread of wireless telegraphy would be interesting. Especially when that tale intersects, coincidentally, with a bizarre murder case. And my thought proved correct - it is a fascinating story. But it's a thin one, too, so Larson fleshes things out with numerous asides, digressions, tangents and trivia. And I eat that up with a spoon (it doesn't hurt that Larson is a fine writer, too). I just have to admit that while I thought it was the best way to tell the intertwined stories of a murderer's escape and the dawning of a new industry, other people might not have the same patience for it. You've been warned.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,536 reviews9 followers
June 11, 2017
The Author's Note says that the murder case in this book so captivated Alfred Hitchcock that he worked elements of it into Rear Window (and The Rope). Rear Window is probably my favorite movie of all time, so I had to find out which elements he was referring to. This is why I wanted to read this book and have had a copy for a couple of years now.

Larson incorporates via alternating chapters the story of Marconi's creation of the telegraph, and therein lies my excuse for NOT wanting to read this book despite buying it on sale. I know how this author so thoroughly researches everything to the point where you almost want to say TMI, Erik. Or zzzzzz. In the same Author's Note mentioned above, he also says, "I ask readers to forgive my passion for digression. If, for example, you learn more than you need to know about a certain piece of flesh, I apologize in advance, though I confess I make that apology only halfheartedly." (This made me smile; is that 1/2 apology, 1/2 F you?)

Honestly, I didn't mind the flesh pieces at all. But if I got bored of long-winded descriptions of wireless transmissions affected by sunlight or by fog or the lack thereof, I simply swallowed hard and remembered the author's words. He really cannot help himself. l as a reader of his books know by now that you take the good with the bad and you inevitably come out of the experience so much more the wiser and more knowledgeable. And I'm sure there are readers who prefer the Marconi chapters over the murder investigation, so something for everyone.
363 reviews65 followers
May 16, 2019
Would have liked more about the murder trial than how to build a radio station
Profile Image for Matt.
3,822 reviews12.9k followers
April 22, 2022
When it comes to historical crime stories, one need look no further than Erik Larson. His ability to take non-fiction and turn it into something so very exciting is second to none, leaving readers begging for more. This story, which explores the lives of two men—Hawley Crippen and Guglielmo Marconi—takes the reader on a sensational journey through the late Victorian Era and into the early 20th century. Crippen, a popular doctor, devises a plan to commit the perfect murder and seems as though he might just get away with it. Marconi, a scientist and inventor, works to perfect communication through the air. Both men, while unaware of the other, are intertwined as it relates to this ‘’almost perfect murder’, which Larson recounts in a thrilling manner. Brilliant once again, fans of Larson’s work will not be disappointed.

Hawley Crippen was a man of some means, with a medical degree to validate many of his ideas. While the late Victorian Era was one where people turned to any possible cure for their ailments, Crippen was the peddler of new and innovative ones through the guise of homeopathy. He would make even the most confident snake oil salesman gasp with some of his antics. Outside of his work, Crippen found a wife who was just as eccentric as he, one Belle Elmore. Larson recounts their connection and how Crippen appeared to adore her for all the time they were together. However, Crippen’s eye soon turned elsewhere and he had to dispose of his wife, wanting her terminated and no longer a thorn in his side. Thus began a series of choices that Crippen felt would ensure he was in the clear, with a new lover by his side.

All the while, Guglielmo Marconi sought to revolutionise the world by delving into communication. As a scientist and inventor, he posited that he could create a system of communication whereby the message could pass from one device to another without the aid of wires. While the process was slow and cumbersome, Marconi set his eyes on being able to create a system where people could speak from far distances in the blink of an eye. Seen by some as part of the realm of the supernatural, Marconi worked hard to develop the technology, as others sought to steal it from him through patents of their own. Marconi showed that he could create such a device, adding practicality to it when he got it onto the transatlantic steamships who could now communicate with one another and posts on either side of the ocean. Marconi, likely suffering from some mental illness, saw this as his contribution to the larger scientific discovery of mass communication, in hopes of making a lasting impact into the 20th century.

The curious reader will want to know how these two men are tied together, seemingly from two different worlds. The details related to the final chase and apprehension of Hawley Crippen are not only chilling, but told in such a way that the reader will have to check that this is not a piece of fiction, with all the excitement coming from each page turn. All in all, it is a riveting story that shows how a seemingly innocuous invention could be at the centre of bringing a murderer to justice once and for all. Who would assume Hawley Crippen, who was ‘such a nice man’, of committing such a heinous crime and then lengths to which he would go to elude capture? Marconi’s relentless work on radio transmissions not only saw him rise to a certain fame, but also proved essential in the capture of Hawley Crippen right under the criminal’s own nose.

Larson does well to find the point at which both men’s lives intersected and uses this as lauding point for the crux of the tome. He works well to link the men, who were not acquainted beforehand, and weaves a story that captivates the attention of many while also turning it into a piece of criminal non-fiction. His use of historical events, both related to the men and the general goings-on of the times, helps put everything into context. The detail offered by Larson throughout the narrative breathes life into the story, without bogging things down too much. Clear explanations throughout help the lay-reader better understand what’s going on and how the information connects with the larger story, as well as the scientific discoveries of the day. Larson is to be applauded yet again for pulling the reader in with easy delivery and captivating perspectives. Chapters keep the reader wanting to know more and provide wonderful opportunity for those who need breaks to gather their thoughts after everything that has come to pass. I am eager to get my hands on another piece soon, as Erik Larson is one of those authors whose writing makes you want to learn more at the earliest opportunity.

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for another captivating tale of crime in history. Your abilities are not lost on me and I can only hope others see it as well.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for Jim.
576 reviews88 followers
July 4, 2022
In his typical style Erik Larson tells two parallel interwoven stories. The first is the story of Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the wireless. The second is the story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, homeopathic doctor and one of the most notorious murderers in British history. The link? Dr. Crippen was the first suspect to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy.

I know that Marconi was a pioneer in wireless telegraphy. In this book I learned a lot about the man. From Larson's narrative it would appear that he was very driven and dedicated to his work. A "Type A" personality. While he must have been very intelligent it does not sound like he was good "people person". Not with the people he dealt with on a professional basis and not with women in his life. The story of Marconi and the development of wireless telegraphy was interesting. Not page turning, can't put the book down reading but rather interesting from a historical perspective. Certainly not as interesting as the story of Dr. Crippen.

Hawley Harvey Crippen was a doctor in homeopathic medicine. By all descriptions he was mild and kind. Short in stature, wore eye glasses, and thinning hair. The last person anyone would suspect of being a murderer. His wife, Cora, was a rather large woman who was demanding and openly told Crippen about the affairs she had. After a party at their home on January 31, 1910 Cora disappeared. The story is well known. Scotland Yard began to investigate Cora's disappearance, Crippen booked passage on a ship to Quebec with a typist from his office, a body was found in the basement of Crippen's home, an inspector from Scotland Yard booked passage on another ship to Quebec setting off a race across the Atlantic hoping to arrive first and arrest Crippen. While Crippen and Ethel Le Neve, the young typist, were enjoying their eleven day cruise wireless messages were busily describing their every move. What they ate, what they read, their conversations at the captain's table and with other officers of the ship. Crippen and Le Neve were the subject of people on both sides of the Atlantic and they were oblivious. Reading the story of Crippen reminded me of something out of a Alfred Hitchcock story. The mild, meek little man married to the large and domineering wife until he can't take it anymore and does her in. It wasn't until the end of the book that I read that he indeed used this event as a basis for several of his movies and television series.

I have found Erik Larson's books to be very enjoyable. His books are non-fiction about historical events but his writing style is more like historical fiction and therefore very readable. Thunderstruck was one of my favorites by this author.
Profile Image for Cammie.
362 reviews12 followers
May 7, 2021
I was drawn to Erik Larson’s book Thunderstruck because of my familiarity with Dr. Crippen’s story. Since this is my first Larson book, I wasn’t expecting the dual storylines. Not only does Larson explore the life of Hawley Crippen and his boisterous wife Cora whom he allegedly murdered, but the book also details the invention of wireless communication by Marconi. At times, I was not as invested in the Marconi details and didn’t absorb that storyline as I was very drawn to Crippen, Ethel, and Cora. I was a bit disappointed that Larson doesn’t include some of the later discoveries about the corpse which were discovered in the century after the murder. In fact, it’s believed that the dismembered body found in his home wasn’t even that of a woman.
Profile Image for Dawn Michelle.
2,422 reviews
September 24, 2020
Great googly moogly.
Just a story about Marconi and his mission for wireless transmission would have been fascinating enough. There were many things I never even knew about all those events so it was fascinating learning about all that.
But then Mr. Larson throws in a story about a nobody who becomes famous for both the murder of his wife and the HOW of the murder. And it is both fascinating and horrifying.
And these stories cross paths towards the end of the book. And it is absolutely wow.
I love this author and his books and I cannot wait until I can get the new one.
Profile Image for Sean Gibson.
Author 6 books5,800 followers
August 9, 2022
Say this for Larson: knitters must hate him, because he sure rips yarns pretty good.

He stretches a little here and there to forge connections in this one, but on the whole, it works, and works well.
Profile Image for Howard.
1,288 reviews80 followers
April 8, 2020
4 Stars for Thunderstruck (audiobook) by Erik Larson read by Bob Balaban. This is an interesting story. Two very different words colliding together. A gruesome murder and wireless communications being invented. The story does get bogged down a bit by the amazing amount of detail. The story of Marconi inventing wireless communications would have been enough. But to see how the new technology was immediately used was fascinating. This is definitely an invention that changed the world. This was a great audiobook. I never felt lost in all the details. The narrator did a good job.
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,211 reviews190 followers
April 28, 2017
This is a book about the invention of wireless telegraphy. As if he knew this wasn’t the sexiest of topics, author Erik Larson includes a murder mystery alongside it, creating a fun little two-for-the-price-of-one non-fiction treat. He lures you in with relationship drama and then works in the science. So sneaky! And once the two distinct stories come together, so delicious.

I can see how some readers would be less than enthused about the more technical details of Marconi’s science experiments, but I live with an engineer, so I have developed a pretty high tolerance for tech speak. I actually find it relaxing to let unfamiliar phrases and concepts drift past--it’s not like I’m expected to chime in with meaningful feedback or opinions. I just nod encouragingly from time to time and let it all wash over me. So yeah, the experience of listening to this audio book was, for me, both familiar and comfortable.

And the story of the demure, unassuming patent medicine salesman Crippen and his voluptuous, volatile wife is a fascinating one, more than enough to keep the engine humming. I didn’t entirely buy into Larson’s incredulity that a man perceived as so gentle could be capable of murder. I must be a cynic--of course the quiet, retiring guy was eventually going to snap! Still, the chase towards the end of the book is surprisingly suspenseful, considering by today’s standards it unfolded at a snail’s pace.

Larson is a great storyteller and is particularly good at sniffing out historical events that would make for accessible, addictive reading. This is the third book of his I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I especially recommend The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America--so good!

More book recommendations by me at
Profile Image for Juli.
1,899 reviews491 followers
June 1, 2020
Sensationalism. It's nothing new. If it's shocking, scandalous, or over-the-top, it sells. Sometimes it's nefarious deeds that make a story compelling....sometimes it's celebrity status that makes humanity follow every move some people make. More than 100 years ago, the lives of several very disparate people combined both those elements into the biggest news story of 1910. A quiet, passive man. A young woman in love. A failed, difficult actress. And, an egotistical but determined inventor. One violent action would intertwine the lives of these people. Murder. It made the career of one....and ripped apart the lives of all the others. And the public ate it up.

Thunderstruck tells the story of how a new invention -- the Marconi wireless -- helped catch a murderer.....and how the sensational arrest of that murderer and his lover was the ultimate, very public test Marconi needed to prove his wireless technology worked. The pursuit of Dr. Crippen was one of the first instances of instant news. The public was able to follow the story as law enforcement literally chased Dr. Crippen across the ocean. Because of wireless messages sent from the ship they were on, the public knew what books Crippen and his lover Ethel LeNeve were reading, what they ate, that she was dressed as a boy, their activities....and that they had absolutely no idea police were in pursuit and would arrive in Quebec ahead of them. It was all exciting, scandalous and completely new.

What a story! It is so true that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

I have read two of Erik Larson's other nonfiction books -- Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City -- and completely loved both of them! Larson goes into great detail when he relates a story, but does so in an interesting, compelling way. But, a word of caution -- these books are narrative non-fiction. Larson goes into minute detail about every aspect of his subject. The stories aren't fictionalized depictions, but a factual account of the lives and events he is writing about. For readers who don't enjoy nonfiction, these books might be tedious or too drawn out. But for those of us who love a true story, Larson's books are a gold mine of awesome information! Just be forewarned --- there is lots of detail, copious amounts of background on every key player involved. If you enjoy that, these books are for you. If not -- best move on, as Larson's books will not be enjoyable for you.

Going into Thunderstruck, I didn't know much about Marconi and wireless telegraphy. Or the details about Dr. Crippen, his wife Cora and Ethel LeNeve. I knew the bare minimum about Crippen and the crime he was hanged for. I found the story incredibly interesting and compelling.

Awesome book! Larson never fails to entertain me. He is a master of narrative non-fiction! I listened to the audio book version of Thunderstruck. The audio, narrated by Bob Balaban, is just under 12 hours long. Balaban reads at a nice pace and he has a pleasant voice. All in all, an excellent listening experience!
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,981 reviews1,991 followers
October 13, 2011
It's an axiom that Great Men (and, one supposes, Great Women) are Unpleasant People. Larson's treatment of Guglielmo Marconi, great-great-great grandfather of the device you're reading this on, does nothing to dispel the miasma of meanness from him. What a rotten human being! How completely insensitive, how thoroughly obsessively devoted to his own self and comfort, what a complete rotter of a businessman!

Thank you, Guglielmo, for the gifts all that human wreckage you left behind have given us all. Rot in peace.

Then, at the precise opposite end of the emotional spectrum, lies the once-infamous, now largely forgotten, Dr. Hawley Crippen, who murdered his termagant of a wife (who *richly* deserved killing, being a female Marconi sans genius), so he could be with his little light-o-love. Didn't work out, needless to say, though if the Scotland Yard inspector had simply been told to go the hell away, the whole chase and capture and hanging might not have had to happen. There was no evidence of a killing, but the Inspector went on a fishing expedition in Crippen's basement--wouldn't be allowed today, not a chance!--and, well...he really did do it. Probably not alone, though....

Well, anyway, you've read The Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm, so I needn't belabor the point that Larson has a magpie's eye for shiny things, bringing to the nest of the book a trove of odd and telling details about Edwardian London, about the nature of human relationships, about the science of radio waves as it was being discovered; most of all, he brings us characters we feel some connection to, and can really invest in. I know how the book ends before I pick it up, but I find myself wanting Crippen to get away with it and pulling for him and Ethel to make it to Canada *this time*.

They don't. Shame, that.

Wrap yourself in this big, warm greatcoat of a book that transports you back to an optimistic, doomed, bright summer afternoon of a time. It's oodles of fun, if you take it slowly and don't try to gulp it down. It's too big to swallow whole, and half the fun is setting the book down and savoring the images of this vanished world. Recommended to all but the most history-phobic.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,389 reviews115 followers
February 23, 2022
Guglielmo Marconi, the half-Irish, half-Italian prodigy, invented a contraption in 1896 that was the forerunner of wireless communication. He wanted to win a British patent for this, but was challenged by the physicist Oliver Lodge who had already demonstrated an ability to project electromagnetic waves a short distance. Although Marconi was not a physicist, he had excellent instincts and determination that defied criticism from shareholders and competitors. Larson charts the complicated course that Marconi took to achieve wireless communication across the ocean.

Interestingly, it was the strange case of murder that engaged the public’s fascination with wireless technology. It seems that Hawley Harvey Crippen murdered his wife and chose to abscond with his new paramour across the ocean, not realizing that every move he made on the trip was being sent by wireless communication from the ship to the rest of the world. The press and police greeted the arriving ship and Crippen was soon extradited back to London.

While Larson is generally excellent at ‘narrative nonfiction’, this offering seemed particularly over- long—even for science nerds like myself.
Profile Image for Stacey.
12 reviews5 followers
January 20, 2008
After reading Devil in the White City (one of my favorite books of all time), I was very excited to read this book. I ended up disappointed. I really had to force my way through this book. There was too much about the invention and not enough about the murder. Devil in the White City was much more balanced. Although maybe it just felt that way because the world's fair chapters were just as interesting as the serial killer chapters.

Erik Larson is a great writer. I enjoy how he ties a famous event to a tale of murder that was going on at the same time. I n Thunderstruck, I just didn't enjoy the chapters about Marconi. The chapters on Crippen were fantastic, but went much too fast and were too short.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 11 books844 followers
April 23, 2014
Where I got the book: purchased from my local indie bookstore at an author event*. Signed with a funny drawing!

Like The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck tells two stories that have a meeting point. In this case, it's the (at the time) notorious case of Dr. Crippen, who murdered his wife, embraced by the larger story of the development of the wireless telegraph. It was wireless that enabled the British police to catch Crippen and his lover Ethel Le Neve, who were on a ship bound for Canada--Crippen knew by this time that they were fugitives from the law, but Le Neve probably didn't. And neither of them, apparently, knew that they had been spotted early in the voyage by the ship's captain, and that the world's press had picked up on the sensation and had newspaper readers on the edge of their chairs waiting to see if they would be captured.

The story of wireless centers on Guglielmo Marconi, who, although no scientist, was the first to put the emerging theories of wireless transmission to practical use, succeeding by a process of trial and error in stretching the distance over which wireless could be used until he was able to send messages over the Atlantic with a certain degree of success. It's a pretty good tale of industrial rivalry, piracy and sour grapes, and a man with an obsession--nowadays we'd probably diagnose Marconi with Asperger's, given his ability to subjugate everything, even his personal life, to his mania for his subject. And yet Marconi is a businessman, always intending to make money out of wireless, a sharp contrast to the scientists who seem to regard their experiments as a sort of amateur gentleman's pursuit and are furious with the Italian-Irish upstart for actually daring to cash in on them. It's a portrait of a world waking up to the power of technology as an essential weapon in the furtherance of business, the early days of the age where inventions, supported by business cash, began to succeed each other with increasing speed--we're still somewhere in the middle of that age, and heaven knows where it's all going to end up.

Of course the most human story is that of Crippen, the shy and retiring purveyor of homeopathic medicines who ends up married to a loud, exuberant, wannabe actress who henpecks him and spends all of his money. It's a story of the worm that turns, and you can take your pick whether his mild exterior hid the soul of a psychopath or whether he just--snapped.

Larson is a darn good storyteller, and although I felt my attention flagging just a little in the middle of the book, on the whole I found both tales entertaining. The last hundred or so pages, covering the murder and the chase, were riveting. Fifty pages of notes, bibliography and index ensure that this work of popular history can also stay on the bookshelf as a reference work, always a plus. I'd recommend Thunderstruck to readers who like a good true-life yarn.

*If you ever get the chance to hear Larson speak, take it. He's very entertaining.
Profile Image for Becky.
832 reviews155 followers
December 6, 2013
I am waffling between three and four stars on this book. I haven’t read Devil in the White City, but I did read Garden of Beasts, and it doesn’t even quite stack up to that. It took a very long time to get into. The first half of the book wasn’t random information per se, because it still centered around Marconi and Crippen, but it really had nothing to do with the story that would eventually unfold. I suppose that we needed to know that Crippen had a younger, estranged son, that lived in California, because it came into play later, but the early years really didn’t need to take up a quarter of the book.

Then, at about the half way mark, after not listening to the audiobook for a month or two, I got interested. Really interested. Well, interested at least about the Crippen story. I didn’t care for Marconi, he just kind of annoyed me. I don’t want to say that I didn’t find his story engaging, but the parts that I wanted to know more about didn't involve Marconi, it was about the jilted and angry scientists around him. One of the most fascinating tidbits in this story was learning about the scientist who, in constant pursuit of paranormal activity, wrote a book after WWI about contacting the dead sons of Europe. It was a heartbreaking side story. Marconi himself was too dedicated and immersed in his work, and too headstrong, to be really interesting on his own.

The Crippen story, on the other hand, was fascinating too me. I am always curious about the way that crimes were “solved” in the past, it always seems so ludicrous from a modern day perspective. Crippen was such a frail sallow man, but he held my attention, and I was stressed when his chapters were interrupted, inevitably stopping at a cliffhanger (I see what you did there Larson). I found him sympathetic, I found Belle’s audacity shocking, over all, it was their story that kept me reading.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,864 followers
October 17, 2008
With incredible deftness, Larson weaves together the stories of an Italian scientist and inventor and a British hack physician and hapless lover. The setting is Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that saw Edwardian indulgences and a fascination with mysticism and magic dissolving before the advances in science, technology, and the inevitable march toward the first World War.

This book is a lesson in history, an examination of the business and politics of technology and invention, a murder mystery, and an immensely satisfying thriller. That it is a true story - or a tapestry of true events- makes it all the more gripping. An outstanding read.
Profile Image for Lisa.
140 reviews66 followers
February 19, 2023
Erik Larson is one skillful storyteller. I admit, I got a little nervous when Part 1 of the book opened at the Royal Institution in London with a bunch of scientists gathered to talk about the early discoveries of wireless communication. I was afraid the book might end up a little drier than I had anticipated as I was going in with expectations of a thrilling tale of crime and murder, but it turned out that I had absolutely nothing to fear.

Larson tells the stories of two seemingly unrelated men - one a passionate unrelenting scientist consumed with developing wireless technology, and the other a nondescript doctor stuck in a bad marriage looking for an escape. I noticed that a lot of other reviewers have used the terms "weave" and "interwoven" to describe how Larson brought these stories together, and I couldn't agree more. Larson brilliantly moves the two independent narratives toward 1910 in the waters of the North Atlantic, where the two stories converge in a really satisfying way.

Larson asks readers to forgive his "passion for digression" in his Note to Readers, and there are definitely some digressions, particularly related to technical details of the wireless technology. However, even as someone who has a pretty average interest in science, I was still riveted throughout the book to the very end due to Larson's masterful storytelling abilities.

I'm looking forward to working my way through more of Larson's books, and I recommend this one to true crime fans and those who are looking for some really enjoyable narrative history.
Profile Image for David.
1,630 reviews112 followers
March 28, 2021
Thunderstruck by Erik Larson interweaves the stories of two men whose lives intersect similar to the author's use of this technique with Devil in the White City set in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
In Thunderstruck we have the intersection of a very unlikely murderer, Hawley Crippen, and Guglielmo Marconi, the creator of a seemingly supernatural means of wireless communication during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. The author seamlessly transitions back and forth narrating both the murder and the development of wireless technology for speedy communications between ships and shore as well as continent to continent. This sets up a situation where the murderer's location is known all over the world but not on the ship he is on for a transatlantic crossing. It's an Edwardian period version of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase as people around the world would read daily updates about Scotland Yard's pursuit of Crippen that were transmitted over Marconi's wireless system. The author relays these historically parallel narratives in a manner that held my attention to the very end.
Profile Image for Amira Carroll (Author).
690 reviews142 followers
September 30, 2022
"Crippen had made a serious error, Priestley wrote: 'he had forgotten, if he ever knew, what Marconi had done for the world, which was now rapidly shrinking. So we see two hundred creatures, say a fox and a hare, with millions of hounds baying and slaving after them'".

I really enjoyed Thunderstruck and found myself shockingly wanting more as I read the book. I think the one thing I really enjoyed was how towards the end we finally pick up the pace of the book and finally discover more about the murder and how it happens. That being said I am not giving it five stars because I found the parts with Marconi rather long. While I think that getting his role in the story was relevant, I think it could've been cut in half and we didn't need as much of how he created the wireless telegraph. Obviously, his role is really important and I'm not saying cut it completely off from the book but more that while I think learning about the wireless telegraph and how Marconi invented it was important, there was a lot of filler that I felt was unnecessary. Instead, I wish that we were able to get more of Crippen and the snap towards why he chose murder in the way he did.

All in all I really enjoyed this book and I found that I shockingly had a fun time reading this. I would highly recommend reading thism this was my first true crime novel/non-fiction book and I found it really gripping especially towards the end. I feel that if you pick it up make sure to just keep reading and the ending would all be worth it.

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Profile Image for Siria.
1,864 reviews1,359 followers
June 6, 2021
Readable enough Dad History, which interleaves the story of Guglielmo Marconi's invention of ocean-spanning wireless telegraphy with the true crime story of Hawley Crippen's murder of his wife in London in 1910. It's mostly passable, although the Marconi half of the book is to a great extent there to provide some drama and heft to what is otherwise a rather thin story. Crippen killed and butchered his wife in a gruesome way, yes, and then tried to flee across the Atlantic with his much younger lover, Ethel Le Neve, in disguise as a boy. This makes for some dramatic moments. But there just aren't a lot of sources that give us much direct insight into Crippen, his motivations, thoughts, or feelings, nor does the state of the forensics at the time really let us reconstruct exactly what happened in the Crippen home that fateful night. All that we can know is sordid and also rather banal: man murders wife.

Which brings me to the biggest failing of the book for me, and that's Erik Larson's clear sympathy for Crippen—much is made of his meek and mild demeanour and how nice everyone thought of him—and the undercurrent that Cora Crippen somehow deserved her awful end. (An attitude which I see reflected in more than one GoodReads review, which is gross.) Cora Crippen had tacky taste in clothes, didn't care much about keeping the house tidy, and flirted with men who weren't her husband, yes—but being an arsehole isn't a capital crime. And being a Nice Guy doesn't mean that you're incapable of being a bad husband or being a murderer. Larson also seemed to take at face value the idea that Crippen's affair with Le Neve was the tale of two timid souls who found one another, whereas I'm much more sceptical about the power dynamics involved. Who's to say that if they'd made it across the Atlantic, Crippen wouldn't have tired of Le Neve in a few years and found himself wanting to dispose of her in order to move on yet again?
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