Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is a work of non-fiction which takes the reader on a thrill ride through history. Larson combines the true stories of two men whose paths seemingly should have had no connection to one another. Each man’s tale highlights important events not only in their own lives but in society as well. Crown | October 24, 2006 | Hardcover | 463 pp
We are first introduced to Guglielmo Marconi, an awkward but tenacious young man. He is fascinated by the mysteries of electricity. He was known as a young boy to call it “my electricity”. Marconi believed he could create wireless communication over long distances. This was a feat previous physicists had deemed all but impossible. He spent months in solitude reworking his devices to send electromagnetic waves over long distances. At first he could barely ring a bell with them from the other side of his room. His eventual goal? Communicate over entire oceans.
We then meet our next character, Hawley Crippen, a diminutive and kind doctor. He is immediately swept off his feet by a young woman, Cora Turner. Their relationship progresses rather quickly into marriage as Crippen is smitten. However, he soon finds his new bride to have a temperament quite different from his own. Their marriage is quickly turned from one of happiness and contentment to one of tumult. Cora has dreams of stardom and is a woman obsessed with the finer things – jewelry, new furs, high social status, fancy dinners with friends. Crippen is quiet and often demurs to his boisterous wife, giving her money to keep a peaceful home. He is concerned with his career in medicine, a field in which he displays a natural talent. Their marriage slowly devolves as Cora becomes more and more controlling of Crippen. She continually threatens to leave him for another man.
As each separate story progresses, the chapters become progressively shorter. This matches the sudden intensity that peaks towards the end of the book. We quickly see how Marconi’s invention and discoveries will be tied into Crippen’s inevitable fate. Larson weaves together both stories effortlessly as he creates vivid characters out of these real-life historical figures. You will not be able to put this one down!
by Erik Larson