Sunday, December 25, 2011

254 (2011 #59). Thunderstruck

by Erik Larson,
read by Bob Balaban

Similar to Larson's The Devil in the White City, this book tells two stories (however, the time periods are not always parallel) that are connected, although in this case the connection doesn't occur until near the end.

Part of the book focuses on Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor who shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy," despite a lack of formal training in science.  Marconi is not especially likable, but one must admire his persistence (his experimentation method is primarily trial and error) and his business acumen - he sure knew how to take advantage of his competition!

The other part of the book is the true-crime narrative of Hawley Harvey Crippen, an American homeopathic doctor accused of killing his overbearing, unfaithful American wife, aspiring actress Corrinne "Cora" Turner, born Kunigunde Mackamotski, stage name "Belle Elmore," in London in 1910.  Crippen fled the country with his young British secretary and lover, Ethel Le Neve.  How they were caught is where the two stories intersect.

There's still some controversy today (much of it arising after the book was published in 2006) on whether or not Crippen was guilty - and just how innocent Le Neve really was.  I also found it remarkable that a technology being developed just a little over 100 years ago - wireless telegraphy - is virtually obsolete today.

Actor Bob Balaban has a nice voice, but his reading is flat and somewhat halting, with pauses in unusual places.  The hardbound book includes (as usual for Larson), extensive end notes and bibliography, an index, a few photographs (not enough in my opinion), and endpaper maps of 1902 London and the north Atlantic area, showing the locations of Marconi's early telegraphy stations.

This was an interesting book - not quite as good as The Devil in the White City, or even (in my opinion, since I was particularly interested in the subject) Isaac's Storm, but still worth a read.  Larson has a penchant for including every detail he uncovers in his research in his books, even putting them in his end notes "for no better reason than that I could not bear to expel them" (page 399) when they had to be cut from the narrative.  So be forewarned.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[ The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my public library.  I also purchased a print copy of the book.]

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