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Thunderstruck

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, a true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush”

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest ...

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Thunderstruck

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Overview

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, a true story of love, murder, and the end of the world’s “great hush”

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Set in Edwardian London and on the stormy coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Thunderstruck evokes the dynamism of those years when great shipping companies competed to build the biggest, fastest ocean liners; scientific advances dazzled the public with visions of a world transformed; and the rich outdid one another with ostentatious displays of wealth. Against this background, Marconi races against incredible odds and relentless skepticism to perfect his invention: the wireless, a prime catalyst for the emergence of the world we know today. Meanwhile, Crippen, “the kindest of men,” nearly commits the perfect murder.

With his unparalleled narrative skills, Erik Larson guides us through a relentlessly suspenseful chase over the waters of the North Atlantic. Along the way, he tells of a sad and tragic love affair that was described on the front pages of newspapers around the world, a chief inspector who found himself strangely sympathetic to the killer and his lover, and a driven and compelling inventor who transformed the way we communicate.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
With Thunderstruck, Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City) delivers another adroit double-threaded story of genius and mayhem. At the center of the plot stands Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862-1910), a mild-mannered American-born homeopathic physician who solved his marital problems by slaying his overbearing wife. After slicing up her body, Crippen quickly embarked with his mistress on an oceanic steamer. Enter Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), the brilliant Italian electrical engineer and inventor. As Crippen fled across the Atlantic, Marconi took up the wireless chase, which culminated in a two-day race between two ocean liners. Thanks to the new technology, the mass media enjoyed a feeding frenzy of nearly simultaneously updates. Larson covers this literal race to the death (Crippen died on the gallows) with calibrated excitement that readers of his previous books will recognize.
Lauren Belfer
Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale. Of London, he writes, "There was fog . . . that left the streets so dark and sinister that children of the poor hired themselves out as torchbearers . . . the light formed around the walkers a shifting wall of gauze, through which other pedestrians appeared with the suddenness of ghosts." He beautifully captures the awe that greeted early wireless transmissions on shipboard: "First-time passengers often seemed mesmerized by the blue spark fired with each touch of the key and the crack of miniature thunder that followed." Larson can be forgiven his obsessions as he restores life to this fascinating, long-lost world.
— The Washington Post
Kevin Baker
Erik Larson has done it again. In Thunderstruck, just as in his last book, The Devil in the White City, he has taken an unlikely historical subject and spun it into gold. The formula is simple enough, though the finished books verge on alchemy. The only question is whether we’re getting true magic or mere sleight of hand.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this splendid, beautifully written followup to his blockbuster thriller, Devil in the White City, Erik Larson again unites the dual stories of two disparate men, one a genius and the other a killer. The genius is Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of wireless communication. The murderer is the notorious Englishman Dr. H.H. Crippen. Scientists had dreamed for centuries of capturing the power of lightning and sending electrical currents through the ether. Yes, the great cable strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean could send messages thousands of miles, but the holy grail was a device that could send wireless messages anywhere in the world. Late in the 19th century, Europe's most brilliant theoretical scientists raced to unlock the secret of wireless communication. Guglielmo Marconi, impatient, brash, relentless and in his early 20s, achieved the astonishing breakthrough in September 1895. His English detractors were incredulous. He was a foreigner and, even worse, an Italian! Marconi himself admitted that he was not a great scientist or theorist. Instead, he exemplified the Edisonian model of tedious, endless trial and error. Despite Marconi's achievements, it took a sensational murder to bring unprecedented worldwide attention to his invention. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a proper, unattractive little man with bulging, bespectacled eyes, possessed an impassioned, love-starved heart. An alchemist and peddler of preposterous patent medicines, he killed his wife, a woman Larson portrays lavishly as a gold-digging, selfish, stage-struck, flirtatious, inattentive, unfaithful clotheshorse. The hapless Crippen endured it all until he found the sympathetic Other Woman and true love. The "North London Cellar Murder" so captured the popular imagination in 1910 that people wrote plays and composed sheet music about it. It wasn't just what Crippen did, but how. How did he obtain the poison crystals, skin her and dispose of all those bones so neatly? The manhunt climaxed with a fantastic sea chase from Europe to Canada, not just by a pursuing vessel but also by invisible waves racing lightning-fast above the ocean. It seemed that all the world knew-except for the doctor and his lover, the prey of dozens of frenetic Marconi wireless transmissions. In addition to writing stylish portraits of all of his main characters, Larson populates his narrative with an irresistible supporting cast. He remains a master of the fact-filled vignette and humorous aside that propel the story forward. Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world. 14-city tour. (Oct.) James L. Swanson's most recent book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, was published by Morrow in February. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Two stories unexpectedly intersect in the Atlantic Ocean in Larson's true crime tale. Physician Hawley Crippen is skilled in the use of homeopathic medicines. When his practice fades, he joins a firm to sell patent medicine. He marries Belle, who dreams of becoming an opera singer and will do anything to achieve fame. Crippen eventually falls for another woman and decides to kill Belle. At the same time, Guglielmo Marconi, born to a successful family in Italy, becomes focused on creating a way to send wireless transmissions across the ocean. He finds success with his transatlantic wireless while fighting off competitors and detractors who said that he stole his ideas. These two tales connect when Marconi's invention is used to catch the fleeing couple. Bob Balaban's neutral voice neither adds nor detracts from the story, but listeners might wish that he had used some emotion on occasion. Libraries where Larson has a following should purchase this title.
—Danna Bell-Russel

School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Larson's page-turner juxtaposes scientific intrigue with a notorious murder in London at the turn of the 20th century. It alternates the story of Marconi's quest for the first wireless transatlantic communication amid scientific jealousies and controversies with the tale of a mild-mannered murderer caught as a result of the invention. The eccentric figures include the secretive Marconi and one of his rivals, physicist Oliver Lodge, who believed that he was first to make the discovery, but also insisted that the electromagnetic waves he studied were evidence of the paranormal. The parallel tale recounts the story of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, accused of murdering his volatile, shrewish wife. As he and his unsuspecting lover attempted to escape in disguise to Quebec on a luxury ocean liner, a Scotland Yard detective chased them on a faster boat. Unbeknownst to the couple, the world followed the pursuit through wireless transmissions to newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. A public that had been skeptical of this technology suddenly grasped its power. In an era when "wireless" has a whole new connotation, young adults interested in the history of scientific discovery will be enthralled with this fascinating account of Marconi and his colleagues' attempts to harness a new technology. And those who enjoy a good mystery will find the unraveling of Dr. Crippen's crime, complete with turn-of-the-century forensics, appealing to the CSI crowd. A thrilling read.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A murder that transfixed the world and the invention that made possible the chase for its perpetrator combine in this fitfully thrilling real-life mystery. Using the same formula that propelled Devil in the White City (2003), Larson pairs the story of a groundbreaking advance with a pulpy murder drama to limn the sociological particulars of its pre-WWI setting. While White City featured the Chicago World's Fair and America's first serial killer, this combines the fascinating case of Dr. Hawley Crippen with the much less gripping tale of Guglielmo Marconi's invention of radio. (Larson draws out the twin narratives for a long while before showing how they intersect.) Undeniably brilliant, Marconi came to fame at a young age, during a time when scientific discoveries held mass appeal and were demonstrated before awed crowds with circus-like theatricality. Marconi's radio sets, with their accompanying explosions of light and noise, were tailor-made for such showcases. By the early-20th century, however, the Italian was fighting with rival wireless companies to maintain his competitive edge. The event that would bring his invention back into the limelight was the first great crime story of the century. A mild-mannered doctor from Michigan who had married a tempestuously demanding actress and moved to London, Crippen became the eye of a media storm in 1910 when, after his wife's "disappearance" (he had buried her body in the basement), he set off with a younger woman on an ocean-liner bound for America. The ship's captain, who soon discerned the couple's identity, updated Scotland Yard (and the world) on the ship's progress-by wireless. The chase that ends this story makes up for some tediousearly stretches regarding Marconi's business struggles. At times slow-going, but the riveting period detail and dramatic flair eventually render this tale an animated history lesson.
From the Publisher
"Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale...He beautifully captures the awe that greeted early wireless transmissions on shipboard...he restores life to this fascinating, long-lost world."- Washington Post "Of all the non-fiction writers working today, Erik Larson seems to have the most delicious fun...for his newest, destined-to-delight book, Thunderstruck, Larson has turned his sights on Edwardian London, a place alive with new science and seances, anonymous crowds and some stunningly peculiar personalities"-- Chicago Tribune"[Larson] interweaves gripping storylines about a cryptic murderer and the race for technology in the early 20th century. An edge-of-the-seat read."-- People"Captivating...with Thunderstruck, Larson has selected another enthralling tale--two of them, actually--...[he] peppers the narrative with an engaging array of secondary figures and fills the margins with rich tangential period details...Larson has once again crafted a popular history narrative that is stylistically closer to a smartly plotted novel."--Miami Herald"As he did with The Devil in the White City, Larson has created an intense, intelligent page turner that shows how the march of progress and innovation affect both the world at large and the lives of everyday people."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution"Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale."--The Washington Post Book World"An enthralling narrative and vivid descriptions...Larson has done a marvelous job of bringing the distinct stories together in his own unique way. Simply fantastic!"--Library Journal"Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes."--The New York Times Book Review"Splendid, beautifully written...Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age, when one man's public genius linked the world, while another's private turmoil made him a symbol of the end of "the great hush" and the first victim of a new era when instant communication, now inescapable, conquered the world."--Publishers Weekly"[Larson] captures the human capacity for wonder at the turn of the century...[he] has perfected a narrative form of his own invention."--The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)THUNDERSTRUCK • By Erik Larson • Three Rivers Press • ISBN 978-1-4000-8067-0 • $14.95 • • By Erik Larson • Three Rivers Press • ISBN 978-1-4000-8067-0 • $14.95 • OSD 9/25/2007THUNDERSTRUCK • By Erik Larson • Three Rivers Press • ISBN 978-1-4000-8067-0 • $14.95 • OSD 9/25/2007

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400080670
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/25/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 55,745
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Erik Larson is the bestselling author of the National Book Award finalist and Edgar Award–winning The Devil in the White City. He lives in Seattle with his wife, three daughters, and a dog named Molly.

Biography

Often times, truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Take the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois. The fair was the groundbreaking birthplace of such things as neon lights and the Ferris Wheel; a wonderland of futuristic technology and architecture. It was also the playground of a demented murderer who set up his very own chamber of torture within striking distance of the fair. This bizarre dichotomy of creation and destruction is what enticed Erik Larson to tell the twisted tale of the 1893 World's Fair in his fascinating fourth book Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.

Journalist Larson's work displays a fascination with the ways various forms of violence affect every day life. His second book Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun is an exploration of gun culture throughout American history, using a horrendous incident involving a machine-gun toting 16-year old as its uniting thread. His next book, the griping, critically acclaimed Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, detailed one of the worst natural disasters in American history, a hurricane that hit Galveston Texas in 1900 leaving between 6,000 and 10,000 people dead. However, when Larson first encountered the story of Dr. Henry H. Holmes, he was reluctant to use it as the basis for one of his books. "I started doing some research, and I came across the serial killer in this book, Dr. H. H. Holmes," he told Powell's.com. "I immediately dismissed him because he was so over-the-top bad, so luridly outrageous. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do a slasher book. It crossed the line into murder-porn. So I kept looking, and I became interested in a different murder that actually had a hurricane connection, where I of course got distracted by the hurricane and wrote Isaac's Storm."

When Larson completed Isaac's Storm and began researching ideas for his next book, he began reading about the 1853 World's Fair. Hooked by the numerous colorful characters and amazing occurrences surrounding the fair, Larson decided he would use it as the subject for his fourth book. Still, he had little interest in telling a straight chronological play-by-play of the fair's creation. So, he resolved to revisit the subject that had so repulsed him prior to writing Isaac's Storm.

Dr. Henry H. Holmes was a heinous modern monster. Just west of the fair, he built the mockingly named "World's Fair Hotel" where he would torture his victims by any number of means. The grotesque hotel was equipped with its very own gas chamber, dissection table, and crematorium. As abhorrent as Holmes was, Larson could not resist the jarring juxtaposition of this remorseless killer and the fair.

The resulting book Devil in the White City is both a richly detailed history and a chilling yarn as unbelievable and spellbinding as any work of fiction. The book was both a finalist for the National Book Award and a Number 1 New York Times bestseller. It was garnered nearly universal raves from The New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, Esquire, The Chicago Sun Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among many, many others.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of Devil in the White City is the fact that the book is an accurate history that also manages to be a riveting page-turner. As Larson says, "I write to be read. I'm quite direct about that. I'm not writing to thrill colleagues or to impress the professors at the University of Iowa; that's not my goal." Larson's goal was to render a fascinating story, and he succeeded admirably with Devil in the White City.

Good To Know

As entertaining as Larson's historical works are, he currently has little interest in expanding into fiction. "The research [involved in nonfiction] appeals to me," he told Powell's.com. "I love looking for pieces of things in far-flung archives -- but the beauty is that the complexity of the characters is there. You don't have to make it up."

As thoroughly detailed and well-researched as Larson's books are, it is hard to believe that he does not employ an assistant. Every detail in his books was gleaned by the author, himself.

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    1. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 1, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1978

Read an Excerpt



Thunderstruck



By Erik Larson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City


Random House


Erik Larson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307351920



Chapter One

Chapter 1

Ghosts and Gunfire Distraction

In the ardently held view of one camp, the story had its rightful beginning on the night of June 4, 1894, at 21 Albemarle Street, London, the address of the Royal Institution. Though one of Britain's most august scientific bodies, it occupied a building of modest proportion, only three floors. The false columns affixed to its facade were an afterthought, meant to impart a little grandeur. It housed a lecture hall, a laboratory, living quarters, and a bar where members could gather to discuss the latest scientific advances.
Inside the hall, a physicist of great renown readied himself to deliver the evening's presentation. He hoped to startle his audience, certainly, but otherwise he had no inkling that this lecture would prove the most important of his life and a source of conflict for decades to come. His name was Oliver Lodge, and really the outcome was his own fault-- another manifestation of what even he acknowledged to be a fundamental flaw in how he approached his work. In the moments remaining before his talk, he made one last check of an array of electrical apparatus positioned on a demonstration table, some of it familiar, most unlike anything seen before in this hall.
Outside on Albemarle Street thepolice confronted their usual traffic problem. Scores of carriages crowded the street and gave it the look of a great black seam of coal. While the air in the surrounding neighborhood of Mayfair was scented with lime and the rich cloying sweetness of hothouse flowers, here the street stank of urine and manure, despite the efforts of the young, red-shirted "street orderlies" who moved among the horses collecting ill-timed deposits. Officers of the Metropolitan Police directed drivers to be quick about exiting the street once their passengers had departed. The men wore black, the women gowns.
Established in 1799 for the "diffusion of knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction of useful mechanical improvements," the Royal Institution had been the scene of great discoveries. Within its laboratories Humphry Davy had found sodium and potassium and devised the miner's safety lamp, and Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, the phenomenon whereby electricity running through one circuit induces a current in another. The institution's lectures, the "Friday Evening Discourses," became so popular, the traffic outside so chaotic, that London officials were forced to turn Albemarle into London's first one-way street.
Lodge was a professor of physics at the new University College of Liverpool, where his laboratory was housed in a space that once had been the padded cell of a lunatic asylum. At first glance he seemed the embodiment of established British science. He wore a heavy beard misted with gray, and his head--"the great head," as a friend put it--was eggshell bald to a point just above his ears, where his hair swept back into a tangle of curls. He stood six feet three inches tall and weighed about 210 pounds. A young woman once reported that the experience of dancing with Lodge had been akin to dancing with the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Though considered a kind man, in his youth Lodge had exhibited a cruel vein that, as he grew older, caused him regret and astonishment. While a student at a small school, Combs Rectory, he had formed a club, the Combs Rectory Birds' Nest Destroying Society, whose members hunted nests and ransacked them, smashing eggs and killing fledglings, then firing at the parent birds with slingshots. Lodge recalled once beating a dog with a toy whip but dismissed this incident as an artifact of childhood cruelty. "Whatever faults I may have," he wrote in his memoir, "cruelty is not one of them; it is the one thing that is utterly repugnant."
Lodge had come of age during a time when scientists began to coax from the mists a host of previously invisible phenomena, particularly in the realm of electricity and magnetism. He recalled how lectures at the Royal Institution would set his imagination alight. "I have walked back through the streets of London, or across Fitzroy Square, with a sense of unreality in everything around, an opening up of deep things in the universe, which put all ordinary objects of sense into the shade, so that the square and its railings, the houses, the carts, and the people, seemed like shadowy unrealities, phantasmal appearances, partly screening, but partly permeated by, the mental and spiritual reality behind."
The Royal Institution became for Lodge "a sort of sacred place," he wrote, "where pure science was enthroned to be worshipped for its own sake." He believed the finest science was theoretical science, and he scorned what he and other like-minded scientists called "practicians," the new heathen, inventors and engineers and tinkerers who eschewed theoretical research for blind experimentation and whose motive was commercial gain. Lodge once described the patent process as "inappropriate and repulsive."
As his career advanced, he too was asked to deliver Friday Evening Discourses, and he reveled in the opportunity to put nature's secrets on display. When a scientific breakthrough occurred, he tried to be first to bring it to public notice, a pattern he had begun as early as 1877, when he acquired one of the first phonographs and brought it to England for a public demonstration, but his infatuation with the new had a corollary effect: a vulnerability to distraction. He exhibited a lofty dilettantism that late in life he acknowledged had been a fatal flaw. "As it is," he wrote, "I have taken an interest in many subjects, and spread myself over a considerable range--a procedure which, I suppose, has been good for my education, though not so prolific of results." Whenever his scientific research threatened to lead to a breakthrough, he wrote, "I became afflicted with a kind of excitement which caused me to pause and not pursue that path to the luminous end. . . . It is an odd feeling, and has been the cause of my not clinching many subjects, not following up the path on which I had set my feet."
To the dismay of peers, one of his greatest distractions was the world of the supernatural. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, established in 1882 by a group of level-headed souls, mostly scientists and philosophers, to bring scientific scrutiny to ghosts, séances, telepathy, and other paranormal events, or as the society stated in each issue of its Journal, "to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit, those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis." The society's constitution stated that membership did not imply belief in "physical forces other than those recognized by Physical Science." That the SPR had a Committee on Haunted Houses deterred no one. Its membership expanded quickly to include sixty university dons and some of the brightest lights of the era, among them John Ruskin, H. G. Wells, William E. Gladstone, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), and the Rev. C. L. Dodgson (with the equally prominent pen name Lewis Carroll). The roster also listed Arthur Balfour, a future prime minister of England, and William James, a pioneer in psychology, who by the summer of 1894 had been named the society's president.
It was Lodge's inquisitiveness, not a belief in ghosts, that first drove him to become a member of the SPR. The occult was for him just one more invisible realm worthy of exploration, the outermost province of the emerging science of psychology. The unveiling during Lodge's life of so many hitherto unimagined physical phenomena, among them Heinrich Hertz's discovery of electromagnetic waves, suggested to him that the world of the mind must harbor secrets of its own. The fact that waves could travel through the ether seemed to confirm the existence of another plane of reality. If one could send electromagnetic waves through the ether, was it such an outrageous next step to suppose that the spiritual essence of human beings, an electromagnetic soul, might also exist within the ether and thus explain the hauntings and spirit rappings that had become such a fixture of common legend? Reports of ghosts inhabiting country houses, poltergeists rattling abbeys, spirits knocking on tables during séances--all these in the eyes of Lodge and fellow members of the society seemed as worthy of dispassionate analysis as the invisible travels of an electromagnetic wave.
Within a few years of his joining the SPR, however, events challenged Lodge's ability to maintain his scientific remove. In Boston William James began hearing from his own family about a certain "Mrs. Piper"--Lenore Piper--a medium who was gaining notoriety for possessing strange powers. Intending to expose her as a fraud, James arranged a sitting and found himself enthralled. He suggested that the society invite Mrs. Piper to England for a series of experiments. She and her two daughters sailed to Liverpool in November 1889 and then traveled to Cambridge, where a sequence of sittings took place under the close observation of SPR members. Lodge arranged a sitting of his own and suddenly found himself listening to his dead aunt Anne, a beloved woman of lively intellect who had abetted his drive to become a scientist against the wishes of his father. She once had told Lodge that after her death she would come back to visit if she could, and now, in a voice he remembered, she reminded him of that promise. "This," he wrote, "was an unusual thing to happen."
To Lodge, the encounter seemed proof that some part of the human mind persisted even after death. It left him, he wrote, "thoroughly convinced not only of human survival, but of the power to communicate, under certain conditions, with those left behind on the earth."
Partly because of his diverse interests and his delight in new discoveries, by June 1894 he had become one of the Royal Institution's most popular speakers.

The evening's lecture was entitled "The Work of Hertz." Heinrich Hertz had died earlier in the year, and the institution invited Lodge to talk about his experiments, a task to which Lodge readily assented. Lodge had a deep respect for Hertz; he also believed that if not for his own fatal propensity for distraction, he might have beaten Hertz to the history books. In his memoir, Lodge stopped just short of claiming that he himself not Hertz, was first to prove the existence of electromagnetic waves. And indeed Lodge had come close, but instead of pursuing certain tantalizing findings, he had dropped the work and buried his results in a quotidian paper on lightning conductors.
Every seat in the lecture hall was filled. Lodge spoke for a few moments, then began his demonstration. He set off a spark. The gun- shot crack jolted the audience to full attention. Still more startling was the fact that this spark caused a reaction--a flash of light--in a distant, unattached electrical apparatus. The central component of this apparatus was a device Lodge had designed, which he called a "coherer," a tube filled with minute metal filings, and which he had inserted into a conventional electric circuit. Initially the filings had no power to conduct electricity, but when Lodge generated the spark and thus launched electromag- netic waves into the hall, the filings suddenly became conductors--they "cohered"--and allowed current to flow. By tapping the tube with his finger, Lodge returned the filings to their nonconductive state, and the circuit went dead.
Though seemingly a simple thing, in fact the audience had never seen anything like it: Lodge had harnessed invisible energy, Hertz's waves, to cause a reaction in a remote device, without intervening wires. The applause came like thunder.
Afterward Lord Rayleigh, a distinguished mathematician and physicist and secretary of the Royal Society, came up to Lodge to congratulate him. He knew of Lodge's tendency toward distraction. What Lodge had just demonstrated seemed a path that even he might find worthy of focus. "Well, now you can go ahead," Rayleigh told Lodge. "There is your life work!"
But Lodge did not take Lord Rayleigh's advice. Instead, once again exhibiting his inability to pursue one theme of research to conclusion, he left for a vacation in Europe that included a scientific foray into a very different realm. He traveled to the Ile Roubaud, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of France, where soon very strange things began to happen and he found himself distracted anew, at what would prove to be a critical moment in his career and in the history of science.
For even as Lodge conducted his new explorations on the Ile Roubaud, far to the south someone else was hard at work--ingeniously, energetically, compulsively--exploring the powers of the invisible world, with the same tools Lodge had used for his demonstration at the Royal Institution, much to Lodge's eventual consternation and regret.

The Great Hush

It was not precisely a vision, like some sighting of the Madonna in a tree trunk, but rather a certainty, a declarative sentence that entered his brain. Unlike other lightning-strike ideas, this one did not fade and blur but retained its surety and concrete quality. Later Marconi would say there was a divine aspect to it, as though he had been chosen over all others to receive the idea. At first it perplexed him--the question, why him, why not Oliver Lodge, or for that matter Thomas Edison?
The idea arrived in the most prosaic of ways. In that summer of 1894, when he was twenty years old, his parents resolved to escape the extraordinary heat that had settled over Europe by moving to higher and cooler ground. They fled Bologna for the town of Biella in the Italian Alps, just below the Santuario di Oropa, a complex of sacred buildings devoted to the legend of the Black Madonna. During the family's stay, he happened to acquire a copy of a journal called Il Nuovo Cimento, in which he read an obituary of Heinrich Hertz written by Augusto Righi, a neighbor and a physics professor at the University of Bologna. Something in the article produced the intellectual equivalent of a spark and in that moment caused his thoughts to realign, like the filings in a Lodge coherer.
"My chief trouble was that the idea was so elementary, so simple in logic that it seemed difficult to believe no one else had thought of putting it into practice," he said later. "In fact Oliver Lodge had, but he had missed the correct answer by a fraction.

Continues...




Excerpted from Thunderstruck
by Erik Larson, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In his note to the reader, Larson quotes P. D. James: “Murder, the unique crime, is a paradigm of its age.” How is the murder in Thunderstruck a paradigm of its time? Can you think of a notorious murder in our own era that is an equivalent?

2. The murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen and the inventor Guglielmo Marconi came from similarly prosperous backgrounds, and yet their lives took quite opposite turns. Compare the two men as characters–in what ways are they similar, and in what ways are they different? Who would you most like to have met, and why?

3. Now compare the two men to their respective spouses–is Marconi at all like Beatrice? What about Crippen and Belle?

4. Larson mentions Marconi’s “social blindness” throughout the book, considering it a defining trait. How did it affect Marconi’s success or failure? What was Crippen’s defining trait?

5. In specific terms, Crippen and Marconi were not linked–they never interacted with each other–and yet in Larson’s hands their stories fit together naturally. Why do you think that is? In what ways do the two men’s lives play off each other? How do you imagine they would have gotten along, had they actually met?

6. Marconi and Crippen were both foreigners in England, and yet they received very different treatment from the moment of their respective arrivals. Why? How is this reminiscent of the ways foreigners are treated in this country today?

7. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the supernatural, medical sleight-of-hand, and science were often treated in similar fashion–consider Lodge’s “scientific” studies of the paranormal, Crippen’s involvement in patent medicine, and the public’s mistrust of Marconi’s wireless technology. What parallels, if any, do you see to the way we treat emerging technologies now?

8. Isolation was a very real thing in those days, without the benefits of modern communication methods. How did Marconi’s invention change the world? Ultimately, do you think it was a change for the better, or are there benefits to the old ways?

9. Throughout the book, there are countless instances of betrayal: Marconi betrays Preece and vice versa, Belle betrays Crippen, Fleming betrays Lodge. Discuss the idea of betrayal and the specifics of it in Thunderstruck. In your opinion, whose betrayal is the most damaging?

10. Secrecy was vital to both Marconi and Crippen, but for very different reasons. Discuss the nature of their secrets, the motivations for them, and the ultimate effects.

11. Much of Marconi’s success was apparently based on gut instinct and simple trial and error, rather than any understanding of the science that lay beneath his discoveries. How would his methods be received now?

12. On page 69, Larson says that Marconi “was an entrepreneur of a kind that would become familiar to the world only a century or so later, with the advent of the so-called ‘start-up’ company.” What did he mean by this? Do Marconi’s practices remind you of any specific business leaders today?

13. Each man had two major romantic relationships in the book. Which, if any, was the healthiest? Which woman did you like best, and why?

14. Crippen is willing to subsidize Belle’s lifestyle and even her relationship with another man, only to murder her years later. Why do you think he behaves this way? Why didn’t he just cut her off financially? What finally drove him to murder?

15. Throughout the book, Larson foreshadows events that will come to pass in later pages. What purpose does this serve? How did you respond?

16. Crippen’s method for disposing of Belle’s body was quite gruesome. Larson quotes Raymond Chandler on page 377: “I cannot see why a man who would go to the enormous labor of deboning and de-sexing and de-heading an entire corpse would not take the rather slight extra labor of disposing of the flesh in the same way, rather than bury it at all.” Why do you think Crippen did it in that particular way? What does this say about him?

17. Do you believe that Ethel had no idea what had happened to Belle? Why, or why not?

18. The realities of an international manhunt were very different in the early twentieth century than they are today–as Larson says on page 341, “Wireless had made the sea less safe for criminals on the run.” Why has it changed so, and in what ways? Is it possible to hide in our world?

19. Discuss the media circus surrounding Dew’s chase of Crippen. Was this the beginning of a new era in journalism? What parallels do you see to many celebrities’ current war with the paparazzi? Compare the pursuit of Crippen to the O. J. Simpson chase.

20. If it weren’t for Marconi’s invention, do you think Crippen would have been caught? How might it have played out otherwise?

21. On page 379, Larson says, “The Crippen saga did more to accelerate the acceptance of wireless as a practical tool than anything the Marconi company previously had attempted.” Why do you think that is? What might have happened to wireless technology if not for Crippen?

22. At the very end of the book, Larson writes that Ethel was asked if she would still marry Crippen even after learning all that he had done. What do you think her answer was?

23. Why do you think Larson gave this book the title Thunderstruck? How does the term apply to Marconi and Crippen?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 201 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(70)

4 Star

(60)

3 Star

(48)

2 Star

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1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 202 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Great Book, Read the others

    I have listned to Jacob's storm, and read Devil in the White City. I recommended those to everyone, and recommend this one, also. I have read other historical, non fiction books, but this author has a gift for making all the details of the social, scientific, and hostorical events fit together. A terrific book! Read all of his others, too.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Another great book by Larson

    After reading "Devil in the White City" I downloaded "Thunderstruck". I was not disappointed. He has a wonderful way of drawing in the reader and adding twists and turns that are unexpected. His attention to detail and use of primary source documents are great for history fans. I will definitely be reading more from this author.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    Very Well Done

    Well researched and well written. Interesting the way Larsen intertwines the invention of wireless with the story of the homicide and how wireless was used to catch the killer.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2010

    Great read!

    Loved this book! Almost as good as Devil in the White City.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2007

    A good read...

    I am not a fan of historicals but Devil in the White City converted me. This book gives you a 'feel' for the times and at the same time follows Marconi on his quest and the murderer, Crippen to his downfall. Altogether a good read.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2006

    A definate read for all Larson fans.

    Thunderstruck is a must read for any fan of Erik Larson, the amazing narration reminds one of Devil in the White City. Set around the time of Devil in the White City but in Europe the book follows a murdering couple and the invention of the device that would lead to their capture. An engrossing read that you cant put down after starting. 5 out of 5.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2007

    No Sophmore Slump here...

    Well written, and though it did not measure up to Devil in The White City, we shouldn't penalize him for not reaching the pinnacle he reached in DWC. This is still a fascinating book which of course blends historic data into a wonderful plot.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2007

    Very Disappointed

    I was so excited to read this book. I loved Devil in the White City. But this book was a bore. You actually felt bad for Crippen. And the Marconi sections couldn't have been more dull. Unless you really want to tackle this book, pass on it.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2007

    Rushed to print

    Compared to 'Devil and the White City' this book was very disappointing. Written following the model of 'Devil' Larsen developed two themes,the story of a doctor who brutally kills his wife and the invention of the wireless communication by Marconi. Unfortunately, the book lacks the extensive research needed to create the depth of character and environment so masterfully done in 'Devil'. Chapters end abruptly and story threads dangle. It seemed that Larsen was trying to capitalize on his 'Devil' success and rushed this one to print. I'm sorry I bought the hardcover and do not recommend it.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2011

    A bit boring.

    Not nearly as good as White City. Interesting info about Marconi etc. but the story itself is rather boring. Just my opinion.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2011

    Great Book but not Larson's best

    I still think that Devil in the White City is Larson's best book to date. This book mimics the style of DitWC but is not nearly as strong a story to tell. Still a so-so book by Erik Larson is a lot better than much of what is out there. I recommend Isaac's Storm and Lethal Passage as books by Larson that I enjoyed more than this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Fascinating read!

    History with a mystery! Highly recommend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2011

    Not near as good as Devil in the White City.

    I found the story disjointed. Larson would move from Marconi to Crippen and back without any cohesion. The time frames kept changing back and forth: 1904, 1910, 1903. Not sure if Larson or the editors are at fault here. I think there are two books in here: one on Marconi's wireless with the scientific backbiting and a second story about Crippen, Belle and the New Scotland Yard. It took awhile to figure out relation of title to wireless telegraphy. I read the whole book expecting to read about Marconi's experiments in Atlantic Highlands,NJ at the Twin Lights Lighthouse but there was no mention of it. It was disappointing. I should have borrowed this from the library and saved my money.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2007

    Not his best

    I was a bit disappointed--perhaps my expectations were a bit high after reading Devil and Storm. I ,too, found the story of Marconi a bit tedious, and Dr. Crippen a hopelessly boring character whose actions, though heinous, weren't all that hard to fathom. It's a 'I wish I waited for the paperback.'

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2014

    Not Devil in the White City

    Boring and tedious compared to his other works. The Marconi portions of the book ruined an otherwise interesting story. I'd pass on this book if I could do it over again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Ok not the best

    Not the best

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Fascinating story. Everyone knows that Marconi "invented" the wireless, but the actual account is much more interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 20, 2011

    Another Larson great!

    Another dual storyline tale from Erik Larson. Great read about a the invention of wireless communication and its use in the capture of wanted man for a horrific crime.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2006

    Fasinating but rather tedious

    The parallels between Marconi and Crippen are something only Larsen could dream up. In my opinion, it gets a bit tiresome reading about Marconi's new towers and how mild mannered Dr. Crippen is. When the chase is on at the end the book is worthwhile but it will take patience to wait that long

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2014

    Who I rp

    Sandclan: Cloversun and co. <p> Rainclan: Ryebreeze <p> Tribe of the Flowing Winds: Thunder that Booms Loudly <p> Mynt, formally of Ethreal. She travels to different clans every day. <p> Anywhere else: Teagan, my rping name.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 202 Customer Reviews

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