Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Book Review: Thunderstruck

Ocean travel, emerging media and a salacious murder - three favored themes that have kept me hooked on Thunderstruck since I first laid down cabbage for the hardback. 392 pages later, I'm still glad I did. Why? Because Erik Larson has a knack for exposing the underbelly of history's most seminal moments. He first nailed the formula with Isaac's Storm, then nearly did it again in The Devil in the White City (which I always contended needed a little more Devil and a little less White City). Apparently Larson got my memo, because Thunderstruck is a leaner, meaner weave of global achievement and gutter subterfuge.

The year is 1910 and Guglielmo Marconi's burgeoning wireless technology is anything but a bonafide success. Dogged by rivals, haunted by setbacks and mired in his own self-absorption, the Italian upstart seeks to rule the ether of the Edwardian Age. But despite possessing a technology that strikes many as nothing less than supernatural, Marconi just can't seem to wrangle the imagination of a most fickle public. Enter Dr. Hawley Crippen (and his cross-dressing lover), a most unlikely pair of fugitives whose encounter with a swaggering sea captain and a seemingly magic series of dials and antenna suddenly holds both sides of the Atlantic enthralled. In what could be described as a turn of the century slow speed pursuit, Crippen's capture crystallizes Marconi's strange new invention as a true tool of upheaval, one that could not only send dits and dots across the ocean, but could imprison a killer in thin air.

(3 of 4 Stars.)

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