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Publisher's Summary

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. Their 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 crime.

With his superb narrative skills, Erik Larson guides these parallel narratives toward a relentlessly suspenseful meeting on 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.

Thunderstruck presents a vibrant portrait of an era of séances, science, and fog, inhabited by inventors, magicians, and Scotland Yard detectives, all presided over by the amiable and fun-loving Edward VII as the world slid inevitably toward the first great war of the 20th century.

Gripping from the start, and rich with fascinating detail about the time, the people, and the new inventions that connect and divide us, Thunderstruck is splendid narrative history from a master of the form.

©2006 Erik Larson (P)2006 Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Larson has a knack for creating genuine suspense in his writing, and his latest is thoroughly enthralling." (Booklist) "Splendid, beautifully written....Thunderstruck triumphantly resurrects the spirit of another age." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Bob
  • Maryland, USA
  • 12-08-07

Reader cannot read

This book, while not as good as "The devil in the White City", was OK. But the reader, Bob Balaban, Made the book difficult to follow. Mr. Balaban started the book off with a very fast read, finally he settled down to a good pace. But he does not seem to understand what punctuation is. He paused at awkward times, causing me to go back to understand what he was saying. I give the book 3 stars, I give Mr. Balaban 1 star, just for showing up.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Marconi, murder, mix well

I have enjoyed the unabridged audio book version of Thunderstruck read by the actor Bob Balaban, although I couldn't honestly say if it would hold my interest as much in print. Balaban has a pleasant yet oddly flat delivery that does not distract from the narrative. This, the author's second book in which he utilizes the formula of juxtaposition - where two seemingly unrelated bits of history, one sensational, the other pivotal in scientific advancement, find a unifying thread - might just cement Larson into writing solely in this sub-genre of his own device. Since, for me, pure dry facts of history or science tend not to hold my attention for long, I sincerely hope this style blossoms, not only from Larson but from other history scholars hoping to actually make some serious somolians from their long hours of difficult research by squeezing just a tincture of creative pulp into their work. Who says history can't drop a dose of the good stuff and shake its booty once in a while?

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good book, bad reader

The story is interesting -- if you liked Devil in the White City, you'll like this one, too -- but the reader's intonation and pacing are just odd. Clear enough, but declarative sentences are read as though they're questions, and pauses and emphasis come at odd moments.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Annie
  • Chicago, IL, USA
  • 01-18-09

Interesting but no "White City"

Not as good as Devil in the White City, but a similar format following scientist Marconi and contemporary EveryMan-turned-murderer Dr. Crippen. I enjoyed the historical descriptions of the development of wireless communication, including the personal jealousies and enemy-making practices of the scientists/engineers involved. The turn of that century seemed to be a point where the gentleman's scientific pursuit for shared knowledge butted heads with patented technology for commercial gain.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sandra
  • Boise' Idaho United States
  • 12-07-06

Not quite as thrilling

This book isn't quite as thrilling as the Devil in White City because the bad guy wasn't bad, just hen-pecked and the good guy wasn't good. Larson always intertains with science. It is my least favorite of the three he has written but it still is fascinating reading about the beginning of wireless transmission. I can't wait to see what his next juxtaposition will be.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Marconi and the Kindly Doctor

Among Guglielmo Marconi's greatest advantages was that he didn't have too much education. He was home schooled and thus spared the mental set of a university education. Marconi was fascinated with electricity and read everything he could find about the experiments of Michael Faraday and Heinrich Hertz. Supported by his wealthy parents, Marconi applied his intuitive intelligence and dogged determination to develop a seemingly supernatural means of communication. But he needed an event to grab the public's attention.

Erik Larson in his book, "Thunderstruck", describes the evolution of early radio in the context of Edwardian England and a notorious crime. Second only to Jack the Ripper, kindly Dr. Hawley Crippen kills his shrew of a wife and buries parts of her dissected body in their basement. He then escapes with his mistress on a steamer to Canada.

Marconi's new invention is used to pursue the doctor. In the process, the press grabs the public's attention by publishing the details of the crime, the doctor's flight and Marconi's wireless. But Crippen is ignorant of all this since the ship's captain keeps the wireless communications a secret. This book is for the omnivore reader who likes to mix science history with human drama.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Interesting but Larson has done better

Would you try another book from Erik Larson and/or Bob Balaban?

Yes, I love the way Erik Larson often contrasts to simultaneous stories showing an intersection one might not have otherwise recognized. However, I found Bob Balaban's narration to be a bit annoying. He sometimes would talk "up", ending a sentence as if it were a question. Also, it's a pet peeve when people mispronounce the names of places. Slough, UK is pronounced like "Plow" (with the 'gh' at the end silent), not like "Fluff".

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I was really more drawn to the Crippen storyline. I was less interested in how many towers Marconi built and where he built them.

Did Bob Balaban do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

N/A, this was a narration.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

I don't think so. I know the story and don't feel that visuals would add anything.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Richard
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 11-27-09

Reader kills decent book

Well below standards. I like Eric Larson as a writer but Mr. Balaban or the director or both did an injustice to this book...was it lazy or just incompetent? Can't tell. I hung in for half an hour...hoping for improvement...monotonous.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Erik Larson is a National Treasure.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read his previous book "The Devil in the White City", will definitely want to read this book.

Larson has the ability to connect very interesting historical and technical facts to a true-life murder mystery in such a way as to provide an account that you will have difficulty turning away from.

This is a book you will not want to miss.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Passable story related by a terrible reader

I'm a big fan of Bob Balaban. I've never heard his read an audiobook before, but have listened to him in Audible plays and seen much of his TV and film work. So I was painfully disappointed by his clumsy narration.

I re-listened to Devil in the White City earlier this year, and was eager to have a similar experience with another Larson book. But Balaban's rushed reading, his klutzy mispronunciation, as well as ambient noise or echo in the early chapters, ruined the attempt. I made it about 30% in, but I'm going to ask for a refund. Even as the story is concerned, I find myself terribly bored by the Marconi tales and anxious to get back to Dr. Crippen. This particular mash-up feels very strained.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful