Larson has a great talent for taking an event or a time in history and dissecting it into fascinating bits of information, and then reassembling them into a narrative that is both compelling and informative. A great example is The Devil in the White City in which he details the series of grisly murders which took place in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition. He does a very similar thing with Thunderstruck, in which he recounts two events from history: the scientific discovery and utilization of wireless telegraphy (radio waves), which took place at the turn of the 20th century and the infamous murder known as the “Crippen case,” and shows how inseparably connected those two events were to each other.
In the late 1890s Guglielmo Marconi developed the world’s first device that could transmit signals wirelessly. At first his device was only able to transmit communications from one side of a room to the other, but eventually he was able to develop the technology enough to transmit messages across the Atlantic Ocean, and ultimately around the world. It was a technology that revolutionized the world.
At the same time Marconi was developing radio technology, Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a quiet unassuming man who was married to a loud, overbearing, socialite of a wife, was systematically plotting her death. It was a murder which years later would be the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” and one that Crippen undoubtedly would have gotten away with, if it hadn’t been for Marconi.
I have yet to read a book by Larson that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone without reservation. In a time when we take for granted the ability to communicate with anyone and obtain information from anywhere in the world without effort, it was fascinating to learn the origins of the technology. The fact that its history was tied to one of the most notorious cases of mariticide in British history was an added bonus.
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