Review Thunderstruck by Erik Larson, Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing/Random House 2006, 399 pages
MOTIVATION FOR READING: I bought this for my Dad for Christmas and got it back after he and Mom read it. I enjoy nonfiction. And I do believe I can count this for the Science Challenge: Inventions, Telegraphy, Forensics. It’s not all that heavy – ok, it’s very light, in fact – on technology jargon. Still, I don’t think I followed much of the explanations of Marconi’s work. Honestly, he just seemed to succeed by trial and error and didn’t really care about the HOW and WHY his invention worked. He was just damned persistent that it WOULD work.
WHAT IT’s ABOUT: A tale of murder and how technology was applied specifically to the capture of the murderer. Rather, how this one event unexpectedly highlighted how useful this technology was going to be. I get the idea that it is the author’s original idea to link these events. Larson goes back and forth between the lives of the murder victim and the murderer and how Marconi figures out how to send wireless telegrams, eventually providing a play by play of how the murderer was arrested in as the world discovers how exciting this wireless stuff can be for real-time communication over many miles and across the ocean.
WHAT’s GOOD: My favorite part of history written almost in novel form, fast-paced and action-packed, is that THIS REALLY HAPPENED! I love when history comes alive. As they say, “you can’t make this stuff up.” The murder and the circumstances are bizarre and still begs the question of HOW did this guy manage this crime? Larson does an amazing job of including documented conversations and filling in the gaps with interesting narrative. I also enjoy reading through the bibliography; Larson includes anecdotes that didn’t make the text but are still interesting.
WHAT’s NOT so GOOD: On the other hand, I didn’t like the jump in time frames. It is easy to get caught up and then get lost in what happened when. The crime sections cover a shorter time frame than the wireless technology development so on one story line we jump months and in the other one we jump years.
I also found myself in serious dislike of Marconi and how he treated his wife which unfortunately had me thinking negatively about the whole book at times. I read this on the flight back from Phoenix and I kept interrupting my husband’s reading (of fishing magazines) to tell him how much I didn’t like Marconi. He kept asking me, “So, what?” We also got into a disagreement about the museum or Historical Site or whatever it is on Cape Cod, so now we have to go check that out so I can prove I’m right.
FINAL THOUGHTs: I enjoyed this book but I think I had too high of expectations for it. Three pieces of pie. I’m still looking forward to reading another Larson book, The Devil in the White City.