Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
In classic Erik Larson style, Thunderstruck is told through parallel lives and events. In this case, more so than in The Devil in the White City, it's not immediately evident how the elements will come to intertwine.
Guglielmo Marconi (below) was smart, contributed to society in the end, blah, blah, blah, but he was also kind of a jerk (that's my opinion, not expressly stated in the book). Larson chalks it up to a lack of social skills, which may be true, but it doesn't mean I have to forgive him for it.
It would still be a few more decades before Robert Merton would outline his "norms" of modern science, but in the face of a spiritualism frenzy, "real" scientists were trying to distinguish the components of, well, "good" science. Marconi (an entrepreneur, more so than he was a scientist, which he, ironically, noted in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics) was not on board with key components of this like communality and letting skeptics in on the experiments.
On the other side of town (or the ocean, depending on the day), our second story line involves a homeopath, an aspiring actress/singer (lacking in the skill department - think American Idol outtakes), and, of course, a mistress.
If Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen were a woman and/or late 19th-century jurists had access to the Law & Order franchise, we might think his was a case of battered wife syndrome (in these PC days, "battered person syndrome"). I feel like just looking at the pictures of Crippen (above) and his wife, Corrine "Cora" Turner/Belle Elmore (below) you might get a sense of what a truly terrible match theirs was.
The details of how this all plays out are intriguing, and involve plenty of deceit, betrayal and a dash of 19th century detectivery and forensic science.
Skipping ahead, the story lines converge when Dr. Crippen and his mistress, Ethel Le Neve (below), take to the seas- in this instance, dressed as father and son. (Le Neve really should have seen bad things coming at this point, being asked by your lover to dress as a little boy should always be a deal-breaker!)
Without giving away too much, the SS Montrose essentially becomes the "white Bronco" of this whole affair, and (here comes the Marconi tie in), thanks to the advances in science, this was basically the first instance of live tweeting the hunt for a murderer on the run. The public appetite for this type of thing, it would seem, has always been high- so this was pretty much the best publicity Marconi could have ever hoped for.
I would give this more stars if it weren't Larson, who I know can (and does) do better. It's worth reading, I just wouldn't put it up there with his more recent books.
Bonus Archer reference:
"Thanks Guglielmo Marconi...who I think invented the radio."