Sunday, October 07, 2007

She keeps nagging at ya night and day, enough to drive ya nuts

In The Devil In White City, Erik Larson told the story of a brutal serial killer living amongst the splendor of the World's Columbian Exhibition. In Thunderstruck, Larson uses the same template, telling the tale of Marconi's development of an usable radio system counterposed with the story of the murderer Dr. Crippen. While the stories are considerably more related in this book than in Devil in White City, they themselves are a bit less compelling overall.

The story of Marconi's radio is like that of a dot-com engineer/entrepreneur. Equipped with great intelligence and daring, but limited social skills, Marconi ignored prevailing scientific theory and tinkered with radio until he got it to work. Having gained fame and fortune he then attempted something even more difficult, the transmission of radio across the Atlantic. Most of his story is centered on this, and while it is well told, Larson struggles a bit with keeping the story going over the number of pages he gives it.

I found the Crippen story to be a bit dry, especially when compared to the gruesome tales in Devil. Essentially it is the story of a unhappily married couple, with a bad end. Again, Larson is a skilled writer who gives excellent detail about life in Edwardian England and the social circumstances in which the Crippens lived. I found myself anxious for the action to begin in this story.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I am hesitant to recommend it. It is so similar in organization and theme to Devil, that if you have that book, it is likely to disappoint and if you haven't, I would steer you to the prior book. If you like Larson's engaging story telling style and you have an interest, but not a specialization, in Edwardian England, then it may be right for you.

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