In another brilliant coup for historians, Erik Larson combines scholarship with drama to tell the story of how inventor Guglielmo Marconi cemented his success by aiding in the capture of a murder suspect.
Between 1894 and 1910 two men, Marconi and physics professor Oliver Lodge, competed for the right to be called the father of wireless telegraphy. Remarkably, with no scientific credentials, Marconi managed to stay ahead in the race by virtue of a trial-and-error process based on his own instincts. Despite repeated, expensive failures and alienation of his own associates, Marconi demonstrated that ship-to-ship and trans-ocean communication was possible without a network of cables. In 1909 he even won the Nobel Prize despite his admission that he still did not understand how his own invention worked.
Meanwhile, a mild-mannered physician named Hawley Harvey Crippen was building a career of his own in the notorious patent medicine trade. His marriage to a volatile woman with show business ambitions plunged him into a Scotland Yard murder investigation that came to a head in a sensational sea voyage in which the suspect was the only person in the world unaware that he was being pursued.
Larson leaves no stones unturned in his research, showing how such notables as King Edward, Winston Churchill, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Thomas Edison performed on the stage of this singular drama. The climax came two years before Marconi’s science played a significant role in the Titanic disaster.
Because of Larson’s exacting dedication to detail Thunderstruck can be daunting at times. A great many personalities contributed to the development of wireless communication. The author manages to credit each of them his proper place in history without impeding the narrative. If you like your history served with a crackling good murder story, this is the book for you.
Chevron Ross is a novelist. Check out his works at https://chevronross.net/