Thunderstruck Book Summary - Thunderstruck Book explained in key points
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Thunderstruck summary

Erik Larson

One of the Greatest Criminal Chases of All Time

4.4 (33 ratings)
18 mins
Table of Contents

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    Section One: Two Men with Nothing In Common

    How did the invention of a seemingly magical form of communication technology coincide with the flight of an unlikely murderer in the early twentieth century?

    It starts with a love story. Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, already a widower at the age of 30, has the misfortune of being visited by a seductive young woman, Cora Turner. At 17, Cora harbors dreams of big-stage stardom as a singer. But she endures excessive pain on a monthly basis. As a result, she has her ovaries surgically removed leaving the couple forever childless and herself with a massive scar along her belly. This is a crucial detail for later in the story.

    Crippen is a smallish man with slight features. He’d been brought up in Coldwater, Michigan in a family that was well-known and respected. The Crippen family has invested heavily in building a Methodist church and is devoutly religious.

    The medical profession hasn’t always been a lucrative one, but by the time Crippen enters it, doctors have begun to gain respect and social position. In fact, Crippen has been finding his fortune in the world of homeopathy which, at the time, is recognized as a respected form of medicine.

    Eventually, he starts to work for a company that sells “miracle cures.” But, in 1893, a recession slows down his income and prevents his new bride from pursuing her dream of living in New York and becoming a famous stage singer. She refuses to move with Crippen to London and stays in New York. That, paired with her propensity to flirt with other men, causes Crippen a great deal of unhappiness.

    While all this is developing, in another part of the world a 20-year-old man named Guglielmo Marconi has learned of the amazing work of German physicist Heinrich Hertz in transmitting electrical signals wirelessly. What Marconi doesn’t know is that the respected minds of the time aren’t even considering using this for long-distance transmission. That’s understood to be impossible. Had Marconi been told that, he may have left it at that.

    Instead, Marconi dedicates years working on the invention of a long-distance wireless communication device. Thinking his idea is fairly unoriginal and being simultaneously pursued by others, Marconi works at a frantic pace. Not being a scientist, his experimentation is a matter of simply trying everything until something works. His mother is supportive but his father isn’t.

    In the end, Marconi prevails. He packs up his machine and travels with his mother to London. As soon as he gets off the train, the police confiscate his device thinking it might be a bomb. They promptly destroy it.

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    What is Thunderstruck about?

    Thunderstruck (2006) is the true story of two seemingly unrelated people, an inventor and a murderer. Set in Edwardian England, the lives of the men intersect in one of the most suspenseful criminal cases in history.

    Who should read Thunderstruck?

    • History buffs
    • Narrative nonfiction lovers
    • Erik Larson fans

    About the Author

    Erik Larson is the award-winning author of six New York Times best sellers including The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake. His books have collectively sold over nine million copies in more than 20 countries.

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