I was blown away by the brilliance of Larson's The Devil in the White City when I listened to it about a year and a half ago, so I knew that Thunderstruck was going to be great, too. Here, Larson tells two fascinating stories that converge at the mother of all low-speed chases (by ship). On the one hand, we learn about Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) and how his uprbinging and education led him to experiments in wireless technology, something that many other scientists and researchers were interested in at the turn of the twentieth century. On the other hand, we learn about the strange, tragic life of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862-1910), a practicioner of homeopathic medicine and later employee at various patent medicine companies.
With his characteristicly deft handling of two competing narratives, Larson guides us through Marconi's early experiments, relocation to England, mentorship, and ultimate success in proving that wireless transmissions could be received from across the Atlantic Ocean. Up until 1902, no one thought it could be done. Meanwhile, Larson explores the unhappy marriage of Crippen and an aspiring music-hall talent named Cora. Over the years, they became increasingly estranged, due to Cora's suspected infidelity and her often violent flare-ups at Crippen, who was himself a mild-mannered, quiet, and supposedly kind man.
The only thing that seems to tie the two men together is the fact that they spend time in England, but soon Larson reveals the important role that wireless transmission played in subsequent events. When Crippen's wife disappeared following an argument, the doctor told friends that Cora had left him to go back to America (where they were both born and raised). Some time before Cora had disappeared, Crippen had been seeing one of the typists at the company he worked for, and when this woman started appearing in public wearing Cora's clothes and jewels, people started asking questions.
Remains ultimately found under the basement floor in Crippen's home were believed to be Cora's, and when Crippen and his mistress fled England, it was the new wireless technology that kept them from dropping off of Scotland Yard's radar.
This review barely scratches the surface of Thunderstruck, so you need to read it/listen to it yourself. It's worth it.