Intertwining Histories

October 26, 2006 | 1 book mentioned 4

coverErik Larson has followed up his blockbuster book The Devil in the White City with Thunderstruck, another narrative history that ties together a pair of men one “good” and one “bad.” This time he focuses on “the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of wireless technology (Guglielmo Marconi) and the most notorious British murderer since Jack the Ripper (Hawley Crippen), who dispatched his overbearing wife in ways most foul,” according to a profile of Larson in the Seattle PI. In the PI profile Larson says that he didn’t want to do another history with a parallel structure, but in the end he couldn’t help himself.

I found Devil to be an engaging read, but didn’t love it, writing:

Despite, or perhaps because of, Larsen’s ability to craft such a readable story, the book does inspire some raised eyebrows at times. A scan through the notes at the end of the book reveals the times when Larsen speculates about his characters in the absence of hard facts. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this practice, these moments in the book tend to feel transparent. Likewise, the structure of the book is a bit flimsy as the three characters within share little but being in the same city during the same period of time, and the strenuous effort put forth by Larsen to connect these three characters tends to detract from the stories themselves, as each character is certainly worthy of his own book (even the poor, bewildered Prendergast). Despite these flaws, the book was still a delight to read.

It sounds like Thunderstruck will be a book with similar strengths and weaknesses, but undoubtedly an engaging read.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. The early reviews are suggesting that this book quite literally is Larson's Devil transposed onto another set of characters and places. I'm not sure such obvious (and by default, repetetive) writing deserves reading time.

  2. Hi Max, I commented on your post over at my blog and intitally misrepresented it. Sorry! That's now fixed.

    Anyway, I am just dubious enough to wait for one of my book fall-people to tell me whether they like it or not.

  3. I'm actually fairly dubious too. I thought Devil in the White City was entertaining but had a number of failings. I suspect that Thunderstruck will have the same drawbacks but will be a nice quick read nonetheless.

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