Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
In 1910, Edwardian England was scandalized by a murder: a mild-mannered American named Hawley Crippen had killed his wife and buried her remains (well, some of her remains) in the cellar of their North London home. He then went on the run with his young mistress, his secretary, Ethel Le Neve. A Scotland Yard inspector, already famous for his part in the Ripper investigation, discovered the murder and launched an international hunt for Crippen that climaxed in a trans-Atlantic chase between two ocean liners. The chase itself was novel, but what captured the imagination of the world's public was the role played by a new and little understood technology: the wireless, invented by Guglielmo Marconi. Thanks to Marconi's obsessive fight to perfect his invention, the world was able to learn of events occurring in the middle of the Atlantic as they unfolded - something previously unthinkable. Police, jurists, and editors of the time all agreed that if not for Marconi, Crippen would have escaped. But Marconi had struggled to gain acceptance for his invention as a practical technology (many viewed the wireless as a novelty or a supernatural device, while distrust of foreigners remained prevalent in England and America). It was the Crippen case that helped convince the world of the potential of Marconi's miracle technology, so accelerating the wireless revolution that eventually produced radio, television and cell phones. With a cast of colourful, captivating characters Thunderstruck is Larson at his commercial best, doing what he does so irresistibly well: cleverly bringing together two seemingly disparate yet inextricably linked lives to paint a fascinating, exciting portrait of a hugely significant age of cultural, social and technological change while evoking the darker side of human nature.