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Thunderstruck
 
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Thunderstruck [Format Kindle]

Erik Larson

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Descriptions du produit

Extrait

Chapter 1

Ghosts and Gunfire Distraction

In the ardently held view of one camp, the story had its rightful beginning on the night of June 4, 1894, at 21 Albemarle Street, London, the address of the Royal Institution. Though one of Britain’s most august scientific bodies, it occupied a building of modest proportion, only three floors. The false columns affixed to its facade were an afterthought, meant to impart a little grandeur. It housed a lecture hall, a laboratory, living quarters, and a bar where members could gather to discuss the latest scientific advances.
Inside the hall, a physicist of great renown readied himself to deliver the evening’s presentation. He hoped to startle his audience, certainly, but otherwise he had no inkling that this lecture would prove the most important of his life and a source of conflict for decades to come. His name was Oliver Lodge, and really the outcome was his own fault— another manifestation of what even he acknowledged to be a fundamental flaw in how he approached his work. In the moments remaining before his talk, he made one last check of an array of electrical apparatus positioned on a demonstration table, some of it familiar, most unlike anything seen before in this hall.
Outside on Albemarle Street the police confronted their usual traffic problem. Scores of carriages crowded the street and gave it the look of a great black seam of coal. While the air in the surrounding neighborhood of Mayfair was scented with lime and the rich cloying sweetness of hothouse flowers, here the street stank of urine and manure, despite the efforts of the young, red-shirted “street orderlies” who moved among the horses collecting ill-timed deposits. Officers of the Metropolitan Police directed drivers to be quick about exiting the street once their passengers had departed. The men wore black, the women gowns.
Established in 1799 for the “diffusion of knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction of useful mechanical improvements,” the Royal Institution had been the scene of great discoveries. Within its laboratories Humphry Davy had found sodium and potassium and devised the miner’s safety lamp, and Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, the phenomenon whereby electricity running through one circuit induces a current in another. The institution’s lectures, the “Friday Evening Discourses,” became so popular, the traffic outside so chaotic, that London officials were forced to turn Albemarle into London’s first one-way street.
Lodge was a professor of physics at the new University College of Liverpool, where his laboratory was housed in a space that once had been the padded cell of a lunatic asylum. At first glance he seemed the embodiment of established British science. He wore a heavy beard misted with gray, and his head—“the great head,” as a friend put it—was eggshell bald to a point just above his ears, where his hair swept back into a tangle of curls. He stood six feet three inches tall and weighed about 210 pounds. A young woman once reported that the experience of dancing with Lodge had been akin to dancing with the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Though considered a kind man, in his youth Lodge had exhibited a cruel vein that, as he grew older, caused him regret and astonishment. While a student at a small school, Combs Rectory, he had formed a club, the Combs Rectory Birds’ Nest Destroying Society, whose members hunted nests and ransacked them, smashing eggs and killing fledglings, then firing at the parent birds with slingshots. Lodge recalled once beating a dog with a toy whip but dismissed this incident as an artifact of childhood cruelty. “Whatever faults I may have,” he wrote in his memoir, “cruelty is not one of them; it is the one thing that is utterly repugnant.”
Lodge had come of age during a time when scientists began to coax from the mists a host of previously invisible phenomena, particularly in the realm of electricity and magnetism. He recalled how lectures at the Royal Institution would set his imagination alight. “I have walked back through the streets of London, or across Fitzroy Square, with a sense of unreality in everything around, an opening up of deep things in the universe, which put all ordinary objects of sense into the shade, so that the square and its railings, the houses, the carts, and the people, seemed like shadowy unrealities, phantasmal appearances, partly screening, but partly permeated by, the mental and spiritual reality behind.”
The Royal Institution became for Lodge “a sort of sacred place,” he wrote, “where pure science was enthroned to be worshipped for its own sake.” He believed the finest science was theoretical science, and he scorned what he and other like-minded scientists called “practicians,” the new heathen, inventors and engineers and tinkerers who eschewed theoretical research for blind experimentation and whose motive was commercial gain. Lodge once described the patent process as “inappropriate and repulsive.”
As his career advanced, he too was asked to deliver Friday Evening Discourses, and he reveled in the opportunity to put nature’s secrets on display. When a scientific breakthrough occurred, he tried to be first to bring it to public notice, a pattern he had begun as early as 1877, when he acquired one of the first phonographs and brought it to England for a public demonstration, but his infatuation with the new had a corollary effect: a vulnerability to distraction. He exhibited a lofty dilettantism that late in life he acknowledged had been a fatal flaw. “As it is,” he wrote, “I have taken an interest in many subjects, and spread myself over a considerable range—a procedure which, I suppose, has been good for my education, though not so prolific of results.” Whenever his scientific research threatened to lead to a breakthrough, he wrote, “I became afflicted with a kind of excitement which caused me to pause and not pursue that path to the luminous end. . . . It is an odd feeling, and has been the cause of my not clinching many subjects, not following up the path on which I had set my feet.”
To the dismay of peers, one of his greatest distractions was the world of the supernatural. He was a member of the Society for Psychical  Research, established in 1882 by a group of level-headed souls, mostly scientists and philosophers, to bring scientific scrutiny to ghosts, séances, telepathy, and other paranormal events, or as the society stated in each issue of its Journal, “to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit, those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis.” The society’s constitution stated that membership did not imply belief in “physical forces other than those recognized by Physical Science.” That the SPR had a Committee on Haunted Houses deterred no one. Its membership expanded quickly to include sixty university dons and some of the brightest lights of the era, among them John Ruskin, H. G. Wells, William E. Gladstone, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), and the Rev. C. L. Dodgson (with the equally prominent pen name Lewis Carroll). The roster also listed Arthur Balfour, a future prime minister of England, and William James, a pioneer in psychology, who by the summer of 1894 had been named the society’s president.
It was Lodge’s inquisitiveness, not a belief in ghosts, that first drove him to become a member of the SPR. The occult was for him just one more invisible realm worthy of exploration, the outermost province of the emerging science of psychology. The unveiling during Lodge’s life of so many hitherto unimagined physical phenomena, among them Heinrich Hertz’s discovery of electromagnetic waves, suggested to him that the world of the mind must harbor secrets of its own. The fact that waves could travel through the ether seemed to confirm the existence of another plane of reality. If one could send electromagnetic waves through the ether, was it such an outrageous next step to suppose that the spiritual essence of human beings, an electromagnetic soul, might also exist within the ether and thus explain the hauntings and spirit rappings that had become such a fixture of common legend? Reports of ghosts inhabiting country houses, poltergeists rattling abbeys, spirits knocking on tables during séances—all these in the eyes of Lodge and fellow members of the society seemed as worthy of dispassionate analysis as the invisible travels of an electromagnetic wave.
Within a few years of his joining the SPR, however, events challenged Lodge’s ability to maintain his scientific remove. In Boston William James began hearing from his own family about a certain “Mrs. Piper”—Lenore Piper—a medium who was gaining notoriety for possessing strange powers. Intending to expose her as a fraud, James arranged a sitting and found himself enthralled. He suggested that the society invite Mrs. Piper to England for a series of experiments. She and her two daughters sailed to Liverpool in November 1889 and then traveled to Cambridge, where a sequence of sittings took place under the close observation of SPR members. Lodge arranged a sitting of his own and suddenly found himself listening to his dead aunt Anne, a beloved woman of lively intellect who had abetted his drive to become a scientist against the wishes of his father. She once had told Lodge that after her death she would come back to visit if she could, and now, in a voice he remembered, she reminded him of that promise. “This,” he wrote, “was an unusual thing to happen.”
To Lodge, the encounter seemed proof that some part of the human mind persisted even after death. It left him, he wrote, “thoroughly convinced not only of human survival, but of the power to ...

From Publishers Weekly

Larson's new suspense-spiked history links Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy, with Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered homeopathic doctor in turn-of-the-century London. While Larson tells their stories side by side, most listeners will struggle to find a reason for connecting the two men other than that both lived around the same time and that Goldwyn's plummy voice narrates their lives. Only on the final disc does the logic behind the intertwining of the stories become apparent and the tale gain speed. At this point, the chief inspector of Scotland Yard sets out after Crippen on a transatlantic chase, spurred by the suspicion that he committed a gruesome murder. Larson's account of the iconoclastic Marconi's quest to prove his new technology is less than engaging and Crippen's life before the manhunt was tame. Without a very compelling cast to entertain during Larson's slow, careful buildup, many listeners may not make it to the breathless final third of the book when it finally come alive.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1052 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 658 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0739326767
  • Editeur : Transworld Digital (31 octobre 2010)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0045U9PDO
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°121.551 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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Amazon.com: 3.9 étoiles sur 5  430 commentaires
396 internautes sur 411 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Mysterious and spellbinding 24 octobre 2006
Par Robert Busko - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I so enjoyed The Devil in the White City, a book I read without any awareness of its historical importance. I've waited with aniticpation Larson's next book, but this time I came to it with some expectation. Thunderstruck doesn't disappoint.

If you're looking for a quick and unsubstantial book, Thunderstruct isn't for you. I can even anticipate that some reviewers will nail Larson for the incredible amount of detail he provides, especially in those chapters dealing with Marconi. However, this is Larson's manner and in the end you're glad he provided the indepth treatment.

Thunderstruck, like The Devil in the While City, tells two stories that are inevitably intertwined. First, is Guglielmo Marconi's search for "wireless" telecommunication. Marconi wasn't a scientist. He simply had an idea. With his rudimentary understanding of electromagnetism he believed it possible to communicate over long distances without wires. He was a plodder in the best traditions of Edison. He was, of course successful.

The second story deals with Dr. H. H. Crippen and the murder of his wife, Belle. Demanding, apparently unfaithful (though the Dr. appears to have gotten around a bit), and used to spending large sums of money they couldn't afford, Belle was a weight around Crippens neck. Along with his innocent lover and secretary, Ethel, he flees but is ultimately thwarted by Marconi's invention and a crackerjack Scotland Yard detective. The trans-Atlantic chase, reported via "wireless" communication kept the world's attention. Indeed, the only two people who didn't know they were being chased were the lovers.

Written in Larson's uncompromising style using original sources, Thunderstruck is a wonderful vision into the early years of the twentieth century when technology promised a new world. The story is engaging, well written, organized. Larson is a master storyteller.

Read the book. You'll love it.
139 internautes sur 146 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 history even better than mystery 25 octobre 2006
Par John C. Wiegard - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This is two stories in one. The story of how Marconi struggled to popularize and refine radio technology by trial and error is fascinating, and the story of how mild mannered Harley Crippen became a famous criminal is nearly as interesting, and then the stories merge in a weird but memorable way. And every bit of it is true.

I have to say that Larson puts it all together beautifully. He feeds you the perfect detail at the right time. It's not so much a true crime tale as it is a tale of human nature. It has a certain inevitability without ever boring you. I bet this one will spend a long time on the bestseller list, just like Devil in the White City (his previous book) did.
140 internautes sur 160 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 50% fabulous, 50% boring 11 février 2007
Par Melissa Niksic - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
I enjoyed half of "Thunderstruck," but the other half of the book was a real dud.

Erik Larson is one of several popular authors whose books always follow the same basic formula. In Larson's case, his books are divided into two separate plots that focus on different characters whose lives ultimately collide in an unexpected way. Also, half of Larson's book generally involve a very detailed process of some sort, while the other half revolves around a crime. When I read "The Devil in the White City," I enjoyed reading all the meticulous details about the planning and architecture of Chicago's World's Fair. However, I don't have a strong interest in science, so the entire portion of "Thunderstruck" devoted to Marconi's development of wireless communication was incredibly dull to me. I'm sure science buffs will find it much more enjoyable, but I thought that pages and pages devoted to things like the types of metals Marconi used to build antennas were incredibly dry and tedious.

However, I really enjoyed the portion of "Thunderstruck" that revolved around the Crippen murder. Those chapters were much more intriguing than the Marconi parts, and I thought Larson did an excellent job of setting up the story. Also, I enjoyed the final chapters of the book where the Marconi/Crippen stories finally overlap. This book is based on actual events that I didn't know much about, and I'm eager to learn more about the Crippen case. (I won't be doing more research on Marconi, though...I'll leave that to the science students out there.)

Overall, Larson is a pretty good storyteller. However, I personally only enjoyed about 50% of this book. I doubt most people will really get into the Marconi chapters unless they have a strong interest in the history and development of scientific processes.
39 internautes sur 43 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Devilishly Good Read! 29 octobre 2006
Par Peter Thomas Senese - Author. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I am a big fan of the historical thriller, and have tendency to take my time enjoyably absorbing true information and fact presented in good fiction writing. I am of the opinion that the task of a fiction writer to educate and entertain is more difficult than a non-fiction writer. This said, `Thunderstruck' by Erik Larson was a complete read that left me fully satiated on all levels: Larson's writing style was easy and absorbing; the character development, particularly of Guglielmo Marconi (inventor or wireless telecommunication technology) and Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen (The "North London Cellar Murderer") entertaining, consistent, and engaging; the use of historical data and fact to drive the story and remarkably make a story that occurred nearly a century ago relevant and current to today's world, superbly and interestingly executed; and finally, a plot of two that meet head on and merge into one fascinating spin: Marconi's `throw it at the wall' attempt and success to create a wireless communication system, and a murderer attempting to flee England to Canada after killing his treacherous wife who unknowingly has the entire world following his escapades of escape due to Marconi's newly created technology!

Very rare is it that two working plots in past historical fiction can run concurrently with a sense of edge of interests that they do not take away from each other or the story as a whole. Historical dual-plot prose' have been the death of many books. Erik Larson's 'Thunderstruck' is one of those rare exemplary stories executed with a forceful yet delicate balance of writing style that demonstrates why, if done right, dual-thematic historical fiction writing can produce stellar fiction. Larson's `Thunderstruck' is a must read for readers interested in technology discoveries, thrillers, and simply put, good storytelling. Sit back and enjoy this devilishly clever read, and journey back a century ago to a time where cutting edge technology would result in the scientific and thus, customs and norms of society today!
22 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thunderstruck 2 novembre 2006
Par Little Miss - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Erik Larson has not just struck thunder here, he has struck gold. This is a beautifully written piece of historical literature. Essentially it's two stories in one, but far from being a distraction it merely left me feeling as if I had purchased two books for the price of one. And two very good books at that! One story is following the life of Guglielmo Marconi (that fellow who invented the wireless no less) while the other is on a totally different plane following the story of the infamous Dr Crippen as he tries to flee old England for a new life in Canada after the murder of his wife.

I've never before come across a book that intertwines two so different stories into one novel. Mixing fact with fiction as well adds even further flavour to what is already an extremely satisfying dessert. There were so many occasions when reading this book that I found myself open mouthed, or shaking my head at just how clever it all is. This is not the sort of book that normally appeals to me, and in fact I'm not sure there are too many of its kind around, but if you're looking to try something new and original then Erik Larson's Thunderstruck could just leave you.... dumbstruck. I can't praise this highly enough, except to say that if I could give a book six stars it would be this one.
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