Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Thunderstruck

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Thunderstruck

by Erik Larson

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 480 pages

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Winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize, Guglielmo Marconi was born in Italy in 1874, the son of an Italian country gentleman and Englishwoman, Annie Jameson. He was intrigued by electrical science from an early age and at just 21 years of age he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. A year later, in 1896, he was granted the world's first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy, and shortly after formed The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Ltd. In 1890 he took out his famous patent No. 7777 for "tuned or syntonic telegraphy". The following year he proved that wireless signals were not effected by the curvature of the earth by transmitting a wireless signal across the Atlantic between Cornwall and Newfoundland - a distance of 2100 miles.

Over the next decade he patented several more inventions, until World War I intervened. In 1914 he was commissioned in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant, later promoted to Captain; then in 1916 he transferred to the Navy in the rank of Commander. In 1919 he represented Italy at the Paris Peace Conference, and was awarded the Italian Military Medal later in the year in recognition of his war service.

During the 1930s he researched the characteristics of even shorter waves, resulting in the opening of the world's first microwave radiotelephone link between the Vatican City and the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in 1932. Two years later he demonstrated a microwave radio beacon for ship navigation, and in 1935 gave a practical demonstration of the principles of radar. He died in 1937.


Hawley Harvey Crippen, better known as Dr Crippin, was born in Coldwater, Michigan, USA and died by hanging in Pentonville Prison in 1910, having been convicted of the murder of his wife.

In 1885 he became a homeopathic doctor and purveyor of patent medicines. In 1900, he moved with Belle, his rather overbearing spouse, to London, England; but his U.S. medical qualifications were inadequate for him to obtain a medical license in the UK, so the couple moved to Holloway, a then low class area of North London where they took in lodgers. In 1910 Belle disappeared; Crippen said she had returned to the USA, but the authorities were suspicious ....

This article is from the October 4, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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