On My Bookshelf: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

June 20, 2016

The literary nonfiction Thunderstruck by Erik Larson follows Guglielmo Marconi's experimentation with, and invention of, the wireless telegraph. This invention is tested and gains worldwide attention when it leads to the apprehension of two fugitives. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot: There are two major plot lines in the text. One centers around Guglielmo Marconi and his experimentation with, and invention of, the wireless telegraph. The other follows the unhappy marriage of Dr. Crippen and his wife Belle Elmore.

Marconi is in his twenties when he begins to play around with electromagnetic waves, not really understanding the science behind it, much to the anger of other scientists focused on the same discovery. He faces challenges from his competitors as well as setbacks in the development of his invention.

Meanwhile, Dr. Crippen is practicing medicine in a time when homeopathic remedies are popular and science plays little part in doctoring. His wife seeks fame, but does not find it and spends most of her time spending her husband's money. Both husband and wife eventually find other relationships. The two plot lines merge when murder is suspected and the fugitives escape by boat, but cannot escape Marconi's technology.

Why I liked it: I like historical fiction so the writing style in Thunderstruck was right up my alley, non-fiction written as a narrative. I found the conflict of science versus belief in the supernatural interesting. It is crazy to think that a little more than one hundred years ago people's beliefs were so different. The detective work and chase of the murder suspects at the end of the book was fast paced and kept you turning the page (some of the science heavy parts dragged for me).

The literary nonfiction Thunderstruck by Erik Larson follows Guglielmo Marconi's experimentation with, and invention of, the wireless telegraph. This invention is tested and gains worldwide attention when it leads to the apprehension of two fugitives. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
Classroom application: As the Common Core emphasizes literacy across the subject areas (students shouldn't just be reading in their ELA class), this would be a great read for a science class. As one half of the book follows Marconi's invention, you could read with a focus on his chapters, examining how his success relies on experimentation, largely trial and error and sometimes just luck. If you teach physics, your students could analyze the understanding of and misconceptions about electromagnetic waves.

This book could also be utilized in a history classroom as census-like information is given about the settings in the book, primarily London and the areas surrounding it.

Because the text is literary non-fiction, it is also a great text for use in an ELA classroom. You could use it to teach or review both fiction and/or nonfiction skills.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Thunderstruck for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



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