Erik Larson makes me glad that I don’t live in Victorian or Edwardian times, no matter how cunning the hats of the time were. The fact that the hats were even necessary speaks for itself, I suppose.
I think everyone in the world read Devil in the White City, so you don’t need an explanation for that, but this is basically the same concept: technological marvel meets grisly murder in a compelling combination that for me, personally, is a page turner. This book tells about the marvel of wireless technology in its early days through the personal story of Marconi, alongside the exploits and personal story of the murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen. If you’ve never heard of Crippen, that’s probably a good thing, because you won’t be disappointed by his grisliness. I had been led to believe by Lord Peter Wimsey that Crippen was much ghastlier than he turned out to be. Oh well, it was still pretty disgusting.
I saw some low star reviews on Amazon that said the story was dry and boring with too much set up and not enough story telling. This is true, as far as it goes, but for many among us, the dry and boring set up is actually more interesting than the novelistic elements. I borrowed the book from my dad who found the audio book fascinating but too packed with names and dates to really follow the historical elements properly. I can see that, though I only can follow Victorian melodramatic novels (British, American, or Russian) in audio book format so that I have a clue who is who based on the narrator’s voices for the characters.
I haven’t quite finished this yet, but I love New Yorker medical writers, and so there’s no way that I couldn’t read all of Atul Gawande’s books at some point or other. Whether or not you have any interest in reading this book, if you have any vile human curiosity or voyeuristic tendencies (and what sane person doesn’t?) you’ll drop everything and instantly read Gawande’s piece in the New Yorker about itching. This article is so good that Mike and I had one of our first married person’s quarrels about my reading pieces of it out loud to him.
What the theme of Better seems to be is how to be a “positive deviant”– to do the right thing even when it’s hard and few others are doing it. This is something that I heartily recommend myself, and frankly seems like an excellent talking point to bring to say, a job interview or college admissions essay. You can thank me later.