Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alpha Beta Thoughts + Review of "Thunderstruck" by Erik Larsen

When I was in college, there were some history professors fully immersed in the Marxist approach of discussing a period through the point of view of the common man. The Howard Zinn approach to history really gets boring once you realize how common and mundane most lives are. It is aggravating if done during a period of big moves by select leaders. The great men and events approach is a more traditional approach. A popular writer who seems to have found a niche for mass appeal is Erik Larsen. His narrative nonfiction book Thunderstruck is a nice exploration of the common man's world blended with events that changed the world by a select few. Thunderstruck focuses on the invention and development of wireless telegraphy by the Italian Marconi and the awful Crippen marriage that ended in murder.

Thunderstruck is in the same mold as "Devil in the White City" by Larsen with some sex, murder, and mystery. Instead of the wild, boom of Chicago World's Fair during America's Gilded Age, Thunderstruck's setting is the late Victorian-Edwardian British Empire. Larsen really dives into that peak power. He even mentions the feeling that things were slipping away from Brits. Larsen can spin a tale to suck you into that world. The atmosphere of the book felt just right while reading it at night. He uses details to his advantage to sound technical and properly read up on the subject but not over the top with dry data or analysis of events. The book is a nice examination of a period undergoing significant change almost weekly. It is also an exploration of that final era of the amateur scientist or inventor. Marconi and Crippen both represent amateurs who could try their hand in medicine or inventing and developing a highly technical system without the need for PhDs. Despite some fits + starts with sham or borderline sham patent medicines, Crippen still put things together to have a decent dental business for years at the end. Marconi was not a scientist and barely had an understanding of theory, but he tinkered and played with the ideas. The world seemed to be more wide open and hold more possibilities.

For readers of the manosphere or roissysphere, this books serves as a spectacular contrast of alpha vs. beta. Marconi is an alpha while Crippen is a beta. Reading between the lines, I would place Marconi somewhere on the Asperger's-autism scale. The author constantly refers to Marconi not reading someone well, being socially obtuse, misunderstanding people or doing weird stuff. Marconi becomes alpha with the riches from his invention as well as his status bump from the prestige of inventing the wireless. He also was social with the ladies, liked high class dining, and had that foreigner appeal that can work to one's advantage (mysterious or exotic). Despite being a newbie, he played it like he was high class and worthy of adoration. Marconi took his soft alpha skills and married them to his hard alpha skills to become quite the catch in England.

Crippen is a classic provider beta. He meets a vivacious woman who is pretty for the 19th century (I don't see her appeal) and full of energy. His physical attraction for her covered for some huge lies she told him and odd mysteries about her life. She also walked all over him, demanded material wealth and refinement while wasting money and rubbing attention and affection from other men in his face. Crippen just took it. His wife, Belle, threatens to leave him, and instead of calling her bluff and potentially turning the tables, he just bowed his head and rolled over. I will admit that he uses the older gentleman, nice guy game on a much younger assistant that he eventually romances. The two men have wildly different paths in life, and some of it just comes right back to what type of guy you are at your core. Marconi was a risk taker with some alpha traits. Crippen played things safe and Mr. Nice Guy.

As far as the murder, recent evidence has emerged that the body found in the basement was NOT Belle. Interesting theories as to what that body might be. My theory is that he did snap and he kill her. He disposed of the body elsewhere as well as burned portions. His panic and flight was caused by a fear that they'd charge him with murder, not knowing that in 1910 that was next to, if not, impossible without a body. Crippen could have played it cool. Instead of being cool, he created worse lies rather than just saying Belle left him, flaunted his girlfriend in public, broke at the wrong moment, and gave into fear. He was a beta balls to bones.

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