Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Guglielmo Marconi was not a physicist, but he won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Hawley Crippen was a kind, generous doctor who murdered his wife. These men lived at the same time, and both had unlikely fame. Marconi as a teenager was intrigued by the work of others in the field of wireless communication. He doggedly pursued a variety of techniques and firmly believed that wireless communication across the Atlantic was possible. His methods were strictly trial and error, with a fair amount of intuition thrown in. Obsessed with his work, Marconi left a trail of betrayed mentors and ignored family members. And it's easy to see why. As with all great inventions, his was an attempt to accomplish something previously considered to be impossible. The most interesting section is the one in which events prove that Marconi should have left some things to the professionals, such as the design of the structures on which he mounted his huge antennae on opposite coasts of the Atlantic. Crippen's parallel tale is more of a snoozer, and I kept thinking, "Let's get back to Marconi." The culmination is that Marconi's invention helps not only in the rescue of the Titanic's survivors but also in the miraculous capture of an unsuspecting criminal.

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