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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 [Paperback]

Simon Winchester
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (326 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 5, 2005 0060838590 978-0060838591 1st Harper Perennial Ed. Publ. 2005

Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, examines the legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa, which was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogotá and Washington, D.C., went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of the island's destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. Most significant of all -- in view of today's new political climate -- the eruption helped to trigger in Java a wave of murderous anti-Western militancy among fundamentalist Muslims, one of the first outbreaks of Islamic-inspired killings anywhere. Krakatoa gives us an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 + A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 + The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology
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Editorial Reviews Review

It may seem a stretch to connect a volcanic eruption with civil and religious unrest in Indonesia today, but Simon Winchester makes a compelling case. Krakatoa tells the frightening tale of the biggest volcanic eruption in history using a blend of gentle geology and narrative history. Krakatoa erupted at a time when technologies like the telegraph were becoming commonplace and Asian trade routes were being expanded by northern European companies. This bustling colonial backdrop provides an effective canvas for the suspense leading up to August 27th, 1883, when the nearby island of Krakatoa would violently vaporize. Winchester describes the eruption through the eyes of its survivors, and readers will be as horrified and mesmerized as eyewitnesses were as the death toll reached nearly 40,000 (almost all of whom died from tsunamis generated by the unimaginably strong shock waves of the eruption). Ships were thrown miles inshore, endless rains of hot ash engulfed those towns not drowned by 100 foot waves, and vast rafts of pumice clogged the hot sea. The explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and the eruption's shock wave traveled around the world seven times. But the book's biggest surprise is not the riveting catalog of the volcano's effects; rather, it is Winchester's contention that the Dutch abandonment of their Indonesian colonies after the disaster left local survivors to seek comfort in radical Islam, setting the stage for a volatile future for the region. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An erudite, fascinating account by one of the foremost purveyors of contemporary nonfiction, this book chronicles the underlying causes, utter devastation and lasting effects of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of the volcano island Krakatoa in what is now Indonesia. Winchester (The Professor and the Madman; The Map That Changed the World) once again demonstrates a keen knack for balancing rich and often rigorous historical detail with dramatic tension and storytelling. Rather than start with brimstone images of the fateful event itself, Winchester takes a broader approach, beginning with his own viewing of the now peaceful remains of the mountain for a second time in a span of 25 years-and being awed by how much it had grown in that time. This nod to the earth's ceaseless rejuvenation informs the entire project, and Winchester uses the first half of the text to carefully explain the discovery and methods of such geological theories as continental drift and plate tectonics. In this way, the vivid descriptions of Krakatoa's destruction that follow will resonate more completely with readers, who will come to appreciate the awesome powers that were churning beneath the surface before it gave way. And while Winchester graphically illustrates, through eyewitness reports and extant data, the human tragedy and captivating scientific aftershocks of the explosion, he is also clearly intrigued with how it was "a demonstration of the utterly confident way that the world, however badly it has been wounded, picks itself up, continues to unfold its magic and its marvels, and sets itself back on its endless trail of evolutionary progress yet again." His investigations have produced a work that is relevant to scholars and intriguing to others, who will relish it footnotes and all.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st Harper Perennial Ed. Publ. 2005 edition (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060838590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060838591
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (326 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford and has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. Simon Winchester's many books include The Professor and the Madman ; The Map that Changed the World ; Krakatoa; and A Crack in the Edge of the World. Each of these have both been New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. Mr. Winchester was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by HM The Queen in 2006. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
165 of 178 people found the following review helpful
By late summer of this year, 120 years will have passed since the greatest natural disaster to occur on this planet since mankind began recording history some 30,000 years ago.
It was exactly 10:02 a.m. on Monday, August 27, 1883 when the small volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra blew itself out of existence with an explosion that was heard thousands of miles away and that resulted in the deaths of over 36,000 people. That eruption is believed to be the loudest sound ever heard by human ears.
As Simon Winchester points out in this latest of his detailed historical-scientific investigative books, the vast majority of those 36,417 victims were killed not by the explosion itself, but by the enormous tsunami it created. This moving mountain of seawater wiped out whole towns; devastated the social and economic life of a region measured in thousands of miles; and was recorded on tide gauges as far away as France.
Winchester specializes in detailed accounts that shine light into odd or forgotten corners of history. His two most recent successful efforts in that genre were THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD and THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN. Now he has crafted a vividly written book of 400-plus pages about an event that was over in a matter of hours. KRAKATOA is certainly full of digressions that have only tangential relevance to its main subject --- but those digressions are so well researched, beautifully written and just plain interesting that they become assets rather than liabilities. The reader does not really object to the fact that the eruption doesn't begin until past the halfway point in Winchester's text.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
A few volcanoes have had larger eruptions. One volcano -- also located in what is present-day Indonesia -- killed more people. But no volcano has gripped the public's imagination all over the world like Krakatoa.
Simon Winchester explains that this was as much a matter of timing as it had to do with the deadly power of Krakatoa's eruption. When it exploded in 1883, the world had just been linked together by underwater cables over the previous two decades. News readers in the West were thus linked to events in the East with an immediacy they never had before.
All around the world, scientists of the time were able to use this information when measuring and observing certain phenomenon in their own localities. As Winchester points out, this was significant, marking the first time that scientists had proof of the interconnectedness of the world, that the globe was not just a hodgepodge of separate regions.
As some reviewers have already mentioned, perhaps the most remarkable part of the book is the chapter called "Close Encounters on the Wallace Line". Here Winchester shows how Alfred Russel Wallace's observation of distinct fauna on the Indonesian Archipelago, narrowly separated by the eponymous line that splits through the middle of the group of islands, in a way foretold the twentieth century discovery of continental plates and subduction -- the processes responsible for the volcano's terrible eruption. (Wallace himself seems to have had an intuition that geological processes were responsible for two such different groups of animals being clustered together.)
After Winchester gives this context, he then moves on to the actual eruption of Krakatoa.
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60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING PAGE TURNER...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED April 22, 2003
By Noah
At first glance Simon Winchester's true account of this absolutely catastrophic (surely an understatement) volcanic event of the late 1800s appears to be structured a bit like a text book with carefully chosen and interesting illustrations and maps...but after you are a few chapters into the book his rich narrative begins to grab you and won't let go! The compelling details of this infamous chapter in history (which claimed 40,000 lives mostly from tsunamis following the eruption) is fascinating enough. Even more interesting though are the correlations which Winchester examines between these events and the Dutch abandonment of the region resulting in the civil and religious unrest still existing today.
A surprisingly good read, carefully researched and full of rich historical details and illustrations. You'll want to spend at least a few evenings travelling to the South Seas for a real adventure in historical Krakatoa.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I agree with the others November 4, 2005
Very interesting topic, good narrative about the eruption itself, but WAY too much background information (sometimes seemed to be a stream of consciousness) and very Euro-centric in viewpoint. I thought the meteorlogical background and coverage was excellent and really added to my understanding of this event, but he went WAY overboard in his discussions of plate tectonics and Darwinian theory. There were literally CHAPTERS of that stuff that I eventually just skipped over. His discussion of the actual eruption and its precursors and successors was excellent, although he was prone to throw out firm platitudes with very little support.

If you like accounts of disasters, "Ship Ablaze" (General Slocum fire), "Dark Tide" (Boston Molasses Flood) and "Cherry Mine Disaster" (Cherry, IL mine fire) were much better than this one (especially the first two).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
very in-depth and lengthy
Published 2 days ago by David G Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved every moment of the detail and the story
An outstanding book, well researched and written. I loved every moment of the detail and the story. Simon Winchester is an absolute master. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Merle Friedman
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not Simon Winchester's best book !
Published 7 days ago by Leanne Wynne
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic and fascinating
Simon Winchester's Krakatoa is well-researched, well-written, and a gripping read. Anyone who is interested in Krakatoa or natural disasters in general would enjoy this book. Read more
Published 19 days ago by sunburst
5.0 out of 5 stars Oustanding writing
"Krakatoa" was a truly world-shaking event on many levels. Simon Winchester is one of the most readable writers of his generation and well qualified to present this story. Read more
Published 21 days ago by garys
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a story of a Volcano
This is the most interesting book I have had the pleasure to read about the Island of Krakatoa and it's destruction. Tell the story from scientific and human points of view. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars It's OK
Too far off of the actual story, I didn't need all the background information from when the Portuguese and Dutch first settled the island
Published 29 days ago by Frank Perri
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Was expecting to read about colonial Indonesia, but only small parts are about that. Mostly boring semi-scientific stuff. Hard to finish.
Published 1 month ago by Peter Outshoorn
5.0 out of 5 stars Kracking Krakatoa
And another Winchester marvel. Simon Winchester has painstakingly researched this volcanic eruption and tells the story through the eyes of people actually there during that time. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lee Wright
3.0 out of 5 stars Knowledge Trumps Entertainment
This probably should be required reading for a solid high school science curriculum ... it blends a good story with lots of science related to continental drift, volcanology,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
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