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Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World Hardcover – April 27, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


Honorable Mention for the 2014 ASLI Choice Award in History, Atmospheric Science Librarians International
One of The Times Higher Education Supplement’s Books of the Year 2014, chosen by Alison Stokes
One of The Guardian’s Best Popular Physical Science Books of 2014, chosen by GrrlScientist

"This engaging interdisciplinary study links Tambora's disruption of global weather patterns not only to Arctic melting, famine, and cholera but to the landscape paintings of William Turner, the debts that plagued Thomas Jefferson near the end of his life, the elegiac verse of the Chinese poet Li Yuyang, and Mary Shelley's novel 'Frankenstein,' written in 1816, the 'Year without a Summer.' The lessons of Tambora's 'Frankenstein weather'--as Wood is quick to point out--may carry special weight in today's era of climate upheaval."--The New Yorker

"Wood, who intends no hyperbole in his subtitle, makes a convincing case for Tambora's role in causing 'the most catastrophic sustained weather crisis of the millennium.'"--Thomas Jones, London Review of Books

"Persuasively entertaining. . . . If not the first, Mr. Wood's book is by far the best on the subject, and most comprehensive. What Mr. Wood has achieved in Tambora is to uncover, collect, and collate a great deal of new scientific evidence to bolster his case."--Simon Winchester, Wall Street Journal

"The greatest volcanic eruption of modern times occurred in 1815 on the small island of Tambora in the East Indies. It spawned the most extreme weather in thousands of years. In what contemporaries described as the 'year without a summer,' its immense ash cloud encircled and cooled the Earth. While historians have mostly ignored the decades of worldwide misery, starvation, and disease that followed, Wood (The Shock of the Real), professor of English at the University of Illinois, remedies this oversight, combining a scientific introduction to volcanism with a vivid account of the eruption's cultural, political, and economic impact that persisted throughout the century."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Wood broadens our understanding beyond the 'year without a summer' cliché. . . . Wood's command of the scientific literature is impressive, and more than matched by his knowledge of world history during this horrific episode of catastrophic global climate change. With the mass of information he has assimilated, he skillfully weaves a tale full of human and cultural interest . . ."--Ted Nield, Nature

"The book is fluently-written, tightly constructed around a single event and a short time period, filled with interesting anecdotes about both well-known and obscure people, places, and evetns, and connects less-than-obvious dots. . . . [F]ascinating and easy-to-read. . . . Tambora is also interesting as a timely reminder of how interconnected our world is."--Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books

"[Tambora's] portentous lessons on the consequences of global climate disturbances, is told with particular élan and a flair for the dramatic in Gillen D'Arcy Wood's Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World. . . . Wood uncovers for the reader the worldwide reaches of the eruption and makes it a watershed date in the timeline of human history."--William O'Connor, The Daily Beast

"Even Westerners who were aware of the occasional spewings of Italy's Mount Vesuvius (much smaller eruptions that didn't change climate at all) had no idea what a volcano on the other side of the globe was capable of doing. Today, Wood . . . can put it into a worldwide context of environmental and social upheaval."--Nancy Szokan, Washington Post

"[T]his is a subject worthy of much thought. Tambora is the most far-reaching account of it yet, and D'Arcy Wood deserves a wide and serious readership for his audacious book . . . a grand case study. . . . It is a brave literary scholar who taken on volcanology, meteorology, epidemiology, glaciation and global economics. Gillen D'Arcy Wood has done so judiciously and shown the power of literature to work as a guiding principle among them."--Alexandra Harris, Literary Review

"Wood's compelling and at times terrifying 'cautionary tale' details the global effects of the April 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. . . . This extremely detailed work draws together disparate events in a fascinating way. It's in-depth enough for climate science students and offers something different for those wishing to know more about romantic literature; at the same time the work is accessible for popular-science readers. For large public libraries and academic collections."--Henrietta Verma, Library Journal

"Too often, the claim that a book is tackling a subject 'that changed the world' is pure hyperbole. Not in this case, however. . . . Gillen D'Arcy Wood offers up this fascinating story of Tambora as a cautionary tale about what might lie ahead of us--a tale that, like Frankenstein, warns against the consequences of technological hubris."--Fiona Capp, The Age

"[A] provocative book that confidently leaps from volcanology to lit crit by way of history. . . . [E]arth-shaking . . . told with gusto."--Robbie Millen, The Times

"The author's command of the scientific literature is impressive and more than matched by his knowledge of world history during this horrific episode of catastrophic global climate change. Through the mass of information he has assimilated, he skilfully weaves a take full of human and cultural interest. . . . This book is much more than just a piece of brilliant popular science. Drawing together a world of data relating to this epoch-changing eruption, Wood has made a major contribution to volcanology, climatology and cultural history, in a writer's quest that was clearly driven by a deep personal passion and conviction."--Ted Nield, Geoscientist Magazine

"Gillen D'Arcy Wood tells this story with skill and convincing research in Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, bringing together science, historic records and anecdotes from 200 years ago. . . . Wood delivers an intriguing anecdote of historical science, describing how humans are oblivious to the links to nature all around us."--Matthew Scott, South China Morning Post

"In Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World, Gillen D'Arcy Wood weaves a story that Shelley and Byron could not have told, because they could not have known it. Behind the killing weather and the noonday dark was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. . . . Wood makes compelling use of literature as a stand-in for the voiceless throngs crushed in this disaster."--Jenni Laidman, Chicago Tribune

"[E]ngagingly written and meticulously researched. . . . [A] thoroughly interesting and engaging read."--Alison Stokes, Times Higher Education

"This beautifully written book successfully bridges the divides separating science, the arts and social history, to give us an enthralling illustration of the devastation brought about by alterations in global climate that, in fact, lasted for only three years."--Anthony Toole, Amazon.co.uk

"In example of example, Wood expertly explains the volcano's effects on climate and agriculture. . . . Wood leaves no doubt how sensitive and far-reaching Earth's climate system is--and how vulnerable humans are to the natural world."--Science News

"His remarkable, even pioneering, book is the first to discuss the Tambora eruption as a global phenomenon afflicting Asia as well as Europe and America."--Andrew Robinson, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

"Wood does not present this eruption as a case of crude environmentalism but as a case study in the fragile interdependence of human and natural systems."--Wan Lixin, Shanghai Daily

"Here, Wood comprehensively looks at all these effects, unearthing much previously ignored historical data from around the world and showing how they were all an outgrowth of this earthshaking eruption. In all, it is a remarkable compilation of formerly unconnected information. The text reads almost like an adventure novel, and yet everything is well documented."--Choice

"[A] fascinating account of just how much havoc one volcano can wreak."--Alison Stokes, Times Higher Education

"Wood's book is extraordinary in its global scope and interdisciplinarity. . . . Wood not only grapples with climate change's history, but also offers a model for how humanistic scholars can engage with climate change now and in the future."--Scott Hess, ISLE

From the Back Cover

"Gillen D'Arcy Wood's Tambora takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of 1815-17, when particles from the greatest volcanic eruption since the Ice Age lingered high in the atmosphere. This meticulously researched and beautifully written book ventures far beyond tales of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein to document an apocalyptic global catastrophe that affected millions of people living as far afield as the Arctic and North America. Wood has crafted a powerful, definitive, and thought-provoking narrative."--Brian Fagan, author of The Attacking Ocean

"Stimulating and engaging, Tambora provides an excellent overview of the worldwide repercussions that followed the eruption of a single tropical volcano. Weaving together an abundance of newly gathered historical information, Wood emphasizes humanity's disquieting vulnerability to natural events. This book represents a marvelous piece of work."--Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, coauthor of Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions

"Wood makes the compelling case that the global effects of the Tambora eruption have been largely underappreciated--and the strength of his argument rests on the accumulation of evidence. Tambora is a rude awakening to the potential societal consequences of these fascinating geological events."--Guilherme Gualda, Vanderbilt University

"Tambora is a thought-provoking and original synthesis by an esteemed scholar that draws together vast amounts of previously unrelated material."--James Rodger Fleming, author of Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (April 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691150540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691150543
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Fascinating historical story.
Donald Esacove, M.S.
I fully expect other true believers to take issue with my opinions whether or not they have even read the book.
Just a guy in Oregon
Exciting reading of a well researched book.
Richard A. Anthes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Derek on April 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A small irony occurred the day Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s new definitive history of the Tamboran period arrived by post. On that day I had expected to be standing on the summit of Gunung Tambora.
Tambora is a fertile area for his Wood’s research into the relationships between societies and the environment. During the five year journey of the writing of his book he was able to uncover historical information from across the world and connect them, in a way no one had done before, to the calamitous events on Sumbawa in 1815. I had contacted Wood when I first heard about his new book and he was enthusiastic and encouraging to hear of another writer interested in the mountain, saying that he hoped large numbers of articles, books and papers would soon be forthcoming as the world woke up to the importance of the eruption.
Professor Wood has become a champion of Tambora and he enters the battle with her favour tied firmly to his lance of research. He feels the eruptions of Vesuvius, Krakatau and others are unfairly more famous. Tambora’s eruption, he claims, was a “world-historical event” more akin to that of Thera on the Greek island of Santorini in 1628 BC, which is easily linked to the decline of the Minoan civilisation and to events retold in the Bible, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. You get the impression that Tambora’s relative exclusion to modern history is affronting to him, and his new book is an attempt to make things right. On this he didn’t need to convince me – I had already come to the same conclusion.
Gillen is the first to have translated some Chinese poetry of the time which acts as a record of the famines and privations that people faced there.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Swann on June 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book but had to work hard to follow the connections between the Tambora eruption and its consequences around the world. That was always going to be a challenge for the author since the consequences were not understood at the time and have only been uncovered by considerable research effort.

I felt that the narrative could have done a better job in linking the event and its global impact in a cleverer way... as it was, there were several times when it almost like I'd suddenly started reading a different book.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bill Wagner on May 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Obviously the book had many illustrations that are not included on Kindle. Too bad as it dramatically affects enjoyment Northbrook.

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Format: Kindle Edition
This book reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly," a book about historic military blunders. While the book was excellent right up until the end, the book turned out to be a very mundane special pleading for citing Vietnam as an example of military folly - which it might be, yet when she wrote the book in the early 1980s, it was far too soon to take the historian's typical stand-at-a-distance-and-judge position. It was politically-correct, rather than historically-correct. To my mind, the verdict of history regarding Vietnam is still out - was it the last gasp of declining imperialism that collapsed following World War II, or was it the first gasp of a faltering world communist movement? Or both? Tuchman, an otherwise superb historian, fell prey to the popular and politically-correct assessment of Vietnam, and that tarnished what would otherwise have been a superb book of history.

Which brings me to Tambora, a book of history written by an English professor, rather than by an historian. While engaging on many levels, it has two flaws. First, the author makes authoritative claims for direct cause-and-effect impact of the volcano for things for which any cause-effect relationship is purely speculative (one other reviewer points out claims made about volcano-caused darkness that might more reasonably been explained by a super-cell thunderstorm, and that's as good an example as any). While the speculation is fascinating, it could have been better supported by historical analysis - OR - presented as a "working hypothesis.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A. Keffer on June 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book because of my interest in the effects of huge volcanic eruptions upon our world. I especially wanted to know more about the ways in which ash and particle clouds mimic some of the effects of global warming. I have to give Wood credit for reaching broadly to try to connect Tambora to effects such as cholera epidemics, severe cooling in some places, famine in others, and the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic. Overall he makes his case, and the book is not totally uninteresting. Nonetheless, Wood desperately needed a better editor who would have removed some of his inappropriate uses of words and, particularly, his inappropriate cognitive leaps. Sometimes authors make the same errors newscasters make, writing items similar to such newsy statements as, "The whole nation is angry tonight!" Well, usually that sort of statement is either untrue or some sort of distortion. You're hearing the newscaster's opinion, not fact. Better just to describe what has occurred. And, Wood falls victim to that illogical sort of statement on many occasions. Perhaps I should have given three stars, but I have grown weary of plowing through inaccuracies and poor grammar. (Gosh, I hope I haven't made any similar errors in my review!)
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