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

3.7 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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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

"D'Arcy Wood incorporates material that was previously little known, making it easier to grasp the enormity of the environmental changes that affected the health and well-being of a significant segment of humankind. In a fluent and erudite style, D'Arcy shows clearly how several tragedies resulted from the interaction and convergence of the abysmal weather and preexisting natural (the Little Ice Age), socioeconomic, and/or political conditions. By not oversimplifying but emphasizing the complexity of this global event, he has made this book an important resource for those interested in environmental history."--Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Environmental History

"Wood intricately weaves literary works, scientific data, and anecdotal evidence to create a gripping account of the worldwide event and the 'Year without a Summer' that followed in 1816."--Jonathan Abel, H-Net Reviews

"An engrossing study."--Noah Heringman, The Annual Review

"This is not the first book to be published on the Tambora eruption of 1815. However, this beautifully written and constructed, engaging and entertaining book is, in my opinion, by far the best on the subject, and I highly recommend it."--Graham Denyer, Weather

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


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 (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
We all like reading about catastrophes that happen to other people. We love to go to disaster movies with titles like "Earthquake!" , "Tornado!"or "Tsunami!" and feel the surge of adrenaline as we sit comfortably in our seats. "Tambora" appeals greatly to the desire for vicarious thrills lurking in all of us - it's got a catastrophic eruption, freak weather, a terrible pandemic of a loathsome disease, famine, drug dealing, despicable rascists, rash adventurers risking life and limb, and nary a love interest to slow the action.

So on that basis, this should be a block-buster book.

However, it has a flaw. The author has an ax to grind. Somehow he manages to wriggle all of the above threats into the strait-jacket of a message about pollution-driven climate change. I have no trouble believing that the cataclysmic eruption of Tambora in 1815 precipitated the Year Without a Summer, cholera epidemics in India, famine in China and Ireland, and the melting of the Arctic icecap. However, Tambora's eruption was a freak of nature. Hence it is quite jarring to find the author bringing in the threat of man-propelled climate change at the end of every chapter.

I would have liked a summary chapter at the end which draws parallels and comparisons between what happened as a result of Tambora and what is predicted to happen if our current carbonization of the atmosphere continues. I would have liked a discussion of what man might do to mitigate the consequences if another eruption on the scale of Tambora occurs in our time. There is an interesting and thought-provoking exploration to be made here, but Mr. Wood never quite gets going with it. His pre-recorded message gets in the way.
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Format: Hardcover
The mixed reviews of Tambora here are a good reflection of my experience reading it. The topic is fascinating. I love history-of-science books and, at the end, I am glad I read this one. The different chapters, whether or not the events are directly linked to the volcano as claimed, were each a very interesting look at life on the fringe in the 1810's. The bit about New England caused me to take another look at my own family's history, when a big westward migration started right between the year-without-a-summer and the depression of the early 20's. Altogether great stuff.

That said, it took me forever to get through what ought to have been a quick read. There were some spelling and grammar issues, but the real distraction for me was the author's repetition of a couple conclusions which, I feel, would be best left to the reader. The first was climate change. The reader is left with the idea that the whole purpose of the book is to make that connection, mainly because the author brings it up over and over again. The vignettes in Tambora do a good enough job on their own showing the consequences of our failure to adapt. I did not personally need to be reminded repeatedly to look that direction. Your mileage may vary. The author also reminds us several times that they were the first to put all of these stories together; the first to connect the dots in such a clever way. Again, better editing of an otherwise interesting book may have led me to that conclusion all on my own.
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