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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded Hardcover – April 1, 2003
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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
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.
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Winchester's book covers the history of the region, especially as a Dutch colony and gives a good working description of plate tectonics and the history of that discovery. As a technophile I found that quite interesting. Overall, the book is good, but I won't say perfect. At times it seemed to be a bit slow paced and there were a few times I wondered why the author had chosen to spend so much effort on points that probably needed little coverage. Overall, nonetheless, it was an interesting read
Simon Winchester's goal in writing this book is listed on the back cover as intending to provide "an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event as he brings it tellingly back to life." As Winchester has had experience relevant to the events described in the book, his personal experience and injections of anecdote add color and extra details, such as his discussion of his excursions in Greenland as relevant to the reversal of the poles, which relates to Krakatoa and the magnetic stripes on the bottom of the seafloor. In addition, the book effectively presents the events of August 27, 1883 not simply as the majority of people remember it - the catastrophe that slaughtered tens of thousands in one blow - but as a calculated and quantifiable result of plate tectonics as it fits within the contexts of Dutch colonization and trading. This historical context is what makes the book unique and truly adds an interesting quality to Winchester's work."
The above is from my book review for this nonfiction book for my college's Honors Geography course. We were required to do a book review for each of three books, this being the first. Though I am an avid reader, I tend to despise assigned reading. However, this book was well written for its 300-plus pages, and I enjoyed much of it. While it tends to drag at certain points (and let's be honest, what nonfiction book doesn't?) it still has a certain rhythm to it that makes this scientific book quite reminiscent of fiction in tone. An enjoyable read.
What clung to my mind the most was that Krakatoa is NOT gone since this is a Subduction Factory, constantly drawing in source materials for the "Next" Krakatoa, which appeared and was nicknamed Son of Krakatoa, as mentioned in "National Geographic" in their article about the Angry Gods of Indonesia. This reminds me of oatmeal in the morning as it heats up and begins to bubble and then burst from time to time.
What I liked the most was the historical mentions of the East India Corporation and how they were able to snatch world dominance in the seas and oceans with their spices. Also, the tectonic plate coverage was illuminating. I hope people understand TODAY that this is VERY important as we are ALL sitting on one plate or another and they are ALL beginning to move due to the warming of the Ring of Fire. This is all vital info to the world since the next eruption of Krakatoa Jr. can help trigger the lighting of the ENTIRE Ring which will devastate mankind and most living beings. Once Lake Tabo in Indonesia and the Caldera in Argentina and the OTHER Caldera in Wyoming at Yosemite ignite, it will blacken the skies and blot out the light, killing plants and animals across the globe.
For those who do not think that earthquakes can become an even BIGGER problem in the years to come, watch Sept 25th, this month, when a HUGE quake is expected somewhere on the planet. Please note that we are all becoming used to 6.0 quakes but are you ready for 15 and 16.0's ? The Super Quakes to come will be devastational. For the lastest quake reports in your area go to: [...] , click the link at the top of the page that refers to Earthquakes, then follow the top link on the next page generated. Before 2009 we were having no more than 20 quakes per day but that has gone up to as high as 200 or more quakes daily throughout the world.
History repeats itself and Winchester points out when, where, and how to be careful and watchful. The site where the original Krakatoa sat is one of those sites. All of Indonesia is at risk of disappearing and New Zealand may also disappear soon ... Christ Church was just the beginning, according to Winchester.
The fact that stone buildings that had stood across from Krakatoa for hundreds of years were devastated in ONE wave is enough to beg homage to the great Earth Mother ... the fact that the sound wave went around the planet SEVEN times is incredible ... and the tsunamis that followed were gigantic. Winchester painted well, the fear and the terror as the water kept rising and rising and nothing could stop it or even slow it down. It came on regardless. I have been on the beach as a child, running from tidal waves that were only a couple of inches tall but they managed to chase me almost to the cliffs, hundreds of yards.
I was bored to tears for the necessary first 100 pages ... but as the story unfolds I must give Winchester a "Standing Bravo!" His writing is superb, his style unique, his descriptions painted the imagined horror to perfection.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in watching the current developments as 2012 comes up to speed, or is interested in the history of the Dutch and the East Indies Company, or how volcanoes are created and how Krakatoa was NOT your average volcano ... nor will be Krakatoa Jr. Buy this book and have your children read it when you are done. Great Read!
The 4 stars are thanks to the dragging first 100 pages, and it was almost 200 pages, but as an intro it was mandatory and added to the excitement.