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The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted April 10, 2013

    I really have enjoyed reading books on natural disasters of hist

    I really have enjoyed reading books on natural disasters of history and how humans have responded to them. I was even published once on the 1906 SF earthquake. This seemed right up my alley. I had wanted to read Winchester's Krakatoa for some years, but opted to read about Tambora's eruption because it was much more enormous and the effects more disastrous. This book too little time on the actual eruption and too much time on molecules in the troposphere. This is not too surprising as one of the co-authors is a meteorologist, but that wasn't what I was looking for. A larger portion of the book is devoted to the cold weather in Europe and the United States/Canada (not really what the weather in other places was) in 1816. To make the argument that it was very cold, there is chapter after chapter of small references in diaries of it snowing or that someone had to wear a coat outside and that it was colder than anyone living could remember, etc.--we get it; it was unusual weather. That part was a bore, but luckily there were some redeeming qualities. The book bounces back and forth from what the weather was doing (and how crops were dying, etc.) to the general state of interesting historical events of the same year: for example Napoleon came back to France, and boy what that a story to tell! As well, there were a few very interesting links between the volcano-induced weather and how certain influential lives were changed. For example: Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein that summer and was surely influenced by the fantastic lightening storms over Lake Geneva and the snowy French Alps of 1816. Joseph Smith Jr's family in the United States was forced to leave their New Hampshire farm after a crop failure and move to where he would eventually would claim to have found the Book of Mormon. In fact, the mass migration due to poor crops these few years helped empty out large towns of New England and found the Midwest. These are the examples of why the book has the subtitle "...and Changed World History." In summary: it was okay, but it could have been shorter for the amount of redundancy, and we never really get a glimpse of how the rest of the world's climate was affected. Is it true Tambora "...Darkened the [entire] World..."?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2014

    Global warming or climate variability?

    Anyone who is interested in climate change whether caused by man or nature will find this an interesting book that deals with the implications of major impacts to Earth's biosphere because of changes to our atmosphere. A companion book, if one ignores the socialist rhetoric in the first third of the book, is Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World.

    The book is well written and brings home how dependent we are on the vagracies of weather or changes in the expected climate. Understanding how these major events and oscillations in the global wind patterns affect us locally will give us a better appreciation of the implications of climate change.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2013

    I am impressed with the amount of documentation from contemporar

    I am impressed with the amount of documentation from contemporary sources - both in Europe and northeastern United States and Canada. How widespread the impact of this "volcanic air pollution" was both in Europe and in North America. I had never heard of this volcano nor the aftermath on the climate in Europe/North America before I started doing my own demographic study on a town in Italy. Most of the references that I pieced together to get a sense of what was happening in my town during this period were from volcanology journals, physical geography journals, and a nutrition journal. This is really fascinating.

    The one problem I see with this book is that there are times in the writing that the author writes a section of text and then it ends abrubtly and I'm not sure how the event ties to the volcanic eruption, the climate issues or how people are coping with everything else - for example the text about James Madison receiving a message from the Dey of Algiers written in Turkish, translated into Arabic, but no one in James Madison's cabinet read/understood either language, so the message wasn't responded to for 2 months until a translator could be found. Then the text stops and changes direction to talk about Madison reaching Montpelier just in time for another cold wave. I'd like to know what the message was about and how it connects to the Tambora or the volcanic air pollution it spread across the globe, i.e., what is the connection with the darkening of the world and changing of history.

    Otherwise, an amazing read.

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