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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. ...
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.
The romance of the remote also seems to have infected Katherine Routledge, who, in 1914, became one of the first archeologists to investigate Easter Island. Among Stone Giants, Jo Anne Van Tilburg's biography of Routledge, tells how the island's statues provoked her to rapturous imaginings of the rituals that might have taken place there. Back in England, Routledge declined into schizophrenia -- a condition her family blamed on the influence of Angata, a mysterious native visionary.
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, Simon Winchester focuses on more physical dangers: the seismic events of August 27, 1883, when the Javanese island vanished in a volcanic eruption of almost unimaginable power. The explosion was heard as far away as Australia, and the tidal waves that followed killed some forty thousand people. Winchester, a geologist, looks at both the aftermath of the eruption and its geological inevitability. Apparently, the island over the volatile site, where one tectonic plate slides under another, explodes with relative regularity. Krakatoa's successor, which appeared on the site in 1930, is growing at a rate of twenty feet every year.( Leo Carey)
|List of Illustrations and Maps|
|1||"An Island with a Pointed Mountain"||28|
|2||The Crocodile in the Canal||71|
|3||Close Encounters on the Wallace Line||93|
|4||The Moments When the Mountain Moved||191|
|5||The Unchaining of the Gates of Hell||241|
|6||A League from the Last of the Sun||285|
|7||The Curious Case of the Terrified Elephant||314|
|8||The Paroxysm, the Flood, and the Crack of Doom||330|
|9||Rebellion of a Ruined People||498|
|10||The Rising of the Son||531|
|Epilogue: The Place the World Exploded||575|
|Recommendations for (and, in One Case, Against) Further Reading and Viewing||603|
|Acknowledgments, Erkenningen, Terima Kasih||621|
Though we think first of Java as an eponym for coffee (or, to some today, a computer language), it is in fact the trading of aromatic tropical spices on which the fortunes of the great island's colonizers and Western discoverers were first founded. And initially supreme among those spices was the one rather ordinary variety that remains the most widely used today: pepper.
Piper nigrum, Syzygium aromaticum, and Myristica fragrans -- pepper, clove, and nutmeg -- were the original holy trinity of the Asian spice trade. Each was familiar to, and used by, the ancients. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, for instance, the Chinese of the Han Dynasty demanded that their courtiers address their emperors only when their breath had been sweetened with a mouthful of Javanese cloves, the "odiferous pistils," as they were later more widely known. There is some vague evidence that Roman priests may have employed nutmeg as an incense; it was definitely in use as a flavoring in ninth-century Constantinople, since the terrifyingly Orthodox Saint Theodore the Studite -- the scourge of the image-smashing Iconoclasts -- famously allowed his monks to sprinkle it on the pease pudding they were obliged to eat on days when monastery meat was forbidden. And in Elizabethan times a nutmeg pomander was an essential for keeping foul ailments at bay: The notion that nutmeg could ward off the plague survived longer than many another old wives' tale.
Pepper, though, was of infinitely more moment to the ancients than to be merely a topping, nostrum, or cachou. The Romans used it in abundance: Gibbon wrote of pepper being "a favourite ingredient of the most expensive Roman cookery," and added his authority to the widely held idea that Alaric, the rambunctious king of the Visigoths, had demanded more than a ton of it from the Romans as ransom when he laid siege to the city in a.d. 410. The aureus and the denarius, the gold and silver coins of the empire, became the preferred currency of the Spice Route, and the Indian pepper merchants of Cochin and Malacca and the ports of southern Ceylon were said to be impressed that the denomination of coins was indicated by the number engraved upon them, not by their size.
However they may have been denominated, the coins must have been paid out in enormous numbers. Pepper was so precious and costly and so much in demand that the cost of it all had Pliny the Elder fulminating. "There was no year in which India" -- and by this he meant the Indies, since pepper traded came both from the Malabar Coast and from western Java -- "does not drain the Roman empire of fifty million sesterces." So dearly, he added drily, "do we pay for our luxury and our women."
(There is a pleasing symmetry about Pliny's involvement in this part of the story of Krakatoa, even if he appears in only a walk-on role. Although this rich and well-connected former soldier -- he was a cavalry officer in Roman Germany -- happily took on a variety of official duties on behalf of his emperors, Pliny was above all else a naturalist. He was a savant, or a student, as he once famously put it, of "the nature of things, that is, life." His reputation is based largely on his thirty-seven-volume Natural History, an immense masterpiece in which, among countless other delights, is the first use of the word from which we derive today's encyclopedia.
It was during the late summer of a.d. 79, while pursuing his official task of investigating piracy in the Bay of Naples, that Pliny was persuaded to explore a peculiar cloud formation that appeared to be coming from the summit of the local mountain, Vesuvius. He was duly rowed ashore, visited a local village to calm the panicked inhabitants -- and was promptly caught up in a massive eruption. He died of asphyxiation by volcanic gases on August 24, leaving behind him a vast reputation and, as memorial, a single word in the lexicon of modern vulcanology, Plinian. A Plinian eruption is now defined as an almighty, explosive eruption that all but destroys the entire volcano from which it emanates. And the most devastating Plinian event of the modern era occurred 1,804 years, almost to the day, after Pliny the Elder's death: at Krakatoa.)
Pepper has a confused reputation. There is no truth, for example, in the widely held belief that it was once used to hide the taste of putrefying meat; this charming thought perhaps derives from the equally delightful notion, still recognized by pharmacists today, that pepper can be used as a carminative, a potion that expels flatulence. But it was very much used as a preservative, and more commonly still as a seasoning. By the tenth century it was being imported into England; the Guild of Pepperers, one of the most ancient of London's city guilds, was established at least before 1180, which was when the body was first recorded (they were in court for some minor infraction); by 1328 the guild had been formally registered as an importer of spices in large, or gross, amounts: its members were called grossarii, from which comes the modern word grocer. Joseph Conrad caught the obsession, in Lord Jim:
The seventeenth-century traders went there for pepper, because the passion for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of love in the breast of Dutch and English adventurers about the time of James the First. Where wouldn't they go for pepper! For a bag of pepper they would cut each other's throats without hesitation, and would forswear their souls, of which they were so careful otherwise: the bizarre obstinacy of that desire made them defy death in a thousand shapes; the unknown seas, the loathsome and strange diseases; wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence, and despair. It made them great! By heavens! it made them heroic . . .Krakatoa
The legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa -- the name has since become a byword for a cataclysmic disaster -- was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. Beyond the purely physical horrors of an event that has only very recently been properly understood, the eruption changed the world in more ways than could possibly be imagined.
Dust swirled round the planet for years, causing temperatures to plummet and sunsets to turn vivid with lurid and unsettling displays of light. 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.
Simon Winchester's long experience in the world wandering, as well as his knowledge of history and geology, give us an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event.
About the author
Simon Winchester was a geologist at Oxford and worked in Africa and on offshore oil rigs before becoming a full-time globe-trotting foreign correspondent and writer. He is the author of The Map that Changed the World, The Professor and the Madman, and The Fracture Zone, among many other titles. He currently lives on a small farm in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.
Posted January 1, 2007
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, by Simon Winchester, was an informative read with an interesting point of view. The book starts off not by talking about Krakatoa, but with the history of the spice trade in the Sunda Strait. Winchester explains the importance of the spices, the struggle for control, and the victory of the Dutch. He explains Dutch ideals and their vast trade network with the natives of Java and Banten, and the large amount of Javanese spices and Bantenese jewels the Dutch received. The Dutch settle on the small, quaint island of Batavia, (an island in the Sunda strait), that was filled with rich soil, dense foliage and amazing animal life. The Dutch build manors, ports, lighthouses, and the like all over the island and transform it into a rare example of a perfect world with nature living beside humanity, coexisting in a small island world in peace. After a long time of peaceful existence in this utopian world, the most horrible, terrible thing takes place. Through out the entire book Winchester uses detailed, factual information to support his opinions. What is fact, and what is not, is clearly stated so one does not confuse fact with opinion. The book is spun into a complex, gratifying story with painstaking detail in each chapter. Winchester thoroughly explains his opinions, and backs them up with weighted evidence. This book is a convincing, well written story about a disaster so large it had an affect on the entire planet. This story really opened my eyes as to how extraordinarily massive this explosion and resulting tsunamis really were, and how they changed the world. They leveled cities, completely wiped out islands near by, and killed over 36,000 people. The eruption also actually changed the weather because the massive ash cloud it produced blocked out the sun. Winchester has written a wonderful book that will interest teenagers and adults alike.
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Posted September 27, 2010
I love Simon Winchester. Only he can write a story about such a cataclysmic event with wit, humour and style. He sweeps us effortlessly around the globe, showing all the myriad people and events the eruption affected. Along the way we meet a cast of crazy characters, including a tiny, destructive circus elephant and his eccentric owner. Amidst all the frivolity, though, is a powerful, masterfully told story of incomprehensible disaster. You'll laugh, you'll cry. I particularly recommend the audio version which is read by the author. I find that when authors read their own works, they get another chance to convey their thoughts in their vocal performance. In this case, Winchester's smooth British voice adds an extra dimension of meaning and charm that you'll appreciate.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2010
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Being fascinated by volcanoes, I was excited to start reading this book given to me for a birthday gift. The illustrations in this book are beautiful and all of the information is very nicely laid out. What a daunting task it must have been to gather all the information contained in this book, and to arrange it into a sequence that makes sense and has good flow to it. Not only was that accomplished, but the closer you get to the first of the series of explosions that rocked Krakatoa and the surrounding islands, the more you can feel the tension building. This book might be a little overwhelming for some readers, since it deals with so much more than the explosion of the volcano and its catastrophic aftermath.
This book also goes into great detail about things such as plate tectonics, sea floor spreading, continental drift, volcanic processes, evolution, natural selection, spice trade, the politics and history of Indonesia to name a few. I'm glad I had taken a physical geography class several years before I read this book so I could fully understand all of the scientific data being explained.
Posted February 23, 2009
If you like reading history or if you are interested in geology then reading this book is time well spent. However if you dont have a base in geology the book at time will get confusing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 23, 2008
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Before August 27, 1883 Krakatoa was a lovely volcanic island in Intonesia before it blue its top and killed thousands of people w/ its mysterious tsunamies and changed climate all over the world. There's a lot of research in this book both scientific and historical. If you happen to strike upon this book and your not a science fan at all you will find it very fasinating regardless and very interesting. Simon Winchester really does make science fun to read about.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2008
It is often said that 'I just couldn't put this book down.' That was definitely true of this book for me. Mr. Winchester is probably the most well-rounded author I have ever read, and I've been 'around the block' a few times! His knowledge of history, biology, geology and technology in general are indeed remarkable. I could go on and on with examples. This is a book from which I for one learned a lot. The author also paints fascinating vignettes of colonial life in Java that are most interesting. His claim to have become 'fast' at Morse code in two weeks however, I found laughable as a commercial operator. Then a little anti-Americanism seeped in with his remark about a 'sinister' American base at Diego Garcia. That was to be expected of a GUARDIAN contributor, I suppose. Altogether a very fine book and highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 1, 2007
The Day the World Exploded August 27, 1883 written by Simon Winchester is a book full of information. The information given however can sometimes drift off the direct topic of Krakatoa. It's not necessarily a bad thing though as I learned alot about other things like trade and different scientists from around the world. I wished there was more direct information about Krakatoa. I wanted to know about the eruption, what caused it, and what it's effects were. This book talks about those things but in only about three or four chapters out of ten. Another objection I have is that the story was slow. I found myself skimming over parts and having to go back and reread them. This book is not an easy read. There is a lot of information and a lot of it is fairly complicated. Simon Winchester gets into not just Krakatoa but Indonesia as well. When reading it you must decipher his topics, what is related and what was not. Winchester jumps from topic to topic which makes it harder to follow though gives a lot of information on Krakatoa. The longest chapter in the book is all about the eruption and different views of people and different views of locations. Also, it was about what people were feeling and going through when the eruption occured. Winchester obviously did alot of research and it shows. The book is packed full of good imformation that he clearly thought was important even though I personally did not see it as being relevant. If you want to know a lot about all sort of different things about volcanoes and our world along with Krakatoa then it may be a good read for some people. If you are looking for a book that is all about Krakatoa this may not be the right book for you. I was disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 18, 2005
Krakatoa, is the best book ever written about how the map of the world was sharped especially the Southeast Asia by the 1883 Volcanic the change the world for good.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2005
The book is very well written, providing human interest as well as the geologic conditions of that day. I read the book while on vacation in the South Pacific. It was chilling to sit there helpless knowing that the big one could be headed my way. I didn't find the maps too small, as previously reviewed. Most are from the time period so they are simply laid out in a different manner than one is used too. Overall just as good as Winchester's other excellent works.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2005
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested at all in geology, especially volcanoes. However, it is not an easy read for the most part, because the author spends most of the book explaining in detail the history of the area around Krakatoa. For this reason, I did not give it five stars, as I expected a much larger focus on the immediate happenings around the time of the volcano's eruption, but anyone with an interest in world history could find this book doubly enjoyable. For me, the scientific aspect of this book was simply fascinating. The author explained the conditions that probably caused Krakatoa's formation and existence, and went even further in discussing other topics. Potential readers should be aware that the scope of this book far exceeds the volcano of Krakatoa; in fact, the author even briefly discusses evolution and biology. Overall, it was extremely well-written and provides an incredible amount of information for anyone who wants to know what exactly happened to Krakatoa and the people affected by it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 7, 2004
The description of the volcano was very interesting, but getting to that point (about half-way through the story) was dry and difficult to get through. Unless the reader has a solid grip on science and early world history, he or she will get lost in what Winchester is trying to bring out. This book takes patience to read, but is worth the time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 4, 2004
I'm finally at the point where the volcano really blew up. But, I have had a hard time pinpointing on the terrible maps where the towns that are in the forefront are: I was reduced to using a magnifying glass and even then strained my eyesight finding Anjer on the tiny Before Krakatoa map, which should have been enlarged and given its own page as well as the After Krakatoa map. Many other places mentioned I haven't bothered to squint to find, or they are nowhere on the maps in the book. It is nearly impossible to imagine the scope of the whole without knowing exactly where places are in relation to each other and to Krakatoa. This, in my opinion, severely lessens the impact the author was hoping for. The digressions about the modern science of geology solving some of the questions of Krakatoa were a big interruption in the flow of the story. It was interesting, but took away from the story-abruptly taking the reader from the 1800s and earlier history of the area to the mid-20th century and later sciences, along with some unnecessary personal recollections by the author, then back to the 1880s. However, in spite of what I feel are flaws in the editing process, it is a book I'm recommending to my friends.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 20, 2004
Posted February 17, 2004
I drive a lot for work and I heard of this book on my local NPR Station. Not really having time to read I picked up the audiobook instead. The book is excellent, well written with enough background to help you understand the main event and its consquences. Mr. Winchester does an excellent job of reading his material and draws you in. I have passed my copy around to several different people and they have all enjoyed it. I recommend this book for any road trip.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2003
I enjoyed the way the book looked in depth at all aspect of the erruption and the effects. I thought the brilliant analysis why the catastrophe gave the Javanese the imputus to throw off their oppressors was cogent and timely. No wonder they embraced Islam. But I also think we can apply too much of todays attitudes on the past. The book does not do that. It ennumerates the conditions that prevailed then that MAY have reprocussions now.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 29, 2003
A sort of half review here. I'm 5 CD's into the audiobook and while it's got many interesting sidebars, I'm still waiting for the volcano. Can you say 'abridged?'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 19, 2003
I do not have a lot of time but must submit this book is without a doubt a 5 star rated book. I urge the review board investigate and upgrade the average to a minimum 5 stars. This is one of the most well researched and written books I have ever read. It is informative, riviting and must rate as one of the better researched factual stories I have read in a long time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2003
Posted August 8, 2003
Simon Winchester, notably of The Professor and the Madman, illuminates another niche historical story. And what a story! Krakatoa's eruption in 1883 is usually presented as a footnote, if at all . . . but how?! The non-science piece de resistance, a possible tie in to fundamental Islam in the region. Nature as a religious catalyst had not been done, not in any substantive way, for several centuries -- and is a completely foreign idea to modern thought. The possibility is intriguing, at the very least. Without a doubt this book offers great science history, readable prose, and nice illustrations. Recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2003
Can you give half stars? 3 ½ stars sounds about right. Very interesting read that covers everything from geology to biology and even the political and sociological impact of the Krakatoa Volcano's massive 1883 explosion. I learned a lot and enjoyed much of the book, especially the discovery of Alfred Russel Wallace and the Wallace line. This amazing story and discovery is worth the price of the book. I did find the book rather uneven with a really poorly written first chapter, '.a Pointed Mountain', but give it time and you will find much to reward in later chapters. If the topic interests you, I'm sure you will enjoy this well-rounded review of the Krakatoa story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.