Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

by Simon Winchester

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060838591
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/05/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 95,215
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.

Hometown:

New York; Massachusetts; Scotland

Date of Birth:

September 28, 1944

Place of Birth:

London, England

Education:

M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

Read an Excerpt

Krakatoa
The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

Chapter One

"An Island with a Pointed Mountain"

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 Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883
. Copyright © by Simon Winchester. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps
Prelude17
1"An Island with a Pointed Mountain"28
2The Crocodile in the Canal71
3Close Encounters on the Wallace Line93
4The Moments When the Mountain Moved191
5The Unchaining of the Gates of Hell241
6A League from the Last of the Sun285
7The Curious Case of the Terrified Elephant314
8The Paroxysm, the Flood, and the Crack of Doom330
9Rebellion of a Ruined People498
10The Rising of the Son531
Epilogue: The Place the World Exploded575
Recommendations for (and, in One Case, Against) Further Reading and Viewing603
Acknowledgments, Erkenningen, Terima Kasih621

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

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.

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss some of the many legends associated with the name Krakatoa (Carcata, Krakatau, Cacatoua). What does the name signify today?

  2. Describe the cosmopolitan climate of the 17th century Dutch colony Batavia. How did that mood change in the 19th century, when Old Batavia was abandoned by Europeans who fled to Buitenzorg, the uptown suburb?

  3. What important roles did Philip Sclater and Alfred Russel Wallace play in Darwin's theory of the origin of species and survival of the fittest? In the case of Wallace, did you feel that his role in history has been unduly neglected?

  4. How did Alfred Wegener's theories about continental drift anticipate plate tectonic theory? How did the author's experiences in Greenland in 1965s further scientific understanding of these theories?

  5. Discuss Krakatoa's eruptions prior to the catastrophic eruption in 1883. Did this historical background give you a more complete sense of Krakatoa as a living volcano? How do you think they compared in scope to the 1883 event?

  6. Describe the beginnings of the 1883 eruption. What warnings did people in the region have that a major volcanic event was going to occur? How did the advent of transatlantic cables and telegraphs make this an international catastrophe?

  7. Were you surprised by the duration of the 1883 Krakatoa event, from the earliest vibrations to the full eruption, some eight weeks later? What struck you about the many contemporary descriptions of this occurrence? How did some of the Javanese and Sumatrans make sense of this event?

  8. Simon Winchester writes: "The death throes of Krakatoa lasted for exactly twenty hours and fifty-six minutes." What occurred during those hours? What part did the ocean play in the catastrophic destruction?

  9. How did Krakatoa manage to transform the evening skies? How did the event alter the science of weather forecasting? The global climate?

  10. How were tensions between Dutch colonists and the Muslim Javanese and Sumatran community exacerbated in the wake of the Krakatoa eruption?

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.

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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Brigit More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not a science person so I'm surprised I liked this book. I saw something on t.v. about "the son of Krakatoa" so I went back to read this.The author doesn't spend the whole book talking about the volcano but goes back in history to describe the colonization of Indonesia by the Dutch. WInchester also spent a lot of time discussing plate tectonics and earth's magnetism.This is where I got a little lost. Like I said,I'm not a science person. Aside from the massive damage caused by the explosion of Krakatoa,Winchester describes beautifully how that event caused ripples around the world in other ways.The one idea I didn't expect was the volcano's role in politics that still reverberates today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Soooo much technical/scientific background before you get to the actual story. Some was fascinating, some interesting and some just downright boring and tedious.
Sharksweetie More than 1 year ago
A fascinating read about a part of the world that I did not know much about.  Indonesia will never be a "stranger" to me again.
Mary_T More than 1 year ago
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.
ramblingivy on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I found this book to be rambling, poorly structured, and in dire need of some proper editing. Fully 70% of the text could be considered extraneous, and my aggravation was further enhanced by what I considered to be self-indulgent footnotes and parenthical discussions; both of which should have been deleted long before the book reached publication.Most of us were taught, as students, that our final piece should be the tip of the iceberg, hiding the great mass of learning and research beneath it. Winchester would do well to remember that rule.
refashionista on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I have to say upfront that I really love Simon Winchester's style of writing and multidisciplinary approach to his subjects. This book was no exception. He starts with a thorough, but engaging, look at the geology and social history of South East Asia before focusing on the formation of Krakatoa and then walks us through the, often hour by hour, lead-up to the devastating eruption. He misses nothing -- covering the societal destruction, the devastating ecological impact, and the far-reaching effects felt of the eruption felt around the world. I found this book riveting and quite literally couldn't put it down until I was done. Part travelogue, part geology textbook, part social drama -- this truely has something for everyone!
Lindsay on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is an enjoyable read with lots of information.
JBD1 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Decent, but not as good as some of Winchester's others.
JohnMunsch on LibraryThing 10 months ago
After reading Simon Winchester's super cool book The Professor and The Madman I jumped on this book. Unfortunately, that was a huge mistake. There was enough interesting information there for a great book that was approximately one half to one third the length of this book.It's about the enormous eruption (better described as an annihilation) of Krakatoa in the late 1800's. The island was never a population center so it wouldn't have mattered much if not for the tsunami it created and the dust it threw into the atmosphere world wide. But oh, what a disaster those things caused... It's unfortunate that this book is so long and boring that it is a similar disaster.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I am slowly making my way through Simon Winchester¿s books. Krakatoa, his book from 2003, is about the biggest recorded volcanic eruption in human history that annihilated both the volcano and the island bearing its name, and caused the highest and longest lasting recorded tsunamis, which killed about 35,000 people. Krakatoa, a volcanic island between Java and Sumatra began erupting in May 1883, and continued until August 27. On that day, the island exploded with a fantastic force of 100 megatons. The sound of the explosion was heard and recorded as far 3,000 miles away. The effects of such a powerful explosion were noticeable around the world with a global average temperature drop lasting for a few years following the explosion, and amazing sunsets caused by the dust in the atmosphere seen as far as Norway and England for three years afterwards. Besides an almost minute by minute chronicle of the eruption, the book is full of interesting geological info and detailed historical background. Winchester credits Krakatoa and the research that followed it with a big advancement in our understanding of meteorology and in particular the workings of the jet streams and gas and particle movements in the stratosphere.He also discusses the political and social aftermath of the eruption. He ventures an opinion that the Krakatoa eruption, seen by the local population as a punishment from the gods, together with the indolent and exploitive colonial Dutch rule have given rise to fundamentalist Islamic sentiments in the region.
bell7 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
In 1883, the volcano on the island of Krakatau shocked the world by literally blowing the island apart. This detailed account that begins with trading and the Dutch control of the area, describes the science of plate tectonics (which wasn't fully understood until some 80 years after the eruption), and then gives various eyewitness accounts of the volcanic eruption itself.It's a fascinating account, and there is a lot of information packed into this book. I was rather surprised by the breadth of topics covered (trade, plate tectonics, even some biology) over a couple of hundred years (1600s-1900s). Still, Winchester writes engagingly without many technical terms, and there are ample pictures and graphs to aid as well.
ginntonique on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a great book for getting a grounding in the history of Krakatoa, both in terms of its infamous eruption as well as the societies that surrounded it at the time. It is more of a narrative than a scientific piece, although it touches on various elements on its way.The book delivers an engaging tale of the social setup of the Dutch colonies providing a detailed backdrop to the drama of the eruption, with background on the Victorian characters who make the time period interesting.Not only this, but it also hints at the beginnings of globalisation, and documents the spread of news around the world, with tidbits of information on the worldwide sensation the eruption caused.The eruption itself is told both through the geological forces, and the after effects - those parts that could be (and were often) documented by intrepid Men of Science, bureaucrats, and various observers.All in all, a great read and given it's length, one that I didn't tire with.
seldombites on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Ever since I was a little girl learning about volcanoes in school, the name Krakatoa has been enough to inspire fear and awe. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to read this historical account of the great disaster that befell Java and, indeed, the world in 1883. Simon Winchester pieces together contemporary accounts and modern evidence to paint a fascinating picture, not just of the horror of the eruption, but also of life in Java and elsewhere at the time.There are a couple of minor inconsistencies, but these can be put down to discrepancies between various sources. The story is engaging, and I was finished reading almost before I knew it. Importantly, the book includes a bibliography for those wishing to delve deeper into the subject, and index for those looking for specific information.Overall, this is a great introduction to life in the Dutch East Indies, and the beginning of mass communication, as well as the effect a single catastrophe can have on world history.
PoohGrandpa on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Three disasters have fascinated me since I was a lad, Krakatoa, Tunguska, and the Titanic. So when I saw Winchester's Krakatoa while browsing Amazon, I had to have it. It's been well worth the money. Read at a leisurely pace (after all, it's history, not a novel), it holds one's interest from start to finish. There's always more to learn about Krakatoa, and new information is always being discovered, but this book is as good an account in one volume as one is likely to find.
cmbohn on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Just finished this one. It seems to be very typical of Simon Winchester's books, the good and the bad. Certainly no one could complain that he did not set the scene - he took a very long time to do so. In fact, it was well over 100 pages in before the eruption was really discussed at length. But most of the information was really interesting - the history of Dutch colonialism, the theory of plate tectonics. However, when we got to the actual eruption, I felt that more could have been included. Worth reading, but not always a page turner.
bfertig on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Also some very good and vivid science writing. This has perhaps the best description and explanation of plate tectonics and suduction and their role in volcano eruptions that I've read anywhere. Winchester clearly loves geology and compels the reader to love it, or at least respect it, too. It may be a bit of a stretch to suggest that Krakatoa's eruption may have influenced the beginnings of fundamentalism in that part of the world, but it does so circumspectly, and the book provides ample evidence on other grounds that Krakatoa was a major global event in its day. Well worth your time.
Foxen on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This book is about the eruption in 1883 of the volcano Krakatoa just off the islands of Java and Sumatra. It takes a kind of "butterfly effect" approach, exploring just about everything that affected the outcome of the eruption and just about everything that the eruption affected- Winchester's point being that this one event had tremendous consequences in places and fields far removed from Indonesia and vulcanology. It's an interesting book, although I found it dragged in sections where he explored effects or causes that I, personally, was not interested in. His description of the eruption itself, though, which is what drew me to the book in the first place, was riveting. I'd recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in volcanos, geology, natural history, or the history of natural history- it's a good, wide-ranging exploration of these topics in relation to one interesting event.
DonnaB317 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Listened tot he audio book with my husband - enjoyed it tremendously
Sunflower6_Cris on LibraryThing 11 months ago
An interesting book about the history of Krakatoa, including the original and current name of the islands. Although it was an informative book, it seemed to dip too deep into historical detail about the trades, spices and lands around Krakatoa. It was written more like a textbook than a historical fact book. I was hoping for something that was more average and easier to read than a college geography book.
molloaggie on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is a great history and science book but it gets bogged down in the politics and culture of the area.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The book deals with the explosive eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia on August 27, 1883, an event that led to over 36,000 deaths, mostly due to the resulting tsunami, which was heard almost 3,000 miles away, caused spectacular sunsets and affected the climate globally for months--and which Winchester credits with triggering a militant Muslim resurgence that led to rebellion against Dutch colonial rule and eventual independence. Winchester is a journalist who is a geologist by training, thus well suited to tell this story. He takes his time building the context--it's over 200 pages before we get to the eruption itself--so the reader can fully appreciate the scientific, technological and historical circumstances that made this such an important world event. Winchester explains the scientific concepts of evolutionary biogeography, plate tectonics, vulcanology and meteorology very lucidly. I thought I learned quite a bit of both earth science and Indonesia as a result of reading this book. Some facts stood out in particular--that "Indonesia... has... more volcanic activity than any other political entity on Earth" and that it's the world's "most populous Muslim country" and that there's a rather clear line bisecting the nation with the western part filled with Indian flora and fauna and the eastern part filled with Australian creatures such as kangaroos. It has a fascinating history as the "Spice Islands" of legend growing pepper, cloves and cinnamon and then as the Dutch East Indies became a major exporter of rubber and coffee.So why isn't this rated higher? In short what's missing is awe. When I think of the best non-fiction books I've read about the power of nature, I think of The Perfect Storm about a fearsome Northeaster and Into Thin Air about a tragedy on Mount Everest. In terms of lives lost and global consequences, neither is anywhere near as important as the eruption of Krakatoa--but they're wonderful books that bear reading more than once and with unforgettable passages. I don't think this book rises to that level. It's a good, solid book about an interesting subject--but it's not fascinating and awe-inspiring and moving in the way of great books such as those two.