The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 2003)
READ: August 2007
I'd read Webster's shorter article on the Burma Road in National Geographic some time back and it had tweaked my interest. Having been over in that part of the world (Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai in 2004) also helped.
Overall, it was a good read, but not the one I'd expected. The back of the book was a bit misleading - it made it sound like the River Kwai events would play a much larger part in the book than the one chapter that they were actually given. This in itself is a little odd since the whole fight for control of the River Kwai was not, at least as far as I know, part of the fight for the Burma Road at all (though, I guess, you could argue that control fo the River Kwai was at least partially necessary in order to further the fight to clear the Japanese out of Burma and, eventually, Thailand).
Webster did his research and develops the leading players quite well. I'd say it's more a book for the military history buffs out there than for li'l ol' me, however. It did have some interesting background on China and Chiang Kai-Shek, which is an area of history I'd like to learn more about.
Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded: August 27, 1883
(HarperCollins, New York: 2003)
First published by Viking, Great Britain: 2003.
READ: July-August 2007
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Winchester could make the phone book interesting, I swear.
While not quite as entertaining as A Crack in the Edge of the World, Krakatoa is a fascinating look into the insides of this infamous Indonesian volcano, and the devastation it wrought over 100 years ago. As a trained geologist, Winchester knows what he's talking about, and as a trained journalist, he knows how to make his story interesting. The story was hard to initially piece together, and Winchester has done a formidable job. It was the first modern volcanic explosion of such a ferocious magnitude. Vulcanologists (yes, they are really called that) didn't really exist yet, and those geologists who did have an interest in volcanoes didn't really know what made them tick. There were also very few survivors, and virtually no eyewitness accounts. Furthermore, while very few people actually died as a direct result of the volcanic explosion itself (Krakatoa was a volcanic island unto itself, so there was no Pompeii villagers waiting to be buried), the death toll skyrocketed after a series of devastating tsunamis hit the surrounding Javan and Sumatran shores. We don't even understand tsunamis today, let alone back in 1883. Beyond the actual devastation, of course, is the science of why it all happened - why did Krakatoa explode? - and that is where Winchester, like he did in A Crack in the Edge of the World, truly shines. If plate tectonics and the inner workings of the mantle core had been presented to me in such an interesting manner back in my early school days, I might have chosen a quite different career.