Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester

Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded: August 27, 1883
Simon Winchester
(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.


Mark Reynolds said...

I enjoyed this one as well - I too remember the science background being particularly good. Also, I will never look at Munsch's "The Scream" the same way again.

Just a thought, when we do finally make contact with space aliens, what are the scientists that call Spock's people going to be called, if Vulcanologist is already taken?

julie said...

umm, ahh, not to ruin the best line in my review, but, ahh, make that "volcanologists". Spock-watchers are in the clear.

*egg on her face*