Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded is not like that, I'm happy to say. Of course, most people will have heard of Krakatoa, the volcano that blew its top so spectacularly back in 1883. For those that haven't and have chosen to read this book, well, they are in for a treat.
Simon Winchester has written a book that is not just about the events surrounding the explosion itself. What he does is put the eruption in the context of the world, civilisation, nature and humanity and the effect the explosion had on all who witnessed it. This is a superb choice, as, by the end of the book, it leaves the reader so much more enriched with facts not just pertaining to one volcanic island in the Sunda Strait. And the book reads more like and adventure novel than hard scientific fact.
I felt that to read Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded now was quite timely, given the awful events we have witnessed in that region in the last few months. Particularly when you consider the Krakatoa eruption produced some gigantic tsunami waves itself, certainly the majority of the 30,000+ people killed by Krakatoa were taken by these waves. And the largest wave, at the time of the main explosion, destroyed houses on a hillside 125 ft above the Sumatran coastline.
So in a paragraph, what is Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded about?
Well, here goes;
Jakarta, Java, Sumatra, Indonesia, plate tectonics, the history of European colonialism (in particular the Dutch), Islam, the spice trade, the beginning of cable and wireless, early mass media and how it reported the event, volcanoes (obviously!), flaura and fauna, the theory of evolution, and a crazed elephant (apparently something to do with the unproven theory that some animal behaviour can change in the run up to a massive eruption or earthquake).
There is so much to be learned here. For example, I now have a much clearer picture of how cable and wireless technology, (the Victorian internet), was developed and that Charles Darwin should have shared his discovery of the theory of evolution with another scientist who formulated the idea at exactly the same time as Darwin, but demured and allowed Darwin to take all the credit.
There are also fascinating facts to be gleaned, such as the remnants of the tsunamis generated by Krakatoa were detected in sea swells as far away from the explosion as coastal France!! Or the stories of the artists around the world who were inspired by the vivid auras and colours in the stratosphere at sunset to take up their brushes and capture the spectacular atmospherics left behind in the months following the eruption.
And I also have a broader picture of how Islam developed such a toe hold in the region, and how the the imperialist Dutch behaved so badly toward the locals it fermented the anti-imperialist seeds of resentment and fundamentalism that we see even today, very much a feature of the modern world, as the tragic events in Bali show.
There are some quite terrible accounts too, of islands of pumice being washed up on beaches in South Africa, years after the explosion, with the skeletons of many people clinging to them.
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough as a detailed, accessible, interesting and informative account of the events surrounding and leading up to one of the most profound and incredible natural cataclysms to befall modern mankind.
I give Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded