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

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded - Simon Winchester 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.