Krakatoa - Simon Winchester Review

Well, I just finished reading Krakatoa - The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester. It's about, as one might suspect, about the eruption of Krakatoa on 27 August, 1883 off the coast of Java in Indonesia. But the books isn't just about the volcano and its now infamous eruption. Winchester also provides a sort of before and after of Java, which was a Dutch colony at the time. He writes about how the Dutch colonized the island, how they ruled, and how they got along with the colonized on the island, again before and after the eruption. Winchester also writes about how new technology like the telegraph made this erutption more of a global event that it would have decades earlier.

Then there is expostion of the eruption itself which is quite interesting (though it is a 150 page chapter which could easily have been split in two). He writes expertly on the geological and physical forces which made the eruption so amazingly violent. Winchester also describes well the global effects of the eruption as well. About the ash that went around the world, the weird tidal patterns noticed on every shore in the world, the sudden blast of air pressure also felt around the world, and the vicious tsunami that battered the coast of Java.

Lastly, Winchester also writes well on how the eruption spurned new areas of scientific research into the physical and geological forces that combine to make volcanos erupt. He writes about how the eruption eventually led to the eventual discovery of plate tectonics (first put forward by a Canadian by the way).

However, there are a few thing which I feel detract from the book. First, while Winchester does well to explain the technical terminology associated with volcanos and plate tectonics, he does however, use a lot of obscure words whose meanings are not readily discernable. Words that even I had to look up which is something I rarely have to do. Also, like a lot of British authors I've read, he likes to go off on tangents that only relate to the matter at hand only slightly.

In the end, this an interesting exploration of the largest explosion in recorded history (there was an ever larger explosion about 74,000 years ago, but of course, there were not so many people around and only a few thousand people globally survived the aftermath). It's not "disaster porn" in the least, but it also does not have a completely unified flow either. Winchester jumps from chapter to chapter with very little tying them together other than the overall topic of the book. Nonetheless, it is still worth reading as one does learn a lot about the forces involved in the eruption of a volcano and how this particular eruption was a landmark event in human history in many ways.

Reviewer xerxes
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