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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883
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May 2020: Other Books > [Poll Ballot] Krakatoa by Simon Winchester - 5 stars

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Joy D | 3213 comments Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester - 5 stars - My Review

“Explosions like a battery of guns are heard… The lighthouse… is hit by a wave and destroyed, ripped off its base, leaving only an amputated stump of jagged masonry. An immense wave then leaves Krakatoa at almost exactly 10:00 A.M. – and then, two minutes later, according to all the instruments that record it, came the fourth and greatest explosion of them all, a detonation that was heard thousands of miles away and that is still said to be the most violent explosion ever recorded and experienced by modern man. The cloud of gas and white-hot pumice, fire, and smoke is believed to have risen… as many as twenty-four miles into the air.” – Simon Winchester, Krakatoa

Krakatoa lies in the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java, in current-day Indonesia. Winchester visited the area many years ago and returned recently to climb Anak Krakatoa, the ever-growing newest incarnation of the volcano that has arisen from the sea at the same location as the one destroyed in 1883. (Yes, he actually climbed the volcano and peered into its caldera.) He was inspired to research and document the history of Krakatoa and describe the cyclical process of rejuvenation.

This book is a delightful mix of history, science, and sociology. Winchester provides a comprehensive look at the time period, what led up to the disaster, the tremendous explosion itself, and the resulting impact on the people and the environment. He also discusses political and biological aftermath in the area, some of which is surprising.

The history of the period is examined in depth. Winchester covers the advances in telecommunications that enabled the story to be reported quickly rather than the two weeks in took in the past. He covers such history as the Dutch colonial rule of the area, natural resources, shipping methods, commerce, and past eruptions. He makes a case for Krakatoa as the beginning of the idea of the earth as a “global village.”

It helps to have a strong interest in science, as Winchester goes into a detailed explanation of the scientific factors behind the disaster – plate tectonics, tsunamis, seismology, continental drift, subduction zones, and more. It is a thorough analysis – not for someone that wants the high-level overview. It is more oriented toward those that like to uncover the interconnections among seemingly discrete topics.

This book is not a typical “disaster story,” though it does include eye-witness accounts and the extent of devastation. It does not tell the story by focusing on particular people and where they were. It is more focused on why the event occurred. The narrative does not arrive at the catastrophic explosion until the half-way point. If I have to pick a minor blemish, the sub-title does not convey the breadth of the book. It is much more extensive than what happened on a single day.

Winchester tells the story in an erudite, engrossing, and educational manner. He excels at putting the event into its historical context. This book is well-researched – it includes an extensive bibliography and footnotes that are as interesting to read as the text. It contains all the elements I look for in non-fiction. I found it absolutely mesmerizing.


message 2: by Joanne (last edited May 22, 2020 11:55AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7249 comments I did not like it as much, but I do not regret reading it. The science really did bog it down for me. Glad it was a winner for you!


Joy D | 3213 comments Thanks, Joanne. Yes, there is a lot of scientific details, which is one reason I loved it. It's also the reason it won't be a hit for everyone.


Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5642 comments I also really liked this. I'm a Simon Winchester fan ...


Joy D | 3213 comments Me too! He is also one of the few authors that can read his own audiobooks, and do a professional job of it.


Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5642 comments Joy D wrote: "Me too! He is also one of the few authors that can read his own audiobooks, and do a professional job of it."

So true! I listened to the audio of this book.


Joy D | 3213 comments Book Concierge wrote: "Joy D wrote: "Me too! He is also one of the few authors that can read his own audiobooks, and do a professional job of it."

So true! I listened to the audio of this book."


I had a physical copy of Krakatoa, but previously listened to his audio of The Atlantic.


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