LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded

5-star

by Simon Winchester.

The events surrounding the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, a island in the Sunda Strait, make for fascinating reading. It might seem impossible to convey the immensity of the forces required to blow a 2,600’ mountain to smithereens – let alone what it must have been like for those nearby – but somehow Simon Winchester manages to do just that.

The Indonesian volcano of Krakatoa once lay in the busy shipping lane between Java and Sumatra, known forms a source of earthquakes and minor eruptions; but at the end of August 1883 it blew up – vaporising an estimated 6-cubic-miles of rock – virtually destroying the island. The explosion was heard 3,000 miles away, and the pressure wave circled the Earth three times. At least 36,000 people died from the effects of volcanic ash, pyroclastic flows, and tsunamis (unofficial tolls being much higher), and witness accounts of the eruption make for astonishing, nearly unbelievable, reading.

Winchester spends most of the book describing not only the geological and botanical history of the region, but the social and political background too; so by the time the reader begins to learn about the eruption itself, s/he has a comprehensive understanding of the society so tragically caught up in this event, and the enormous region affected.

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