by Brad Nelson 5/2/14
First ask yourself one question: How much do I really need to know about a volcano that lies halfway around the world? Well, speaking as a guy, there are three main interests of the species: chicks, cars (“computers” is an acceptable answer), and blowing things up. And in terms of blowing things up, this is as big as it gets.
In Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, you’ll learn what happens when you suddenly explode 6 cubic miles of volcano into the air (although much of it was thought to have collapsed beneath the sea as well). A previous book by Simon Winchester has been mentioned here, The Professor and the Madman. That was also an interesting read.
But this book isn’t just about stuff blowing up. Krakatoa is a bullet point in a larger story which starts with the colonization (mainly by the Dutch) of the Java and Sumatra region of the east Indian ocean, spurred by the trade in spices. (Which ones? Well, you’ll read about that as well).
Along with details about Dutch colonialism, you’ll also read many tales of the early interest of scientists in this region, quite apart from any interest in the dozens of spectacular volcanoes. There’s a good chapter chronicling Alfred Russel Wallace’s observations of the distinct fauna of the Indonesian Archipelago. And Wallace was basically Darwin without a good publicist. He arguable formulated the theory of evolution before Darwin.
And you’ll get a glimpse into the strange and inexplicable world as seen through the eyes of an age before plate tectonics was discovered. Why did volcanoes do what they did? Nobody knew. Many of these advances in science came as slowly as the plates that grind against each other to create the amazing and dangerous subduction zones where volcanoes are born and fed.
The scope of this book is fairly wide and you can consider it a good primer in the history of the region in and around the fatal date of April 27, 1883, where in Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, at precisely 10:02 in the morning, there was the greatest explosion in human history, thousands of times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (and preceded that day by three other humongous explosions). The last, and fatal (to the volcano and to the people surrounding it) explosion was so loud, it was heard three thousand miles away. The book stated that if you were within eighty or so miles of it, you would have gone instantly deaf.
It takes a while for the book to get to the actual event. But when it does, Winchester gives a chilling and well-researched account of what it was like to witness this event. Most bizarre and awesome of all were the many witnesses who saw the entire sea in the straight change level. It boggles the mind.
Over 35,000 lives were lost (with estimates up to 100,000), and I’m left thinking that it could have been worse. The titanic forces operating in and beneath that volcano were (and perhaps still are) indescribably powerful. Even now over the remnants of Krakatoa grows Anak Krakatoa (son of Krakatoa). And it’s growing fairly rapidly.
The hot ash and pumice killed perhaps a 1000. Most of the others will killed by the tremendous waves…waves (up to 130 feet high) whose remnants showed definite bulges in the tides as far away as France. There was also a compression wave (separate from the sound waves) that circled the world 7 or 8 times for about 15 days. Such changes in barometric pressure were recorded all over the world. Nothing such as this had ever been recorded before. It was likened at the time to an earthquake in the atmosphere.
But the book might be a bit of a chore. There is a lot of background information. If you’re up for an overall history, one that touches on the history of the region and the evolution of science itself (and the fallout — literal and figurative, in regards to the politics of the region — after the eruption), then you’ll enjoy this. It takes a while to get to the actual eruption but you’ll find it worth it if you like being immersed in this history of a region and various esoterica. And it’s a bargain at $8.89 for the Kindle. • (2205 views)