The day the world exploded

Interesting book on the Krakatoa explosion: Simon Winchester (2003): Krakatoa, New York, HarperCollins. Subtitled “The day the world exploded: August 27, 1883”, this is a detailed account of the history of the Sunda straits and the Dutch colonial powers, prior eruptions, and the eruption that blew Krakatoa away and which was literally seen (or, at least, the pressure wave registered) all over the world. Winchester sees the event as the first “global” event – thanks to the newly established telegraphic network, the news was known within days all over the world. He also, less convincingly, sees Krakatoa as a catalyst to the Islamic rebellions against the Dutch colonial powers a few years after.
Most interesting to me was the explanation of the mechanisms of the eruption (the meeting of two tectonic plates of differing composition, water-rich material being pulled under one of the plates and then pressuring its way up again) as well as the sheer size of the eruption. The noise of the final explosion was so loud that it was heard 3000 miles away – on the island of Rodrigues, where people thought it was naval gunnery. This is equivalent to hearing a noise made in New York while sitting in San Francisco. Krakatoa remains largest single natural catastrophy known to modern man, at least by some measures. 38,000 people died, a paddle steamer was lifted 3 miles upland, and a number of tsunamis, the largest the height of a 10-storey building, swept away whole villages, harbors and ships.
Winchester writes in an almost Victorian detail, sometimes overdoing the flowery language – I suppose it is hard to avoide being influenced by one’s sources. The book is very detailed – but I like that. One small irritation, however, was the low quality of the overview charts in the beginning of the book. It took me quite a while to understand precisely where Krakatau was the Sunda strait. A more detailed overview map with some of the places that were eradicated (such as Anjer and Merok) would have helped.
Recommended.

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