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Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

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The bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman and The Map That Changed the World examines the enduring and world-changing effects of the catastrophic eruption off the coast of Java of the earth's most dangerous volcano — Krakatoa.

The legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa — the name has since become a byword for a cataclysmic disaster — was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. Beyond the purely physical horrors of an event that has only very recently been properly understood, the eruption changed the world in more ways than could possibly be imagined. Dust swirled round the planet for years, causing temperatures to plummet and sunsets to turn vivid with lurid and unsettling displays of light. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogotá and Washington, D.C., went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of the island's destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. Most significant of all — in view of today's new political climate — the eruption helped to trigger in Java a wave of murderous anti-Western militancy among fundamentalist Muslims: one of the first outbreaks of Islamic-inspired killings anywhere.

Simon Winchester's long experience in the world wandering as well as his knowledge of history and geology give us an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event as he brings it telling back to life.

416 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2003

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About the author

Simon Winchester

83 books2,026 followers
Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian Magazine, and National Geographic.

In 1969, Winchester joined The Guardian, first as regional correspondent based in Newcastle upon Tyne, but was later assigned to be the Northern Ireland Correspondent. Winchester's time in Northern Ireland placed him around several events of The Troubles, including the events of Bloody Sunday and the Belfast Hour of Terror.

After leaving Northern Ireland in 1972, Winchester was briefly assigned to Calcutta before becoming The Guardian's American correspondent in Washington, D.C., where Winchester covered news ranging from the end of Richard Nixon's administration to the start of Jimmy Carter's presidency. In 1982, while working as the Chief Foreign Feature Writer for The Sunday Times, Winchester was on location for the invasion of the Falklands Islands by Argentine forces. Suspected of being a spy, Winchester was held as a prisoner in Tierra del Fuego for three months.

Winchester's first book, In Holy Terror, was published by Faber and Faber in 1975. The book drew heavily on his first-hand experiences during the turmoils in Ulster. In 1976, Winchester published his second book, American Heartbeat, which dealt with his personal travels through the American heartland. Winchester's third book, Prison Diary, was a recounting of his imprisonment at Tierra del Fuego during the Falklands War and, as noted by Dr Jules Smith, is responsible for his rise to prominence in the United Kingdom. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Winchester produced several travel books, most of which dealt with Asian and Pacific locations including Korea, Hong Kong, and the Yangtze River.

Winchester's first truly successful book was The Professor and the Madman (1998), published by Penguin UK as The Surgeon of Crowthorne. Telling the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, the book was a New York Times Best Seller, and Mel Gibson optioned the rights to a film version, likely to be directed by John Boorman.

Though Winchester still writes travel books, he has repeated the narrative non-fiction form he used in The Professor and the Madman several times, many of which ended in books placed on best sellers lists. His 2001 book, The Map that Changed the World, focused on geologist William Smith and was Whichester's second New York Times best seller. The year 2003 saw Winchester release another book on the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Meaning of Everything, as well as the best-selling Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. Winchester followed Krakatoa's volcano with San Francisco's 1906 earthquake in A Crack in the Edge of the World. The Man Who Loved China (2008) retells the life of eccentric Cambridge scholar Joseph Needham, who helped to expose China to the western world. Winchester's latest book, The Alice Behind Wonderland, was released March 11, 2011.
- source Wikipedia

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,607 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,309 reviews120k followers
February 23, 2023
Reading Simon Winchester books is a bit like reading a web page. You start in one place, but soon succumb to sundry alluring links. On-line, of course, we are all much likelier to then wander off on yet more linked tangents, but thankfully, in his actual, paper and ink book, Winchester keeps bringing us back to the main page. And a large page it is.

Simon Winchester - image from his Twitter page

One can expect certain things in Simon Winchester books, a wide array of information, from a look at relevant geology, where appropriate, to history, to some of the personalities relevant to his subject, to a look at how the object of his scrutiny changed the world, economically, politically, even artistically. Put away your checklist. It is all here.

There is a very accessible discussion of plate tectonics, not just as the process relates to Krakatoa (in a very, very big way) but of the history of the theory, with some surprising links to well known scientists who, Moses-like, led the way without actually reaching the final conclusion.

Winchester always satisfies by presenting a cornucopia of facts about the time and the subject. How loud was this very big bang? It was heard over three thousand miles away. In fact the Krakatoan blast was one of the five loudest events in human history.

Illustration was made before the big bang - image from BBC

He offers a considerable history of the global relations in that part of the world. The Netherlands was the significant imperial force in the area at that time, so much of what we know of the event was recorded by Dutch observers. Winchester describes what happened to area settlements as a result of the eruption. It will come as no surprise that associated tsunamis were the major cause of death.

Ash that was shot out of the earth by Krakatoa circled the globe, affecting not only the visual beauty of sunsets (enough to influence many painters) but the climate as well, causing a shortened summer, and thus a poor crop.

What happens after the volcano has exhausted its explosive urges? Or, where did that island go? Winchester looks at what came after, both the re-emergence of geological elements of Krakatoa, and the population of that land by life.

Readers of Simon Winchester know what he offers. A rich, educational and entertaining experience. If you love to learn new things, particularly about historical people and events, and like to take on that info in a most pleasant way, Winchester is one of the best guides in the world, a terrific writer, who leads you on an unexpected journey with treasures of knowledge to be found. Don’t let the pressure build up too far. Read Krakatoa before you burst.

The daughter of Krakatoa, Anuk Krakatau, looking angry in 2009

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

A nice overview of Winchester’s professional life can be found here

Reviews of other Simon Winchester books we have read:
-----The Perfectionists
-----The Man Who Loved China
-----The Map That Changed the World
-----The Professor and the Madman

Items of Interest
-----The Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program page - lots to be learned here
-----BBC - Anak Krakatau: Volcanologist explains Indonesia eruption images
-----Daily Mail - Will Krakatoa rock the world again? Last time, it killed thousands and changed the weather for five years, now it could be even deadlier... - by Marcus Dunk
Profile Image for Debbie W..
760 reviews566 followers
January 12, 2023
Why I chose to read this book
1. several years ago, I was fascinated about this volcano's historic eruption/explosion after watching a documentary about it on History Channel; and,
2. I have designated May 2022 to be my "Nonfiction Month"!

1. an extremely well-researched book! Relevant topics include:
a. a historical background of Indonesia - the lucrative spice trade that led to colonization by Portugal and then the Netherlands; its Indigenous peoples and their beliefs, both ancient and current; the modernization of technology, communication and cartography;
b. geological background - supercontinent Pangaea; continental drift, the make-up and movement of tectonic plates; how volcanoes work, specifically Krakatoa;
c. the final 20 hrs. and 56 min. of Krakatoa - the series of violent eruptions and explosions; the deluge of ash, dust and pumice; the massive tsunamis that killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed entire communities; the immense sound waves that were heard 3000 miles away; the shock waves the reverberated several times around the planet; how six cubic miles of this island was blown apart and disappeared; and,
d. the intriguing aftermath - not only geologically, but also environmentally, socio-economically, and politically;
2. contains several illustrations, photos, maps and diagrams; and,
3. I learned that, unbelievably, volcanoes and tectonic plate movement are actually essential to life on Earth! I also learned the meaning of some interesting terminology, such as subduction and the Papal Donation from 1603-25.

Initially, I began listening to the audiobook of this story; however, since I'm more of a visual rather than an auditory learner, listening to and retaining the wealth of information given through audiobook nonfiction books such as this one can be difficult. By the first 100 pages, I switched from the audiobook format to a hardcopy version. I was riveted throughout! (Note: the audiobook is narrated by the author himself!)

If general topics, such as geology, or specific topics, like the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, interest you, then I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,169 reviews1,140 followers
March 14, 2020
Wow. This has got to be the most out of topic (OOT) book I’ve ever read. It saddens me to only award it two stars. I usually have a soft spot for nonfictions *sigh*

Why on earth did I do that? Some of my friends rated it five stars, after all… Here’s a glimpse of my train of thoughts while reading this book. You’ll see why.


“Yay, finally I get to read this book. A nonfiction about (something major happened in) Indonesia, oh the excitement!...*reading the first pages* Hmm ok, spice trade….pepper….Dutch early occupation…I already know most of the things here…but obviously the author never intended this book only for Indonesians so okay lah…But…but now he’s talking about map making…what the…I have a baaaad feeling about this book…oh crap now he’s blabbering about J.P. Coen (first VOC governor general)…hmm ok some of the factoids are insightful but if he’s keeping this OOT streak….hmm now stories about living in (the old) Batavia…I knew that….and that…and that…*skipping*…where’s the frickin Krakatau story?...OMG tell me he did not just drone on the Wallace line (and his life story) and continental drift theories for 60 pages? Seriously? 60 pages? Couldn’t he shorten it to 5 pages max?” Seven hells!"

*closing the book* *pissed*

Almost in the middle:

“Now page 115 and I haven’t read anything exciting about the eruption….ok now about living in (the new Batavia)…Daendels….Rafles….Bogor….dance parties….*skip skip*….Ahhh now he’s finally talking about the earlier (suspected) eruptions of the volcano…interesting speculations…hmmm yeah this book is growing on me now….wait wait, why he’s giving me a history lesson about Lloyd’s insurance? And the submarine telegraph cables? I know they’re relevant to the story but the sudden “expositions” in the middle of the main story is upsetting me…. Oh wonderful…truly marvelous Mr. Winchester, now you’re yapping about the history of news agencies/Reuters….throw me some bones here…

*closing the book* *pissed*


“Yikes it took halfway to the book to get to the real story! Hmm ok….now I know the difference between volcanic and earthquake vibrations…early warning system turned out to be quite ok…reports from various sources including ships….LOL the Dutch was offering disaster tourism (unique factoid) with daredevils going to the islands, walking in calf-deep ash to check out the craters (while the volcanos were still preparing for the big bang and spewing smokes here and there)…..er…what was with the elephant chapter? So, apparently there was a circus troupe in Batavia a night before the kaboom and an elephant went panic. The author for unknown reasons (maybe he felt the need to give attractive title to his chapters) made a chapter titled The Curious Case of the Terrified Elephant, 11 pages, but the elephant itself was only mentioned in the last 2 pages. Kind of reflecting the content of the book itself, huh?”

*closing the book* *slightly pissed – getting used to it by then*

The crack of doom:

“Finally *flexing my muscles” (now I’m on page 209) The book has at least 384 pages…..Whoa, great writing. Great facts. Quite gripping.

*concentrating* *frowned at some facts* *nodding in satisfaction* *feeling good for the first time when reading the book*

Near the end:

“Er….why Indonesian rebellion is discussed here? Now, now Mr. Winchester, you’re giving the eruption too much credit. *skip skip* Oh wow, a chapter about the Krakatau Jr. This is a must read. Uhuh. Yessir. This volcano is alive and kicking and close to me. I hope I’ll be long gone before it erupts again….{well, seven years after I wrote this review, deadly eruption has occurred.}

Hmm wait..wait *flipping back a few pages* the book is over? But but…I only read something useful for about 150 pages…does this copy has missing pages? Am I dreaming?” *scratching my head in utter confusion*

*closing the book after realizing it wasn’t a dream and no missing pages*

Final thoughts:

Well, ok if the author could only write 150 pages why not make the book of only 150 pages of the REAL BLOODY DEAL? More than half of the book was about background stories, for Wallace’s sake! Why couldn’t he write like Dava Sobel in her enchanting (yet CONCISE) account about the invention of longitude (Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time) which is a far less sexy topic compared with a super volcanic eruption, I daresay.

Reading this book is like going to the movies, expecting to watch a drama-action movie, but interrupted with commercials and trailers on other movies even during some of the action scenes. Sorry, I am a very busy book-reader whose reading time is so valuable and hate to see it wasted. Thank goodness I only borrowed this book *putting it back on my boss’ shelf, kthxbye*

Update 26/12/2018: Eruption event and underwater landslide at Anak Krakatau occurred on December 23, 2018, killing over than 400 people (and counting). Pictures: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/201...
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,301 reviews22k followers
September 7, 2008
Another masterful book by Simon Winchester. I really enjoyed this one – so much so that I’ve bought a copy for my father for Father’s Day.

When I was in Primary School one of my teachers once spoke about Krakatoa. Most of what he said wasn’t true, for instance, he said that the tidal wave went around the world twice. Naturally, the 8 year old me had visions of a huge wall of water drowning the world. Krakatoa was bad, but not quite Biblical.

Winchester is a pure delight to read. He has such a vast spread of interests and a keen (and unfailing) eye for the ludicrous and the amusing that it is hard to tell what delight is next in store. The discussion on the Circus that was in town at the time of the bang was magical – exactly the sort of thing that I find irresistible. The idea of the man who caught cannonballs for a living losing three fingers the first time he tried it – I mean, it is almost Pythonesque.

But it is the breadth of themes that impresses the most about his books. This isn’t just a book about Krakatoa – as interesting as the parts of this book are that are directly about Krakatoa – but also about such topics as the growth of militant Islam in Colonial Indonesia, plate tectonics, the biological diversity of the Australian and Asian sides of the Indonesian Islands and the nature of the Dutch East Indies Company up until the time of the explosion.

This would make a wonderful documentary series for television – I think geology is an utterly fascinating science and one which is so incredibly recent – much of what we ‘really know’ about this science we have only ‘really known’ since the mid-1960s. This book covers this by a man who played a minor part in one of the discoveries that made this new science come to be.

But the stories about the people who survived the eruption – the boat loaded with paraffin trying to avoid hot rocks falling out of the sky, for example – sounded like something made up for a film staring Harrison Ford.

I can see I’m going to have to read all of his books now – but what is one to do?
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,254 followers
June 24, 2012
Simon Winchester could turn your decrepit granny's boring old stories into lively, magical tales. He has a way of putting the reader into the past while making them feel as if the historical subjects he writes about are fresh and very much of the present. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded is no exception. Though this raging volcano's past exploits in the form of catastrophic explosions can only be guessed at for lack of reliable eyewitnesses aside from its late 1800s eruption, Winchester still manages to crowd your senses with the sights, sounds, smells and very feel of the whole experience. Why only 4 stars for such great writing? The exposition gets boggy at times. Because there is so little information on the history of Krakatoa's first supposed explosions, extraneous supporting data had to be collected and explained, and that can be long-winded, meandering and at times tedious. But if you like history and don't mind some educational detours, Krakatoa... is well-worth your time.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews631 followers
November 11, 2009
Over the weekend I read Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883, a book in which Simon Winchester has the gall to make fun of a geographically mistitled film called "Krakatoa, East of Java," while himself failing to provide an adequate map of the region. There are historical maps, there are maps of where the sound of the explosion could be heard, there are numerous diagrams of fault-lines and continental and oceanic plates, and there is even a black-and-white reproduction of a painting showing a marvelously colorful post-Krakatoa sunset--but there isn't a single map showing where the volcanic island lay in respect to its near neighbors Java and Sumatra. Nor is there a map showing the pre-eruption island to scale, nor one showing the progress of the fatal tsunamis.

That oversight could stand in for the faults of the book in general. Winchester reads like a fusty but enthusiastic professor whose interests rove over many disciplines. He deals with the history of the theories of evolution and plate tectonics, his own experiences researching paleomagnetism, the economics of the spice trade, telegraphy; he provides a lengthy history of the Dutch colonization of Indonesia. These sections are individually interesting, but they feel like the rote exposition of a disaster film: you just want to get to the explosion. Winchester seems to be so excited about providing a wealth of hors-d'oeuvres and desserts that he neglects the main course.

The description of the explosion itself is made complicated by the way the author flips back and forth in time, telling each source's story in full before moving to the vantage point of the next observer. Nearly all of the sources are Dutch or English, though the English are no more than tangentially involved in the story. The more than thirty thousand Javanese who died in the tsunamis following Krakatoa's eruption receive short shrift, since the author is more interested in recounting the subsequent studies of doughty Englishmen with their barometers. He makes the interesting point that Krakatoa blew up at a crucial stage in the early history of telegraphy and wire news services but does not pursue the point more than anecdotally.

The book was full of interesting information, but it felt slapdash, motivated by the author's indulgence of his own curiosities rather than his anticipation of the reader's. I came away from it with an intense desire to re-read what remains my favorite book about Krakatoa--fanciful though it is--The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois.
Profile Image for Cara.
778 reviews68 followers
December 14, 2013
Krakatoa is a scientific history of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, a volcano located on a small island between Java and Sumatra in what is now Indonesia and what was then the Dutch East Indies. Like all Simon Winchester books, this one takes a long, erratic detour over the course of a couple hundred pages before actually reaching the point. That won't hinder your enjoyment of the book as long as you're not in a hurry, but I thought I should mention it.

Winchester studied geology in college, and though he ended up working as a journalist, it's clear he's still passionate about the subject. As a science writer, he's really excellent. He explains the science behind volcanos, as well as the history of the study of plate tectonics, continental drift, and vulcanolgy. This is the most interesting part of the book.

However, as a history writer, Winchester is, well, not so good. He omits large parts of the story; most notably, he barely mentions the actual Javanese and Sumatran people who lived in the area of Krakatoa until after the eruption itself. He treats the history of the area as if it started and ended with European colonialism. He draws specious conclusions without clear evidence. For example, he tries to link the eruption of Krakatoa with rise of anti-colonial sentiment at the end of the 19th century. This may have some truth in it, but he completely ignores the fact that anti-colonial movements in many part of the world increased during this time period. If Krakatoa had anything to do with it, it certainly played a rather small part.

The part that annoys me most (no doubt because I am Muslim) is that Winchester portrays the native religion, Islam, with inaccuracy and dismissiveness (at best) and pure offensiveness at worst. He uses archaic terms such as "Mohammedism" and refers to things such as the "Islamic Church" and "Islamic Priests". Anyone with even a remote understanding of Islam knows that "Mohammedism" is an offensive and inaccurate term and there is no such thing as an Islamic church or a Muslim priest. He tries to draw a connection between the eruption of Krakatoa and the rise of "radical Islam" - though he seems to equate any serious practice of Islam (such as going on Hajj, one of the five pillars) with "radical Islam". He refers to the Indonesian people as "converts" to Islam rather than native practitioners - Islam has been a widespread religion in Indonesia for 800 years! By that standard, almost all Muslims are converts, along with most Christians. I could go on, but I will refrain. At times, I honestly felt like I was reading some colonial treatise from a hundred or two hundred years ago.

To be fair, the chapter on Islam in Indonesia is just a small part of the book. It may not be entirely fair of me to rate this book down based on just one chapter. But then again, maybe I should judge Simon Winchester's work by his own standards: when discussing a historian who wrote about previous eruptions of Krakatoa, he criticizes him for a few inaccuracies and consequently discounts his entire work.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,105 reviews748 followers
August 28, 2022
The reader of this book learns about plate tectonics, bio-diversity, the Wallace Line, and history of the Dutch East Indies Company before reaching the big explosion. Then there's the false start, followed later by the big blast, and then all sorts of stories follow. Then there's more science lessons about tsunamis, shock waves, jet stream, and other stuff. The author strings all these topics together into a most fascinating tale.

I thought the author pushed things a bit too far when he suggested that Krakatoa played a part in the rise of militant Islam in Colonial Indonesia. Anti-colonial feelings were widespread throughout the world, even in countries with no volcano. I found the book's description of the reemergence of the island of Krakatoa in the 20th Century less interesting. His account of visiting the island in person was particularly uninteresting. Perhaps the author was trying too hard to meet a goal of a certain number of pages.

Here's what I find scary. It's going to happen again. That particular spot may not blow in our lifetime, but a similar type of explosion somewhere in that part of the world could very well happen. And Krakatoa isn't the biggest volcano that we know of. Tambora in 1815 was the largest explosion to occur in the past 1000 years and was about twice as big as Krakatoa in 1883. The difference with Krakatoa was that it occurred in the modern era so that news of it spread quickly via telegraph communications. There were also many witnesses in the vicinity and throughout the world who recorded their observations.

As late as 1963 another book was written about Krakatoa that described what happened, but couldn't offer much of explanation as to why volcanoes occur. As it turns out, 1964 was the first year that the theory of plate tectonics first began to be widely accepted by the scientific community. I can remember when I was in grade school (during the 1950s) I commented on the fact that the east coast of South America appeared to mirror the shape of the west coast of Africa. The obvious conclusion was that they used to touch each other. I was assured at the time that scientists said that continents don't move. For once I was smarter than the experts.

The following short review is from the 2005 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar:
KRAKATOA: THE DAY THE WORLD EXPLODED: AUGUST 27, 1883, by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins, 2003).
It is conventional in natural-disaster books to focus on a few individuals and tell the story of the cataclysm through their eyes. Simon Winchester has found a better approach: He begins with the geological forces that caused the Krakatoa volcano to explode with such violence. As a result, as you move through the story, you are on pins and needles, waiting for the catastrophe to strike (very much in the way a reader anticipates the next shark attack in Jaws). A dynamic tale that you will find very hard to put down.

10 Facts About Krakatoa's 1883 Eruption
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,060 reviews238 followers
May 22, 2020
“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.
Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,157 reviews40 followers
August 26, 2016
Krakatoa. Krakatoa! Krakatoa.

Simon Winchester does it again. He lured me into purchasing this book because of the subject itself... the monstrous volcanic explosion that became the byword for catastrophe. And once again, Winchester let me down. The man does his homework, he gets the research done, and he has his facts in line.

But. He. Is. Boring.

How can a book about a volcano that obliterated an island and launched a massive killer tsunami be dull? I mean, Charlton Heston should be running through the pages or something. The reader should be cowering beneath the bedsheets with a flashlight, terrified of what might erupt from the next page to be turned. We're talking about a disaster that lifted a SHIP and carried it into the jungle, where it rested with its entombed sailors for decades. Wow.

But. He. Is. Boring.

Three stars for excellent research and factual knowledge, but a finger puppet re-enactment would be more thrilling.

Book Season = Summer (never turn your back on the sea)
Profile Image for Austra.
642 reviews74 followers
November 16, 2020
Šo grāmatu laikam varētu saukt par gada saldēdienu. No vienas puses tāpēc, ka to lasīju tikai tiešām brīvajos brīvdienu rītos, kad varēju laiskoties gultā ar rīta kafiju (tāpēc tā lasīšana gāja diezgan ilgi), gan tāpēc, ka tā ir paraugs tam, kā rakstīt patiesi interesantu populārzinātnisko literatūru, pēc kuras lasītājs otrā pusē iznāk apgaismots un izklaidēts.

Droši vien var uzrakstīt veselu grāmatu tikai par vienu vulkāna izvirdumu, bet var (lai gan pirms lasīšanas es par to nebiju īsti padomājusi - ko sagaidu no šīs grāmatas) izstāstīt ģeoloģijas vēsturi, par plātņu tektoniku, piparu audzēšanu, holandiešu kolonizācijas varu Āzijā, kā tika būvēti pirmie telegrāfa kabeļi, kā radās pirmās ziņu aģentūras, par islāma fundamentālistiem un ne to vien. Bija, protams, arī par pašu izvirdumu un tā sekām. Protams.

Grāmatas vidū gan autors sāka pamatīgi atkārtoties, bet šoreiz es viņu atvainošu, jo visādi citādi šī grāmata uzliek visai augstu latiņu savā žanrā - kad viens notikums un objekts (Krakatau vulkāns) vienlaikus ir stāsta centrā, tomēr tiek apaudzēts ar lielu daudzumu vērtīgas informācijas, ļaujot lasītājam iegūt plašu kontekstu par tā brīža pasauli, notikumiem un pasauli pēc tam. Iesaku un iesaku! Noteikti lasīšu citas Vinčestera grāmatas.

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” - Will Durant
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,785 reviews672 followers
March 4, 2015
Anybody know a good psychoanalyst? I have got to get on that couch and figure out why I resist liking Simon Winchester. He writes easily and with authority about such different topics as The Encyclopedia Britannica and everything you wanted to know about the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps, it's because I wish I could do it as well as he does.

Here, in Krakatoa, he takes on one of the most devastating events in modern history. In describing this immense volcanic eruption, Winchester takes us on an amazing ride that includes everything from a history of plate tectonics to the significance of gutta-percha in the 19th Century world economy. We learn about how subduction zones are the places to find volcanoes and that the history of the Society of Lloyd's (its coverage of risk and its agents around the world).

Winchester does it all with palpable wonder and good humor. Grrrrr, I know this is hard work, but he never breaks a sweat!
Profile Image for Nicole.
247 reviews21 followers
January 17, 2010
I really wanted this book to be better than it was. While it has a lot of factual information about Krakatoa, it tells the tale with a number of sidetracks and blind alleys rather than in a linear fashion. At many points, it's hard to tell whether the author is relating something that happened before, during, or after the explosion.

And, unfortunately, the explosion itself is a very small portion of the book. Winchester dedicates 64 pages to explaining the origins of continental drift theory. Why? Ostensibly because it's continental drift that causes Krakatoa to erupt. In reality, it seems Winchester does it in order to relate his own brief experience working in geologic research as an Oxford student, as well as his personal experiences rubbing elbows with some of geology's best-known names. Eliminating these 64 pages would have made this a tighter and more intersting book.

Winchester does manage to tell the story in an interesting fashion once you get past that chapter. I just wish he (or his editor) wouldn't let himself go down so many blind alleys, and that he would be more clear when he was going backward and forward in time. Rather than telling the story in a linear fashion - here's what happened on the night of August 26 in these five different locations, here's the explosion, here's what happened in Batavia, Anjer, etc. after the mountain blew - he starts by telling us a little bit about what went on Sunday afternoon in Anjer, tells us a little about what happened in Batavia at that time, sidetracks for a couple of pages with information about the storage of natural gas and how it exhibits atmospheric pressure changes, moves over to ships on the ocean and tells their stories through the final explosion of Krakatoa, backtracks to early Sunday evening in Anjer, backtracks again to Sunday morning in Anjer, tells some of what happened to the ships from the perspective of someone on land, tells the Anjer story until about 6am, gives a bunch of one-sentence survivor anecdotes from the end of the event, backtracks to Monday monring, then back again to Sunday evening, then back to Batavia for the final twelve hours, then a full report on the Batavia situation from beginning to end, then back to Monday morning on Anjer, just before the final explosion...and so far we're only 30 pages into a 130-page chapter on the explosion! With all the back-and-forthing in time, it's often difficult for the reader to know what location and what point in time she is reading about.

Winchester's biases are on full display, here, too, and they are troubling. One example, from page 15, as he discusses the colonization of what is now Indonesia:
"The Portuguese from the warm and lazy south were slowly driven out and replaced by doughty Europeans from the cold and more ruthless north." There's three things wrong with this sentence: It talks about the "Portuguese" and "Europeans" as separate peoples, making it sound like the Portuguese are not Europeans, it equates temperate climates with laziness, and it equates cold climates with both courage and ruthlessness. This kind of ethnotyping has been dumped in most academic fields over the past forty years, and for good reason. Other examples of stereotyping are found on page 145 ("It seems now a measure of the Chinese laborer's legendary tolerance for appalling working conditions..." Tolerance, or desperation?)

There are a number of points in the book where, by Winchester's word choice, he shows how little he thinks of Indonesians. It doesn't seem intentional, but it's distinct and noticeable. One example, from page 253: "Each of those snared by the Telok Betong wave speaks of running, wildly, panicked, trying madly to stay ahead of the wave, following natives running wildly too..." [italics mine:]. In this sentence, "each of those" should refer to all people, but it's clear from the sentence construction that Winchester is only referring to European people, because if the phrase "each of those" encompassed both Indonesians and Europeans, the bit I italiscized wouldn't follow.

Notably, the only experiences Winchester uses here are the experiences of the Europeans. In part, this may be because he doesn't have facility with the languages spoken there and thus can't research the texts - but that's what a good research assistant is for.

Really, I want to give this a 2.5. But I'll round it up to a 3.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,372 reviews89 followers
May 28, 2019
My father used to be a sailor before he retired, he did find himself all over the world and had a fascination with the sailing boats which was ironic at least him being a ships engineer. Another fascination he had was with countries and history, when I gave him this book about the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa he was interested as it had to do with his favorite country where he was born and where he on a ship met my mom. And of course it had to do with a natural event that had a serious impact on the world around us that showed that humanity in the face of nature can only accept what is being dealt by nature.

This book is about on of the better recorded volcano eruptions of modern times that really did make an impact on the whole world. On the 27th august 1883 Krakatoa an volcanic island near the Indonesian Island in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian province of Lampung (at that time called Nederlands-Indie a colony of the Netherlands).
With an estimated Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6, the eruption was equivalent to 200 megatons of TNT (840 PJ)—about 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the Little Boy bomb (13 to 16 kt) that devastated Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.
The 1883 eruption ejected approximately 25 km3 (6 cubic miles) of rock. The cataclysmic explosion was heard 3,600 km (2,200 mi) away in Alice Springs, Australia, and on the island of Rodrigues near Mauritius, 4,780 km (2,970 mi) to the west.
What was left was a hole in the water an the island of Krakatoa was wholly disappeared in one large explosion. Eruptions in the area since 1927 have built a new island at the same location, named Anak Krakatau (which is Indonesian for "Child of Krakatoa").

This book is about the times this event took place and the writer does his best to show us the geo-political situation at that time, where science was at when this happened and how it was experienced by people in recorded history. And of course the consequences in the aftermath in which the Banthen massacre was in my personal opinion was a bit of a stretch of including, albeit perhaps interesting to read about the Islam and its goals even back in the 19th century Asia.

The book does linger a lot on tectonic plate theory that was in its infancy at that time and did become an explanation on the subject of earth and volcano's, the writer has managed to make even the more scientific explanations in this book understandable for the mere non-science people like me who still enjoy an interesting event and want to know more about it and its setting in history and implications.

It is well written and researched book that does deliver a lot of information in a way that remains interesting through the whole book. An interesting look at the world of previous centuries with the knowledge that when it comes to volcanoes we can only watch and hope they do not erupt in your lifetime but like Pompeii that was build close to the Vesuvius Volcano there are major human settlements close to many volcanoes who were they to become active would almost certainly lead to a massive loss of life. And we can only hope that science does become better in predicting outbursts but if they are like Krakatoa the damage will be incredible in our modern times.

An interesting book that describes humanity versus nature and humanity is interesting in the face of natures incredible power. Not only for historians but also for people who want to learn more of the world around them.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,137 reviews151 followers
November 28, 2014
All gone. Plenty lives lost. That is the story of Krakatoa, only the 5th greatest volcanic explosion in history but probably the loudest. What intrigued me was Winchester’s assertion that this natural disaster was the first world-wide “social media” event. It happened at a time when communication technology enabled the news to be transmitted world-wide in a few hours through undersea telegraph cables. In the Victorian age, science was “sexy” and many amateur science aficionados are fascinated by this event. Long before McLuhan’s “global village”, this eruption captured the attention of the world. I’m giving the book 4 Stars. However, I can understand why many might find this a 2 Star read because you don’t get to the eruption until past page 200. And he wanders off the main theme many times before the big boom.

Winchester takes you on a roundabout tour before arriving at 10:02 AM, Aug 27, 1883. Luckily, I was interested in most of the topics. First you get a history of discovery and the colonial claims to the resources of the area. Then you wander off to learn about the unusual biodiversity of the Wallace Line which then progresses to a discussion of geology. Follow the twists and turns leading to the final discovery of plate tectonics, a global theory that was finally established in 1965. But you won’t get to the volcano yet because he needs to explain the history of the telegraph and the undersea cables. And then he takes you into the news business and the rise of the Reuters News agency. How about a bit on the Lloyds insurance empire? Sure. Dutch colonial rule, Javanese suffering, racial prejudice, religion, circuses (say what?), cartography, previous explosions, ancient super-Krakatoa, origin of the name Krakatoa/Krakatowa/Krakatau. You get the picture. Lots of related information prior to the main event.

The strongest part of the book is the description of the start of the eruption…which occurs 3 months before it blows up. In May of 1883, the island/mountain starts to come to life, culminating in the explosion heard almost 3,000 miles away. The pressure spike traveled around the world 7 times! The tsunamis did the most damage, killing over 35,000. The actual Krakatoa eruption and aftermath only cover about 150 pages, definitely not enough for me. But I want to visit Indonesia and see the area. Son of Krakatoa is building and will surely go off someday. Having lived near Vesuvius in Italy for 3 years, I can imagine the concern of those likely to be affected by any eruption. It is always in the back of your mind.

The last part of the book is the weakest, attributing an Islamic rebellion against the Dutch to the aftermath of the eruption. Winchester makes a lot of allusions to harsh colonial rule by the Dutch but never really gets into specifics. This weakens his assertion on the short-lived rebellion. But I would like to learn more about the colonial era.

Strong recommendation if you don’t mind wandering far afield.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,671 reviews131 followers
May 30, 2016
In Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded Simon Winchester again weaves the subtle magic of telling a factual story with the fascination that is too often reserved for thrillers. Krakatoa is a real life thriller, the most long lastingly impressive volcanic eruption in so many ways and all are explored in this book.

First there is the historical element; 1883 when the final eruption occurred is definitely historical, but recent enough that there are a lot of records and eye witness reports to draw from, so it is well documented history. Before the eruption is covered however we are given an insightful, in depth look at the social political situation in the region. How the Dutch came to be in power there, the wealth of the spice trade, the intricacies of the people living in the region, all these things are covered in sufficient detail that someone who is coming to the story with little actual knowledge of the region is well versed before Krakatoa is addressed.

Then there is the geological story, the science of how volcanoes in general and Krakatoa in particular occur and behave, but in order to appreciate the science in the time of the eruption we are given the history of how geology rose to be the science it is today. And despite having read a fair bit of geology and plate tectonics I am always surprised all over again at how recently plate tectonics became recognised.

So there is an awful lot of information surrounding the area and event before we reach the actual eruption. Now I personally love this type of storytelling, the long meander to discuss all the interesting things surrounding the event, so that when the main eruption happens there are no questions, no confusion. Despite enjoying this reading experience I am not blind to the fact that it takes time and attention to read: This is not a fact book that you can knock off in a couple of sessions, this requires attention to get the most out of it.

When we reach the eruption it is breathtaking, exciting and all that was worth waiting for, totally worth the teasers in the lead up.

The part in which Winchester describes the revolution that led to modern independent Indonesia is an eye opener. He links the regional rise of Islam and the Arabian peninsular's influence to the violence which, while it did lead to independence from colonisation in the region, is uncannily echoed by international Islamic behavior and goals. It was an eye opener for me because while I know Islam was a prevalent religion in Indonesia, I never knew how it came to be so. Now I know more.

The section after the eruption was an unexpected joy: The detailed description of the geological changes and the successional biology of the islands re-establishing themselves was fascinating, as was the peak into the future of what might yet happen with Anak Krakatoa.

All in all a long and satisfying reading experience.

Profile Image for Josh.
306 reviews161 followers
February 22, 2017
Entertaining, interesting and tedious (sometimes all at once), Winchester's take on the eruption of Krakatoa and its after effects is a smorgasbord of general geological history, historical re-enactment of the eruption and the end of Dutch colonialism in what is now known as Indonesia.

With that said, my three star rating reflects some of my 'cons' with this book. He tends to repeat himself about specific things over and over and the chronology is off-putting (he goes back and forth between before and after the eruption and then back before causing slight confusion). I enjoyed learning about plate tectonics/continental drift theory once again, but I can see how some may find it tedious since Krakatoa isn't really referred to in detail until later on in the book.

As I enjoyed The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, this wasn't as enjoyable, but doesn't put me off him completely.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,071 reviews752 followers
Want to read
May 16, 2019
I started reading this and kind of zoned out really fast. This is one of those books -- all too common now -- where the chronicler seems hellbent on going back far into time and detailing various tangentially relevant incident before finally deciding to bring it all home somewhere near the end. I'm sure that descriptions of flora and fauna and the history of trade routes have their place, but not to this extent. Why must every author have to be the "chronicler of record" and weigh their books down in excessive minutiae? I notice biographers of famous people, including movie stars, now seem obliged to no longer merely start with "so and so was born" and instead go back to the fucking Norman invasion or some such and chronicle the whole damned family tree like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" or something. I picked this up because I wanted to read about a disaster. I want blood and guts and big 'plosions, goddamnit! Maybe I'll try it again someday using my patented "select and skim" methodology.
Profile Image for Helvry Sinaga.
102 reviews25 followers
June 16, 2011
Apakah suatu kebanggaan bila sebuah bencana pernah menjadi buah bibir internasional. Belum hilang di benak kita bencana tsunami di Banda Aceh dan sekitarnya yang menelan korban jiwa lebih dari 100.000 jiwa. Oktober 2010 lalu, erupsi Merapi turut menambah catatan bencana terbesar bagi negeri kita ini. Letusan Gunung vulkanik telah lama menjadi langganan bagi wilayah negeri kita. Rekor yang tidak terkalahkan adalah letusan Gunung Toba yang membentuk caldera Danau Toba, serta letusan Gunung Tambora di Sumbawa, letusan Gunung Agung di Bali (1963), serta letusan Krakatau (1883).

Sebuah gunung dengan puncak lancip. Gunung tersebut mengeluarkan asap. Di sekelilingnya ada es. Itulah gambar pada cover buku ini. Lukisan tersebut berjudul "Sunset over the Ice on Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario" yang dilukis oleh pelukis Amerika, Frederic Edwin Church yang terinspirasi oleh letusan krakatau.

Simon Winchester membagi buku ini dalam beberapa bagian. Bagian pertama mendeksripsikan nusantara secara umum, bagaimana awalnya Eropa berkenalan dengan Hindia Timur lewat komoditas lada dan kopi. Termasuk pula kedatangan ilmuwan yang terkenal dengan garis maya Wallace, yaitu Albert Russel Wallace. Bagian Kedua mengenai saat-saat terjadinya ledakan. Winchester merangkum semua laporan dari seluruh dunia yang menceritakan peristiwa 27 Agustus 1883 tersebut. Bagian ketiga tentang lahirnya putra Krakatau, yang sekarang biasa dinamakan Anak Krakatau. Fenomena ini menarik perhatian para ilmuwan dari seluruh dunia, termasuk minat Winchester sendiri terhadap kawasan ini. Pada bagian akhir dituliskan juga pengalaman Winchester ketika mengunjungi kawasan krakatau serta merekomendasikan bacaan-bacaan lanjutan bagi pembaca yang ingin mengetahui lebih dalam tentang Krakatau.

Batavia dan sekitarnya
Pada bagian awal, Winchester menuliskan tentang bagaimana awalnya Bangsa Eropa mengenal nusantara, hingga Belanda membangun bentengnya di tempat yang dinamakan Batavia. Cornelis de Houtman membangun jalur awal perdagangan antara nusantara dan Amsterdam. Perdagangan lada hitam Jawa yang menggiurkan Belanda yang sekaligus menjadi amunisi baru untuk mematahkan perdagangan rempah-rempah yang selama ini dicengkeram oleh Portugis.

Ada peristiwa menarik bagaimana ketika Jan Pieterszoon Coen menjabat Gubernur Jenderal pada tahun 1618. JP Coen bermaksud untuk membuat benteng pertahanan untuk melindungi pedagang-pedagangnya dari ancaman Inggris yang sudah lama di sana. JP Coen memperkirakan bahwa imperialis lokal akan terjadi. Namun ia menyadari bahwa kekuatan militernya kalah jauh dibandingkan Inggris. Ia meminta bantuan ke Amsterdam agar kekuatan ditambah, namun permintaan tersebut ditolak. JP Coen berlayar ke Ambon dengan maksud memperoleh kekuatan tambahan di sana.Pasukan Inggris mengepung benteng kecil Belanda itu. Hal itu membuat jengkel penjaga Gudang Belanda, Tn. Van den Broecke, ia mengeluarkan gulungan kain sutra yang bernilai mahal dari gudangnya untuk dijadikan tameng. Lalu Inggris dan sultan muda setempat bertengkar mengenai hasil rampasan itu. Kemudian Sultan Banten datang memerangi Inggris dan sultan muda setempat untuk memastikan bahwa tidak satupun yang mendapat barang rampasan Belanda. Namun, tiba-tiba Inggris meninggalkan tempat itu dan Sultan Banten menggulingkan sultan muda itu. Tempat itu kosong, dan ketika JP Coen kembali, ia heran tidak ada lagi pihak musuh.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen, pendiri Hindia Timur Belanda, bisa mendapatkan penghargaan untuk itu. Sedangkan penamaan ibu kota yang didirikan tersebut sebenarnya merupakan kehormatan yang harus ditujukan kepada para tentara yang tak pernah disebut-sebut dan bahkan hampir dilupakan, serta pastinya bukan hak Coen (h.48).

Keberadaan Batavia selanjutnya menjadi penting, sebab di kota inilah banyak ahli ilmu pengetahuan berdatangan dan menjadi jembatan informasi ke dunia luar mengabarkan kejadian dahsyat letusan Krakatau.

Penemuan terkait
Pada tahun 1858, Philip Sclater menerbitkan makalah "On The General Geographical Distribution of The Members of The Class Aves" yang menyimpulkan bahwa ada enam wilayah zoology yang ia namakan Palaearctic, Aethiopian, Indian, Australasian, Nearctic and Neotropical. Ia mengkhususkan penelitiannya pada jenis-jenis burung. Ia menemukan bahwa jarang sekali ada burung beo di Jawa, tetapi ada banyak burung beo di Sulawesi, Papua, dan Timor; tidak kakatua dan nuri di bagian barat, tetapi banyak di bagian timur; tidak ada Burung Murai di Bali. Hal ini menyimpulkan bahwa geografi punya pengaruh utama dalam zoologi dan botani, tidak terbatas pada zona iklim tertentu saja.

Alfred Russel Wallace mempelajari gejala tersebut dan meneliti lebih lanjut. Ia menyimpulkan tidak hanya burung-burung yang menempati wilayah geografis tertentu, tetapi juga berbagai jenis tumbuhan dan hewan lainnya.Winchester menceritakan sedikit biografi Wallace di buku ini. Wallace dianggap "satelit"nya Charles Darwin yang lebih dahulu tenar dengan teori evolusinya. Kesimpulan Wallace mengenai keberadaan spesies di muka bumi ini didapatkannya di sebuah tempat di negeri ini, di kepulauan rempah-rempah, Maluku. Ia berkesimpulan bahwa individu-individu yang tersingkirkan dari kehidupan ini, pasti secara keseluruhan, jauh lebih lemah daripada individu yang selamat (h.83). Ia mengirimkan hasil penelitiannya di nusantara kepada kediaman Charles Darwin untuk diteruskan ke pakar Geologi yang juga sahabat dekat Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell. Namun, malah Darwin yang terpesona dengan makalah Wallace tersebut. Ia mempelajarinya dan menemukan bahwa makalah Wallace inilah kunci misteri teori evolusinya. Dan dengan bangganya, Darwin menerbitkan buku "On The Origin of Species" yang terkenal itu. Wallace sendiri tidak terkenal di negerinya (Inggris). Charles Lyell sudah menyarankan pada Darwin agar menyatakan sejumlah pujian pada Wallace, namun Darwin tidak mau mengakuinya. Ia beranggapan idenya dan ide Wallace sama. Sayangnya, bukti yang paling mendasar tentang evolusi ada di tangan Wallace.

Penemuan Wallace kedua yaitu gagasan tentang adanya evolusi bumi. Hal itu disampaikannya di depan Linnean Society, 1859. Ia menjelaskan fakta yang ditemukannya, sebagai contoh ketika melintas dari Pulau Bali ke Lombok. Di Bali, ia menemukan Burung Murai pemakan buah dan burung pelatuk, sementara di Lombok, burung itu tidak ada lagi. Padahal laut yang memisahkannya hanya 24 km. Perbedaan mencolok apabila membandingkan hewan-hewan dan tumbuhan antara Sumatra dengan pulau pulau seperti Sulawesi, Maluku, dan Papua. "Fakta-fakta seperti ini hanya dapat dijelaskan dengan penerimaan luas atas perubahan cepat di permukaan bumi." (h.90)

Ia memisahkan Indonesia berdasarkan jenis hewan dan tumbuhan yang ditemuinya menjadi dua bagian. Dari bagian utara yaitu perbatasan Pulau Sulawesi dan Pulau Kalimantan hingga ke Selatan ke Selat Lombok yang memisahkan Pulau Bali dan Pulau Lombok. Atas hal tersebut, garis tersebut diberikan nama Garis Wallace (Wallace's Line)

Penemuan Wallace ini dilanjutkan dengan penelitian mengenai apa yang terjadi di bawah bumi. Alfred Lothar Wegener menyatakan bahwa dulu bumi terdiri dari benua tunggal, yang kemudian terbagi dua yang dinamakan benua Laurasia dan Gondwananland. Kemudian dua bagian benua itu pecah hingga menjadi 7 benua sekarang ini. Felix Vening Meinesz melanjutkan penelitian ini. Penelitiannya di Laut Jawa menunjukkan adanya penurunan dramatis dalam kekuatan bidang gravitasional di tempat tersebut. Penemuannya ini dilanjutkan dengan pengembangan teori lempeng tektonik.

Teori lempeng tektonik diperkenalkan oleh Geologist asal Kanada, John Tuzo Wilson. Ia menyatakan bahwa Kepulauan Hawai berasal dari pergerakan di bawah laut Samudra Pasifik. Wilson menegaskan apa yang menjadi teori Wagener dan pendahulunya, bahwa Bumi ini bergerak. Lempeng tektonik, pada intinya, adalah cara bumi berlaku dengan kehilangan panasnya yang tetap. Sejumlah besar panas terakumulasi selama formasi planet lebih dari 4.500 juta tahun lalu, dan radioaktivitas alami (h.143). Lempeng-lempeng ini bergerak jauh di bawah permukaan laut dengan arah-arah tertentu. Di beberapa tempat, seperti di kawasan Krakatau lempengan ini turun dengan elevasi tertentu ke arah inti bumi (subduksi/penunjaman). Pertumbukan antarlempeng inilah yang menyebabkan terjadinya gempa.

Serangkaian fakta-fakta ilmiah yang diungkapkan oleh Ahli ilmu pengetahuan di atas, menjadi 'pembuka' yang mau tidak mau membosankan bagi sebagian pembaca seperti saya. Mungkin Winchester juga turut 'memamerkan' ilmu geologinya. Ia bisa menulis tentang geologi dengan dengan fakta-fakta yang berkaitan. Jadi, tidak heran mengapa Indonesia sering terjadi gempa tektonik, sebab Indonesia adalah pertemuan lempeng daratan Eurasia dan Australia serta lempeng samudra Pasifik dan Hindia. Satu-satunya wilayah yang tidak terkena pengaruh lempeng ini di Pulau Kalimantan (terutama Kalimantan Tengah).

Apa yang terjadi di Krakatau sesungguhnya adalah peristiwa alamiah yang terjadi di dalam perut bumi. Lempeng samudra bertumbukan dengan lempeng benua, hanya itulah yang penting, lebih detilnya kita perlu sesi tersendiri untuk diberikan pencerahan oleh ahlinya atau membaca halaman 149-152.

Anggapan lama bagaimana terbentuk Kepulauan Krakatau adalah awalnya ada Gunung setinggi 152 meter yang dinamakan Krakatau kuno. Karena ada letusan raksasa, selanjutnya menjadi pulau-pulau kecil yang terlihat stabil. Pulau-pulau tersebut adalah Rakatta, Danan, dan Perboewatan.

Evolusi Gunung Api Krakatau, menurut Francis (1985) dan Self & Rampino (1981).

Diperkirakan ada tiga letusan sebelum 1883. Letusan sebelumnya diduga pada Anno Domini (AD) 416, 535, dan 1680. Sebelum letusan Agustus 1883, letusan sudah mulai terjadi sejak Bulan Mei 1883. Letusan tersebut merupakan pembuka bagi letusan dahsyat di tanggal 27 Agustus 1883. Dari tanggal 1 sampai 26 Agustus, letusan-letusan menjadi semakin sering dan gunung mengeluarkan asap hitam. Letusan dahsyat tersebut menenggelamkan dua pertiga Pulau, dan memunculkan anak Krakatau.

Selanjutnya, yang menjadi fokus pembahasan buku ini adalah letusan tahun 1883. Keberadaan telegraf yang ditemukan oleh Samuel Morse turut berperan penting dalam penyiaran berita Krakatau ke seluruh dunia. Bukan kantor berita yang pertama kali mendapatkan berita ini, tetapi dari perusahaan pelayaran Lloyd's di Inggris. Winchester menuliskan sejarah lahirnya telegraf di dunia perdagangan dan pemberitaan termasuk teknologi kabel bergetah perca yang digunakan untuk membentangkan kabel telegraf di bawah laut. Berikut gambar jaringan telegraf pada waktu itu.

Dampak Letusan Krakatau
Berbagai catatan dan rekaman ditulis untuk melaporkan peristiwa ini. Winchester menyarikan beberapa catatan yang dianggap memiliki nilai informatif. Ada 3 kapal Eropa yang berada di selat itu ketika peristiwa letusan terjadi. Kapal Loudon dengan Kapten Lindeman; Kapal pengangkut Garam dari Denmark, Marie; Kapal pengangkut barang bernama Charles Bal dengan Kapten W.J. Watson. Catatan Kapten W.J tergolong lengkap. Ia menuliskan:

...kami terlingkupi dalam kegelapan yang mungkin bisa dirasakan, dan kemudian turun hujan lebat campuran lumpur, pasir, dan saya tidak tahu apa lagi...(h.288)

Gambar berikut menunjukkan rute pelayaran yang dilakukan oleh Kapten W.J. Wilson (lihat garis merah)

Pada tahun 2006, BBC membuat dokudrama "Krakatoa: The Last Days", dokudrama tersebut dibuat berdasarkan catatan saksi mata, salah satunya adalah Kapten W.J. Watson. Cuplikan film tersebut dapat dilihat di sini. Letusan Krakatau yang berdampak besar adalah pada bencana setelah gempa yaitu tsunami. Untuk ukuran tahun 1883, dimana penduduk belum begitu banyak, jumlah 36.000 jiwa tewas adalah jumlah yang besar.

Apa saja dampak letusan Krakatau?

1. Getaran keras yang terdengar pada kecepatan suara kira-kira 1.085 dan 1.168 km/jam, terdengar di 1/3 permukaan bumi. Terdengar di Australia (3.540 km) dan Rodriguez Island  (4,653 km)
2. Kegelapan di Selat Sunda
3. Tsunami setinggi kurang lebih 36 meter membunuh kira-kira  36.000 jiwa.
4. Hujan batu apung dan hujan abu di sekitar Krakatau yang mematikan vegetasi dan hewan-hewan.
5. Seorang wanita tersapu arus air tsunami di Panama (3.219 km dari Krakatau)
6. Gelombang laut menghancurkan sebuah tambang kapal di Port Louis, Mauritus
7. 9 juta kilometer kubik abu vulkanik menyebar ke seluruh dunia
8. Fenomena optis yang tidak biasa di atmosfer, langit diwarnai merah, kuning, lembayung oleh partikel abu vulkanik
9. Debu vulkanik menutupi sinar matahari berakibat menyaring radiasi matahari ke bumi dan menyebabkan pendinginan global. Temperatur bumi normal kembali setelah 5 tahun (1888).
10. Berita utama The New York Times: “Terrific detonations were heard yesterday evening from the volcanic island of Krakatoa. They were audible at Soerkrata, on the island of Java. The ashes from the volcano fell as far as Cheribon, and the flashes proceeding from it were visible in Batavia.”

Dampak lain yang patut mendapat perhatian adalah dampak sosial. Bencana kemanusiaan tersebut meninggalkan trauma serta kehilangan harta benda bagi masyarakat. Namun, di daerah Anyer, orang-orang tidak memedulikan bantuan pemerintah kolonial Belanda. Ada semacam spiritualisme saat itu bahwa letusan krakatau adalah perlambang datangnya Ratu Adil. Selama ini, masyarakat khususnya di daerah Banten tidak bersimpati pada pemerintah Belanda. Muncul gerakan antibelanda pada akhir abad 19. Faktor-faktor kemiskinan, tirani kolonial, imperialisme turut memicu gerakan tersebut. Multatuli dengan Max Havelaar-nya sudah 'menyindir' pemimpin Belanda agar awas terhadap isu-isu di atas. Namun, bukannya sadar, para pemimpin tersebut semakin mabuk kekayaan yang diperas dari keringat rakyat Banten. Letusan Krakatau menjadi pemicu perlawanan di Serang, di Cilegon, dan di tempat-tempat lain terhadap kantor-kantor pemerintah kolonial. Dengan menyatakan perang Sahid, pasukan pemberontak maju melawan pasukan bersenjata modern. Winchester mencatat: letusan Krakatau sunguh-sungguh membantu memicu gerakan politis dan religius yang membara dengan singkat dan ganas di Jawa, dan yang meninggalkan tanda yang tak terhapuskan dalam pemerintahan Hindia Timur (h.442).

Percakapan mengenai bencana alam tidak habis-habisnya. Ada yang memang sudah demikian siklusnya, ada yang disebabkan ulah manusia. Krakatau menyisakan banyak cerita bagi generasi sekarang. Will Durant berfilosofi seperti ini: "Peradaban ada karena persetujuan geologis, bisa berubah sewaktu-waktu tanpa pemberitahuan terlebih dahulu."  Bagaimana dengan kita? apakah hanya pada kisah Krakatau ini saja?

Buku ini disusun dengan riset panjang. Walau mungkin tidak memenuhi kualifikasi buku akademis, namun Winchester meramu berbagai buku-buku referensi termasuk pengamatan fisik menjadi buku yang komprehensif. Mulai dari sejarah, geologi, ornitologi, klimatologi, telegrafi, politik, sosial, serta fakta-fakta historis disajikan dengan baik. Winchester beruntung memiliki banyak rekan yang memberi banyak masukan dan bantuan dalam penulisan buku ini. Adanya buku ini, turut menambah cara berpikir logis kita untuk menjawab: "Seandainya letusan seabad lalu terulang lagi, kemana dan bagaimana  mengevakuasi penduduk yang padat di kawasan tersebut?"


Profile Image for MisterFweem.
345 reviews15 followers
August 13, 2010
A lot of the reviews I've read for this book criticize Winchester for being, well, slow. Slow to get to the action, or whatever.

Well, this isn't that kind of book. Though it's written of a Hollywood blockbuster event, this isn't popular fiction. It's a scientist's approach to a worldwide calamity, and as a result of that, Winchester earns the right to be a bit slow and methodical, delving into the significance of Indonesia in the science of evolution and how the science of plate tectonics plays in the area. Personally, I loved his scientific delvings, even if they do "slow" the narrative down a bit.
Profile Image for Nigel.
847 reviews97 followers
September 30, 2019
I found most of this extremely interesting and the author writes very well indeed. He manages to weave a number of threads into the basic story of this massive volcanic eruption. That said, for me, it was not quite as good as his story of China through the medium of the Yangtse.

I found the section on continental drift went on a little too long and was beyond what I really wanted to know. Equally I thought the claim that the eruption caused a real shift in aspects of the world order interesting but rather brief. The detailed story of the eruption from those close by at the time was absolutely fascinating. I'll continue to read Winchester's books from time to time.
Profile Image for Betsy.
999 reviews145 followers
August 23, 2017
This book starts slowly, but really becomes interesting as the rumbles of Krakatoa become more ominous resulting in several eruptions. Eventually, most of the volcano disappears into the sea. Along with the eruptions, the area suffers a massive tsunami which causes a great loss of life. I've always been fascinated by volcanoes such as Krakatoa and Tambora so this was a good read for me. And with the reappearance of another volcanic cone, Anakrakatoa, presents the possibility of another devastating explosion.
Profile Image for Lord Zion.
Author 1 book7 followers
November 16, 2017
I wanted to know about Krakatoa. Instead, I learned about the author. I got half way through and realised that I was wasting my life. It was though he really wanted to write an autobiography but the publisher said "no, we want you to write about Krakatoa instead", so he sneaked his autobiography within the pages of this.

If you want to know what Simon Winchester did for a lot of his life, read this.

If you want to know why an island blew up, read something else.
Profile Image for cameron.
405 reviews103 followers
October 19, 2014
I read this several years ago but remember it clearly. It is a terrific book and moves at a fast clip, The kind of book you can't put down. How an author can create such tension and awe when every reader knows what happened, is beyond me.
Wonderful journalism and descriptions which put you in the middle of everything happening to the characters he discusses.
Profile Image for JT.
53 reviews9 followers
April 17, 2007
Alright, I know I scored this with 3 stars, but that is because it is just LONG and DULL in places.

This book is about the last great Global event right before the modern era of the industrial revolution. You learn so much and gain such an insight into this event that you can't help but feel smarter. Hell, you feel like you've earned your PhD. in Geology or some anthropological earth science by the time you reach the end of this bad mamma-jamma!

If you have a few weeks of your life to waste (probably longer depending on how dry you like your reading) this is the book for you. I honestly do suggest it, it is a completely fascinating subject and the writer is very, very good. It does help to hear his voice on CSPAN or something. I saw him on there once and he had that educated English Oxford accent going on. Now I read his books and feel like I'm reading along with Masterpiece Theater!
Profile Image for Chris D..
68 reviews14 followers
December 23, 2020
Simon Winchester is an author that I always look forward to reading, there is something about his wit in style and the way his books always seem like epics. Krakatoa is another one of Winchester's epics whose scope is amazing covering many centuries and covering also a large array of science topics.

The reader gets from Winchester general history, plate tectonics, continental drift, weather, navigation, Dutch colonial history, and even personal stories and the ascent and peering into a caldera. I very much enjoyed his diversions and even though my scientific knowledge has many holes I was able to follow his deep dives into science.

It takes a long while to get to the actual day of the explosion, so the subtitle may seem a little misleading but it certainly was worth the wait. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Steve Saroff.
Author 2 books272 followers
April 1, 2022
Geology! History! What a story!!
Winchester dives into the history of people, plants, and science. He exposes greed, ego, and the weirdness of the colonizing world. And leads up to, and through, a world-shattering event and the events that precipitated from that point on. What a great read. I'm jealous of those who haven't read it yet, as they have a great book to fall deeply into.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,680 reviews344 followers
June 28, 2018
B/B+ -- pretty good, if over-detailed at times. Say, 3.5 stars, as it seems better in memory (2018) than when I read it (2005). He is a first-rate writer.
Profile Image for Gabi.
698 reviews123 followers
July 14, 2021
This was a strange one. As I learned since starting this book it is apparently a trademark of Simon Winchester to meander through his topics. As a holistic approach this is quite insightful, especially for readers like me who have got only little knowledge about Indonesian history. But as a story about the Krakatoa it was like searching for the needle in the proverbial haystack.
I go for an average rating, because I didn't know that I had to reset my expectations. But I will read some more by this author (and this time with the adapted state-of-mind), because he seems to be interested and knowledgeable over quite some range of topics.
Profile Image for S..
Author 5 books71 followers
August 5, 2013
when I first saw KRAKATOA some eight or whatever years ago, I flipped through it at the bookstore and thought it unimpressive. hardcovers are what, $25 these days, and if you think about it, that's four or five movies (depending on the theatre/ netflix or blockbuster) or it's a lobster dinner or its a night's stay at a guesthouse in bali or singapore. don't underestimate the power of $25 ! since that time, I've now read 7 full Simon Winchester books and have a copy of one or two more buried somewhere on the e-reader, and this wide-ranging, curious, evocative writer really deserves the praise he's received.

as others have mentioned, Winchester's talent lies in immersing you in the world in which he describes. it's not just a matter of evoking the Dutch East Indies through smell and cuisine, as a merely competent reader can-- it's telling you period detail like the Krakatoa explosion was the first global-level news item to be carried across the recently-laid telegraph network-- it was the first "breaking news" so to speak, in an era when passenger pigeons were still being used to carry the dispatches across national lines and when gutta-percha-coated copper wires finally solved the problem of crossing the entire atlantic ocean with undersea cables.

details like that-- and the simmering indonesian national identity; the evocative 'bare-breasted balinese girls who walked across black sands' in the actually existing south sea paradise before contemporary religion arose and ruined everything-- these kind of things draw you into the world Winchester is creating, and the result is a solid, master-level work of craftsmanship. 4/5 solid
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