the Day the World Exploded

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Krakatoa : The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester


This is the paperback edition

Other editions:
Audio Cassette: unabridged
Audio CD: unabridged


Book Description
Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary , examines the legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa, which was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly forty thousand people. 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. Krakatoa gives us an entirely new perspective on this fascinating and iconic event.

About the Author
Simon Winchester is the author of The Map That Changed the World, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary, and The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.


Back Cover
1st Chapter
Editorial Reviews

World History Books

From Publishers Weekly
An erudite, fascinating account by one of the foremost purveyors of contemporary nonfiction, this book chronicles the underlying causes, utter devastation and lasting effects of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of the volcano island Krakatoa in what is now Indonesia. Winchester (
The Professor and the Madman; The Map That Changed the World) once again demonstrates a keen knack for balancing rich and often rigorous historical detail with dramatic tension and storytelling. Rather than start with brimstone images of the fateful event itself, Winchester takes a broader approach, beginning with his own viewing of the now peaceful remains of the mountain for a second time in a span of 25 years-and being awed by how much it had grown in that time. This nod to the earth's ceaseless rejuvenation informs the entire project, and Winchester uses the first half of the text to carefully explain the discovery and methods of such geological theories as continental drift and plate tectonics. In this way, the vivid descriptions of Krakatoa's destruction that follow will resonate more completely with readers, who will come to appreciate the awesome powers that were churning beneath the surface before it gave way. And while Winchester graphically illustrates, through eyewitness reports and extant data, the human tragedy and captivating scientific aftershocks of the explosion, he is also clearly intrigued with how it was "a demonstration of the utterly confident way that the world, however badly it has been wounded, picks itself up, continues to unfold its magic and its marvels, and sets itself back on its endless trail of evolutionary progress yet again." His investigations have produced a work that is relevant to scholars and intriguing to others, who will relish it footnotes and all.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
It may seem a stretch to connect a volcanic eruption with civil and religious unrest in Indonesia today, but Simon Winchester makes a compelling case. Krakatoa tells the frightening tale of the biggest volcanic eruption in history using a blend of gentle geology and narrative history. Krakatoa erupted at a time when technologies like the telegraph were becoming commonplace and Asian trade routes were being expanded by northern European companies. This bustling colonial backdrop provides an effective canvas for the suspense leading up to August 27th, 1883, when the nearby island of Krakatoa would violently vaporize. Winchester describes the eruption through the eyes of its survivors, and readers will be as horrified and mesmerized as eyewitnesses were as the death toll reached nearly 40,000 (almost all of whom died from tsunamis generated by the unimaginably strong shock waves of the eruption). Ships were thrown miles inshore, endless rains of hot ash engulfed those towns not drowned by 100 foot waves, and vast rafts of pumice clogged the hot sea. The explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and the eruption's shock wave traveled around the world seven times. But the book's biggest surprise is not the riveting catalog of the volcano's effects; rather, it is Winchester's contention that the Dutch abandonment of their Indonesian colonies after the disaster left local survivors to seek comfort in radical Islam, setting the stage for a volatile future for the region. --Therese Littleton

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This expansive chronicle of a geologically unstable hot spot between the islands of Java and Sumatra, scene of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, conveys not only a wealth of scientific detail related to the event, but also addresses long-term ramifications for the social, political, economic, and religious fabric of the region. During the volcano's final 20 hours and 56 minutes, sounds from Krakatoa's eruption were heard 2968 miles away, and the air shock waves it created were recorded circling the globe seven times. Ultimately, the "six cubic miles of rock" that had been the island vanished. Winchester points out that Krakatoa was the first catastrophe to occur "after the establishment of a worldwide network of telegraph cables" that enabled news of the devastation to be transmitted with heretofore unheard of speed. Scientific investigations continue to this day, with particular watchfulness over Anak Krakatoa (literally, "son of Krakatoa"), an active volcanic island located in the same spot, which began forming in 1927-1930 and is growing in height at a rate of 20 feet per year. The author cuts a broad swath as he transitions among topics as diverse as plate tectonics, the 16th-century Dutch-colonial spice trade, and the seeds of radical Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia, but the telling is masterful and conscientious readers are rewarded by his elucidation of complex interrelationships.
Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library,
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
Everyone's favorite geologist takes on a volcanic eruption that killed nearly 40,000 people and changed the climate for years.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From AudioFile
If you're looking for drama, you'll certainly find it here. With a volcanic explosion heard 3,000 miles away and a related tsunami that killed close to 40,000 people, there's plenty of excitement for the thrill-seeker. Win-chester, author of the bestselling THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, adroitly juggles a plethora of subjects, from the Dutch spice trade in colonial Java to the science of tectonic plates, creating a fascinating look at one of history's most cataclysmic disasters. Despite his BBC tone, Winchester manages a dry and ironic delivery, very much in keeping with his writing style. But the main point of interest when the dust has settled is the far-flung ramifications of this eruption upon world events. This is a winner. D.G. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Winchester is a teacher to the world. Among his previous books are the best-selling The Professor and the Madman (1998) and The Map That Changed the World (2001), in which he taught us all about the Oxford English Dictionary and the world's first geological map, respectively. What's on his mind now? Sit back and learn, for this eloquent British writer submits a fascinating account of the cataclysmic explosion of the East Indian volcanic island of Krakatoa in 1883. The destruction was phenomenal, due primarily to the sea waves created by the explosion-"the most violent explosion ever recorded and experienced by modern man"-which swept away nearly 200 villages on neighboring islands. Krakatoa evaporated, "blasted out of existence"-simply a space left in the sea. Of course, this wouldn't be a book by Winchester if he simply narrated the events of the eruption, exciting as the details are; no, he gives us a wealth of further information, setting the incident within the contexts of general volcanic behavior, plate tectonics, Dutch rule in the East Indies, and the region's flora and fauna. In the wake of Krakatoa came the recognition that natural events in one place can greatly affect those in far-distant places, hardly news to us but news nonetheless back then. All readers, science-prone or not, will be delighted by this experience-expanding book. Brad Hooper
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