Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester is the incredible tale of the Indonesian volcano that exploded into smithereens in 1883. Jam-packed with fabulous twists, turns and diversions into geology, history, politics, technology and evolution, it’s a rollicking traipse across continents, disciplines and history.

Browse titles by subject matter

The detonation of Krakatoa was the largest recorded explosion on earth, and occurred at a time when the world was in the midst of epoch-making change. As Winchester notes in his 2003-published book, Krakatoa was “the first-ever story about a truly enormous natural event that was both about the world and was told to the world. Part of the planet’s fabric had been ripped asunder: and part of that same planet, the part connected by cables and telegraphs and with access to newspapers, was now being informed of the event… Millions of people hitherto unknown to each other began to involve themselves, for the first time ever, in looking beyond their hitherto limited horizons of self; they started to inhabit a new and outward-gazing world that these story-telling agencies, and this event they were relating, were unwittingly helping to create.”

Krakatoa erupted at a time when the theory of evolution was being teased out; the era of global colonialism was just beginning the phase that would see it labour through its last gasps; the telegraph had just been invented; and plate tectonics was just starting to be understood. Krakatoa is not just the biography of a volcano, but rather a many-faceted moment in history, and one that Winchester effortlessly and rather relentlessly explores.

In the days before volcanology was really a science, and there was really no such thing as monitoring a volcano’s behaviour, Krakatoa’s eruption took Java, Sumatra and indeed the world by surprise, though the lead up to the main event took a number of months. The eruption killed nearly 40,000 people—the vast majority in tsunamis that occurred because of the eruption, rather than the eruption itself—and the sound of the explosion was heard nearly 3,000 miles away. Krakatoa, Winchester writes, became a part of the world’s cultural lexicon, “a word that people seemed to like to both say and to have said to them”. And in this book, the volcano gets its just attention for the layperson at last.

In the 400-page edition we have, Krakatoa doesn’t enter into its final explosive stage until about 200 pages in. For the eruption and the questions it created (and the answers it supplied) brings together many sciences and disciplines, all of which Winchester teases out in his inimitable, erudite manner. No trivia is too trivial, we could say, and yet Winchester doesn’t seem to present anything that isn’t, well, interesting and in some way pertinent to the central narrative.

We loved, for instance, the story of the eccentric elephant trainer who moved her little circus-performing pachyderm into her room at Batavia’s Hotel des Indes. The elephant ran amok, trashing the room. Shortly afterwards, Krakatoa blew; did the elephant know? Perhaps. Either way, it’s a wonderful anecdote.

We loved, as well, the diversion into evolution and coverage of one of our favourite historical figures, Alfred Russel Wallace (the spelling of his middle name due to a typo on his birth certificate, we discover) (see The Malay Archipelago and The Signature of All Things for more) and the story of Julius Reuter, who started the world’s first news agency in 1858 (he had used specially trained pigeons to get news from Paris to Brussels before telegraph lines were complete).

The diversions are whimsical and understandable; the story demands them. Consider (a footnote): “The agent was named Mr Schuit. But there is ample opportunity for confusion ahead, for in Anjer at the same time there happened to be a lighthouse keeper also called Mr Schuit, an unrelated widow-woman named Mrs Schuit and a newly appointed telegraph-master who was called Mr Schuit. Since all played major roles in the August cataclysm, it is as well to be forewarned.”

Yet the main, and compelling, story gets told, too. And there is, paradoxically, something life-affirming about terrible disasters such as Krakatoa. We are all at the mercy of nature, and nature puts us humbly in our place. Winchester writes, when he visits Anak Krakatoa, or the Child of Krakatoa, at the end of the book:

“The mechanics of the making of the world were all in evidence, just a few feet ahead of where I stood. All this talk of subduction zones, of the collisions between two of the world’s immense tectonic plates, of the unfolding of the ring of fire—it all came down to this. Here, in this hot, crystalline, yellow-grey, wheezing, whistling, mud-boiling cauldron, was where the consequences of subduction were being played out… It was a place that was all too evidently primed, ready at an instant to explode again—and, in exploding, to do goodness knows how much harm to the goodness knows how many souls waiting unwittingly down below.”

Given the rumblings of Bali’s Gunung Agung as of October 2017, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded makes for a currently relevant read to travellers here. But anyone with an interest in, well, the world at large, will find something compelling to draw them into this delightfully peripatetic history of Krakatoa.

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General