(crack ahh toe ahh)
Who could make up a word like that?

(Insight: It is a real name of a fantastic volcano!)
A real place in Indonesa on the other side of the world.
And the title of a book rich in history and origins,
and the development of scientific theories.

KRAKATOA, The Day the World Exploded
August 27, 1883
Simon Winchester

When I heard of the book, I wanted to read about the disaster that until 2003 killed more people than any in recorded history. The tale was brought to my attention by my son-in-law whose morning coffee drinkers discussed it because of the recent earthquake and resulting tsunamie in Sumatra. Curious that the December disaster took place on the opposite end of the same island over a hundred years ago. Not exactly the same island. The volcano that exploded in 1883 was not on Sumatra. It was a separate island and when the top blew off, the remainder of the island sunk under the sea.

But let's get back to the book. How could it take over 600 pages to describe the disaster? True there are more than 600 pages of print about Mount St. Helen's with a Volanic Explosive Index under 6.5 that doesn't make the top five list, and those pages repeat the description many times over. KRAKATOA is written by a Brit - well why not? The technology of the day even the mechanics' manufacture was dominated by that scientific minded country - and Winchester does an overwhelming job of bringing out not only the physical side of the disaster but development of industry, geology, social, and pyscology before, during, and after the event.

Back in the 1940's I didn't get much science from my teachers whose love and training was in football or politics, although they could have connected somehow if they had the desire to do so because the developing sciences were in the news even then, although not fully understood or widely accepted. Winchester explains his fascination with the mountain therefore his obsession with the content of the book: "It is a volcano that seems to me to possess a wonderfully seductive combination of qualities, being beautiful and dangerous, unpredictable and unforgettable."

Winchester puts a lot of relative science in those pages. The story line is one that details the author's discoveries of connections to the disciplines that shape our present understanding and awe of natural forces. There is history of the exploitation of world resources in areas dictated by the Pope in the 1500's and the resulting fortunes in lumber, silk, and spices. Advances in cartigraphy are noted which aided the rise of adventurous explorers and the fall of empires.

You have to read it to believe it. Little explanations are inserted in precious sentences to clarify the fact - as with the Explosivity Index. "This index, which was first created at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, is based on two features:....." He fills in the background that may or may not be of interest to you but is relevant to understanding the data it records.

The copy my library bought was in large print, making it a delight to pick up for a few minutes any time I fancied - readable in poor light with poor eyesight.

KRAKATOA, The Day the World Exploded
August 27, 1883
Simon Winchester

Thorndike Press, Waterville, Maine

ISBN 0-7862-5729-6

Consider novels by Naomi Sherer available on Amazon

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Coming Soon: Beyond Namche, The Open Door, Wildly in the Rockies


Naomi Sherer