Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

By Ted S. McGregor Jr.


In these parts, when we think volcano, we recall Mount St. Helens and that unforgettable Sunday morning of May 18, 1980. But as Simon Winchester proves in his new book Krakatoa, St. Helens was something of a piker. About 100 years earlier, halfway across the world, the island volcano of Krakatoa erupted -- actually, it blew itself to smithereens.


The centerpiece of the book is the Aug. 27, 1883, explosion of the island in the straight separating Sumatra from Java, and it's terrifying. As with most volcanoes, the eruption is the least of your worries. In Mount St. Helens' case, massive mudslides wreaked havoc; Krakatoa sent tsunamis in all directions, killing more than 35,000 people along the shores. One wave measured 135 feet high. The tiny remains of the island traveled the earth's atmosphere for years -- a boon for landscape painters looking for gaudy skies. One particular sunset the following November was so unreal that the city of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., dispatched its fire department to put out a patch of sky.


But Winchester, a geologist by training, takes his time getting to the cataclysm, and his discussion of the VOC (the Dutch East Indian Company), which had set up shop in the vicinity, is particularly compelling. The company was the first publicly traded company in the world, and also the first to have a corporate logo. Less compelling, however, is Winchester's side trip to Greenland, where he gathered ice core samples in the 1960s, and his discussion about how Krakatoa may have helped Islam rise in Indonesia, which seems a bit of a stretch.


Winchester does offer one unique insight about how Krakatoa was the world's first commonly experienced disaster. International telegraph cables had just been laid in the oceans, and the news of Krakatoa spread around the world in hours, not days or weeks. As a result, "the world was now suddenly seen to be much more than an immense collection of unrelated peoples and isolated happenings," he writes.


Krakatoa is also proof of the planet's relentlessness. Only 40 years after the eruption, the nearest remaining island, which had been laid to waste, had already regenerated some 621 species of animals. In 1927, an island rose on the spot Krakatoa once loomed over; it has grown 20 feet taller by the year. The volcano will blow again, however, writes Winchester, adding that "Krakatoa is a stark reminder of the truth of Will Durant's famous aphorism 'Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.'"





Publication date: 07/10/03

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Seven Ways Drought is Impacting the Inland Northwest
  • Seven Ways Drought is Impacting the Inland Northwest

    No, it's not as bad as in California, but drought is taking a hefty toll
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • Call Mr. Yuk
  • Call Mr. Yuk

    Gov. Inslee avoids the "poison pill"; plus, pushing back against empty Kickstarter promises
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
59th Annual Spokane Highland Games

59th Annual Spokane Highland Games @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Sat., Aug. 1, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Comment


Briefs


marijuana


Publisher's Note


Community


© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation