Book Notes: Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

  

Summary

This is about the largest volcano eruption in recorded history. Winchester explores the causes, effects, and results of the explosion from many angles: history, culture, science, technology, religion, etc. Winchester's writing style is stiff and difficult (I've read two books by him this year), but if you are interested in Krakatoa or Indonesia, then it is readable.

Why I read it

I have heard interesting stories about Krakatoa, so I wanted to learn more. I also love Indonesia after spending two weeks there when I was in seminary.

Quotes

13 percent of the earth's surface vibrated audibly, and millions who lived there heard it, and when told what it was were amazed. 264

To the outside world the eruption of 1883 may have spelled death and devastation. To the world of biology and botany, however, the subsequent energetic happenings on islands in the Sunda Strait represent nothing more nor less than a freeze-frame picture of the future of life itself--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. The crucible of life turns out to be most difficult of vessels to break: Not even the world's most dangerous volcano could do it truly irreparable damage. 366

 

Key Takeaways

  • Krakatoa is the loudest sound and largest disaster in recorded history (until the tidal wave in Indonesia in 2004). I was mainly interested in the chapters on the extent of the damage.
  • Indonesia's history and culture are so interesting and complex. I was there for two weeks of classes and travel from one side to the other, I didn't know much about its history as a Dutch colony. I remember flying into the airport at Balikpapan and wondering at all the Dutch oil companies there and how they built the airport. I didn't realize the long history of the Dutch in Indonesia. I didn't know much about scientific and technological progress there either--such as the network of telegraphs in the area and around the world that allowed news of Krakatoa's eruption to spread within hours and days.
  • According to Winchester, little was known about the causes for many volcanic eruptions until the theory of plate tectonics was developed in the mid-20th century. Not much had been written about Krakatoa in light of plate tectonics.

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