(i don’t know why this went unpublished. it was done on friday, but i just noticed that it didn’t get published…..so sorry!)
Krakatoa: the day the world exploded, august 27, 18883
– Simon Winchester
That’s right the WORLD EXPLODED, and I was totally clueless.
I’m not really a picky reader when it comes to fiction. I love it all, all shades and varieties. Non-fiction…. is another story. Perhaps it’s just that my brain is wired for fiction; I like a strong story line to follow and pull me through even the thickest books. Non fiction can require that extra bit of brain power to follow not only characters but long timelines, occasional leaps in geography, and unfamiliar political systems. No matter how well researched a story might not have the emotional thread my brain needs to focus. When the page is littered with footnotes, my brain can get a little foggy. I prefer non-fiction that manages to bridge the two…..it’s a great story that just happens to be true and well research. Enter Simon Winchester.
I first came across Winchester when I read, The Professor and The Madman. (great story about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary) He is prose is well suited to non fiction, sentences full of SAT words and humor that is best delivered with a extra stiff upper lip.
Krakatoa was a volcano in the straights of Sumatra that erupted in 1883, killing over 30,000 people, send millions of tons of dust into the air, and in the process completely annihilating the island of Krakatoa. Really, the island doesn’t exist any more.
The first half of the book sets the scene for the explosion. Winchester has packed these chapters with so much information. Paragraph after paragraph of facts and footnotes started to make me feel woozy. But he also started to loose the tension, building up to the explosion. We know the volcano is gonna go, but the first half of the book could do a better job maintaining…..well….reader interest.
If you happen to be one of those people that can skip chapters, feel free to skip chapter three and four. Also, skim, breeze, or float through seven and eight. Chapter three focuses on the scientific history of plate tectonics. It’s a more than you got from you’re fifth grade science class, but whatever you remember about sea floor spreading and fault lines is probably enough to read the book. Go back to it when you’ve got the time. It’s a pretty cool look at how the scientific theory of plate tectonics began in the 1880s and isn’t proven until 1965. Chapter four? Well chapter four chronicles the rumored rumblings of Krakatoa before the 1883 explosion…..it’s a total yawn.
The going gets good once the volcano starts erupting….really good. Simon’s elaborate prose gets a chance to flex and show off. The wide spread destruction is just awe inspiring. I would be reading and my jaw would just drop. He’s done a great job giving you a sense of what the island of Sumatra was like and how people reacted to the event. Winchesters enthusiasm for geography and history can be a little contagious in these chapters. Where his earlier chapters fell short, these chapters have the best of both worlds: fully research background that supports a great story.
It’s a good read if you’re willing to skim about in search for the best bits.