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Customer Review

on 5 December 2003
Despite the title, "Krakatoa" isn't just about the "day the world exploded." Perhaps a third of the book is devoted to the cataclysmic detonations that took place on August 27, 1883 and their immediate aftermath. This part of the story is gripping and hard to put down, but the rest of the book is fascinating in its own right.
Winchester is a master of elegant digression. "Krakatoa" chronicles the Portuguese and Dutch exploitation of the East Indies, the spread of Islam as a political force in Indonesia, plate tectonics, subduction zones, the ice in Greenland, the post-eruption growth and re-vegetation of Anak Krakatoa (the "child of Krakatoa"), the evolutionary theories of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin, and a host of interesting topics and characters in between. In its amiable style, "Krakatoa" reminded me of Nicholas Clapp's "Road to Ubar" and "Sheba"--although neither have anything to do with volcanoes, both books resemble "Kraktoa" in that they are travelogues that explore history in a well-written and entertaining way. It's all in the journey, not in the destination.
If you are looking for a book about how volcanoes blow up and destroy the things around them, you'll probably enjoy only a few chapters of Winchester's book (although I think you will enjoy them a great deal). For those who want to learn about how volcanoes have changed history (which is at least part of Winchester's thesis), check out David Keys' "Catastrophe" and the fascinating companion video of the same name, as well as De Boer & Sanders, "Volcanoes in Human History" and Pellegrino's "Unearthing Atlantis." For a book about the destruction wrought by volcanoes, try "Vulcan's Fury: Man Against the Volcano," by Alwyn Scarth.
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