Saturday, February 2, 2008

Krakatoa

So I've been reading an excellent book about Krakatoa, the volcanic island between Java and Sumatra that obliterated itself and about 40,000 people in a phenomenal explosion on August 27, 1883. It's a great example of one of my favorite sorts of non-fiction: a book that focuses on one event, resource, invention, or movement, but uses it as a focus for discussion of a much broader range of topics. In this particular case, the author uses the topic of Krakatoa to weave together the history and economics of Portuguese, English, and Dutch colonialism and the Dutch East India Company; the development of global geologic theory and the sciences of plate tectonics, vulcanology, and meteorology; the media revolution spurred by the then-cutting-edge transoceanic telegraph; and the still-burning fires of modern politicized Islam, one of the earliest outbreaks of which occurred in Java in the aftermath of the eruption.

The explosion of Krakatoa produced by far the loudest sound heard on earth at any point in recorded history, heard clearly up to 3,000 miles away on the Indian Ocean island of Rodriguez, for example. Most of those who heard the sound assumed it was the rumbling of a faraway naval bombardment, or a ship firing its guns as a distress call. The reason I share that particular fact is that for the last three days, as I hear the thundering reports of the artillery ranges rolling across Fort Bragg, I like to imagine myself in a different time and place, an unwitting witness to the unimaginable forces that roil beneath all our feet. Yeah, I really am that geeky.

4 comments:

elephantschild said...

Ahhh... I feel a volcano summer coming on. That was an excellent book. Didn't it say that the sound circled the globe several times?

Evan said...

The audible sound was only (!) heard within a few thousand miles, but yeah, the measurable pressure wave, after all the world's barometer records were compared, seems to have circled the globe *seven* times before it faded from measurability. Craziness. There are so many superlatives in any discussion of Krakatoa (definitely including "awesomest name"), it boggles the mind.

Cheryl said...

Have you read "Isaac's Storm" by Erik Larson? If not, check it out--sounds like your type of book. It's about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. The subtitle is "A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History." Fascinating (and heartbreaking) read.

elephantschild said...

I read Krakatoa during a "Volcano" summer, and Issac's Storm during a "Hurricane" summer.

I only do natural disasters not likely to happen where I live - thus I'll probably not repeat my "Earthquake" summer of a few years ago, seeing as I now live only 300 miles or so from the New Madrid fault line (or buried volcano, but that's under debate.)