The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883

Winchester, Simon

Downloadable Audiobook - 2004
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The legendary annihilation in 1883 of the volcano-island of Krakatoa, the name has since become a by-word for a cataclysmic disaster, was followed by an immense tsunami that killed nearly 40,000 people. Beyond the purely physical horrors of an event which has only very recently become properly understood, the eruption changed the world in more ways than could possibly be imagined. Dust swirled round the world for years, causing temperatures to plummet and sunsets to turn vivid with lurid and unsettling displays of light. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogota and Washington went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of island's destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. Most significantly of all, in view of today's new political climate, the eruption helped to trigger a wave of murderous anti-western militancy by fundamentalist Muslims in Java.

Publisher: [New York, N.Y.] : Harper Audio, 2004
Branch Call Number: OverDrive downloadable audiobook
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From Library Staff

British author Winchester reads his own fantastic nonfiction, a wide-ranging tour that touches on the geology, colonialism, and the loudest sound ever heard.

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Jul 06, 2014
  • mylisi123 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Very well written. I found the history and details of the story riveting. It also gives insight on the beginnings of bad relations between Muslims and Christians or so called western powers.The author does an excellent job reading it.

Feb 08, 2012
  • gmwil50n rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Very interesting and enjoyable. Winchester explains much more than the story of Krakatoa; he also goes into the history, geology, political and social effects of the eruption, putting it all very cleverly into context.
The audio book is read by the author, and he makes a very good job of it.

Aug 23, 2011
  • Bopuppy rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Well written review of plate tectonics and volcanoes. The author, Simon Winchester, reads like a pro. Recommended.

Apr 18, 2011
  • GailRoger rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Some time around 8:30 on the morning of May 18, 1980, I was reading in bed, it being the Sunday morning of the Victoria Day long weekend. Victoria Day is a big deal in Victoria, for obvious reasons, but most of the big events take place on the Monday, so I was mildly surprised to hear what I thought was the twenty-one gun salute down at the Inner Harbour. It sounded like a steady series of explosions: Boom...boom...boom.... I didn't count them, but remembered thinking it was an odd time to be having them; such a ceremony usually took place on the hour, a bit later in the morning. It was only when the news came through from Seattle that I realized that what I'd been hearing was the catastrophic eruption of Mount Saint Helen --- two hundred miles away. Some of my Esquimalt neighbours reported the same thing; others didn't hear a thing, but noticed their windows rattling.

On August 27th, 1883, where the western tip of Java nearly meets the southern tip of Sumatra, the volcano Krakatoa finally blew itself apart, and people as far as 3000 miles away heard what they thought were cannons. Since Morse code and undersea cables were a recent innovation, the news spread quickly. At least 32,000 people had died in the monstrous tsunamis and other horrors generated by this natural disaster, the first catastrophe to be so quickly and widely reported, as well as so deeply studied.

Those coming to Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded and expecting a grisly account of the disaster itself may be disappointed. Simon Winchester begins with the leisurely and detailed objective of placing the event in every context imaginable: historic, economic, geologic, sociological, political, meteorologic.... It's a long journey indeed before he gets down to a meticulous retelling of the events leading up to and those resulting from the series of terrifying blasts in the Sunda Strait.

While it's true the story is especially gripping at that point, I found the roundabout journey compelling as well. This may be because I was listening to the audio version of the book, read clearly and pleasantly by Winchester himself. I enjoyed his dry humour and his multifaceted approach.

I have a bone to pick with him, however. In passing, he mentions the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helen, comparing it with the unbelievable cacophony of Krakatoa a century earlier and stating that in Mount St Helen's case, the blast was not heard beyond the immediate surrounding mountain range. Evidently, Mr Winchester did not speak to anyone in Victoria, British Columbia....

For those hungry for the angst and agony of Krakatoa's death throes, you might seek out the 2006 BBC docu-drama on the subject Krakatoa: The Last Days, starring Olivia Williams and Rupert Penry-Jones, which I believe features interviews with Simon Winchester himself. I haven't seen this film, which is unavailable in Canada, but some lengthy excerpts are available at YouTube.


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