This may be among the best audiobooks I've heard. Winchester's interests are wide-ranging and thorough, from geology to geopolitics, from Dutch colonialism to the rise of Islam through Southeast Asia. Not only does his scholarship seem impeccable, but the wit, clarity, and vividness of the writing just sparkle. He picks great quotations from eyewitness accounts of the explosion and of everything that came before. Couldn't ask for better.
As a narrator, Winchester's voice is limber, informed, and a joy to listen to. On the basis of this one book, I'd be happy to listen to anything else he chooses to record.
This book was terrific. It tells a rich story about Krakatoa and the Dutch ruled Indonesian territory that Krakatoa was situated in. The author weaves history and geology with exquisite language (....the mortally expensive event) and a narration in a very listenable English accent. The thorough research done by the author is reflected in his description of many sources of information that were sought out to tell the entire story.
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
Krakatoa is almost amazing, but ends up merely good. All the elements of an excellent book are there: Simon Winchester is funny and engaging; the science is interesting; the period of history is fascinating; and Krakatoa has important implications for today's world. Further, Winchester covers all of this - the science, the history, and the modern implications. So, the problem isn't the facts, or the underlying material, instead it is in the way that he weaves them together.
The book aims for Bill Bryson, using Krakatoa to discuss various fascinating issues, but, unlike Bryson, Winchester can't seem to bring them all together very well. Many interesting points are raised, but never truly connect, making most of the book feel disjointed. For example, the history of Batavia is a major story early in Krakatoa, but Batavia itself is undamaged by the volcano, and there is little follow-up to help us understand why the author spent so much time on the city. Or take the intellectual history of plate tectonics, which is introduced through some plummy personal anecdotes, but then mostly abandoned later in the story. A stronger narrative might have concentrated on a few people or institutions, and how they were effected by Krakatoa, but instead we are taken on a whirlwind tour where little sticks in the memory.
It certainly isn't bad, and I did learn a lot about a fascinating period, but between the somewhat disjointed story and the occasional over-reach (Krakatoa lead to the rise of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism?), I often found my attention wandering while listening.
I love books that teach me new things and in that sense, this book was a marvel. I was continually astounded by the widely varied disciplines the author was able to link to the singular event of the eruption of this island in Indonesia. Since I knew next to nothing about Indonesia, either current-day or historic, nearly everything in the book was new information. There was just enough about the history of how the Dutch came to colonize the region, and I really appreciated the way Winchester put in small details about everyday life in that period. The way he was able to tie even the smallest detail back to the volcano was astonishing. I learned how trade developed and what items were the area’s chief exports, how long it took for a telegram message to get from there to Europe, and how spiders travel long distances by spinning out a tendril of web and just gliding on the wind. There’s even a connection to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region and some very good references to the negative effects of colonialism on everyone involved.
The sections in which vulcanism and plate tectonics are explained are simply incredible reading. Everyone knows most of this stuff from grade school science class, but here Winchester brings the reader along on the journey of discovery traveled by scientists of the time of the eruption, before continental drift was even conceived of. It is as if we are theorizing right along with them, seeing small pieces of the puzzle of what makes earthquakes and volcanoes and mountain ranges, trying to decipher what is actually going on. Reading about their starts and stops and sidetracks along the way to understanding is better than any textbook or class.
The author does an expert job of organizing this vast quantity of material, maintaining suspense (even though the ultimate outcome of the story is a foregone conclusion) and keeping everything moving along. Winchester makes it all look easy, but it most assuredly is not. Concurrent to reading this book, I was also reading a similar book about ancient Ireland which was a confused jumble of unrelated dates and names that caused me to lament—on nearly every page—that the author needed to take some lessons from Mr. Winchester. He is a master of his craft and I look forward to reading more from him.
[I listened to this as an audio book read by the author. As a rule, I steer away from audiobooks performed by their own authors, but in this case, I would HIGHLY recommend the audio version. Mr. Winchester not only has a glorious upper-crust British accent, but he clearly knows how to pronounce the names of every single Indonesian town and village in the book, not to mention all the flora, fauna, scientific terminology, names of people, ships, etc. A joy to listen to from beginning to end. ]
Husband, father, building contractor, inventor and audio book lover.
Mr. Winchester does it again. Filled with incidental facts and in depth stories, this book delivers loads of information without feeling like a lecture. Krakatoa is an ongoing story, as it lives and is growing again. Simon Winchester uses his masterful voice to good effect, and leaves us with a greater understanding of the capricious power of nature that we all live under and with. I enjoyed this book very much and recommend it to all who love history and science.
I always like Winchester books. This one is one of my favorites. The highlight is certainly the end, where you get a wonderful chapter describing how life found its way to a newly formed volcanic island, turning from a waste zone to a tropical paradise in a few years. Scientists watching the whole time. The bulk of the book covers the volcanic history of this event, gives you a little on Dutch colonies, and colonialism. Makes me want to visit Krakatoa. Quite shocking descriptions of massive tidal waves, earthquakes, and the after affects all around the world. Makes one think; if a volcano cools the earth so drastically from sending ash to block out the sun, and global warming spurs natural disasters, than the solution to our own pollution might be self-contained. We will warm the planet enough to cool it back down by triggering some devastating volcano. In another book I even heard of scientists who are pushing the American government to build artificial volcanoes, such as a 10 mile pipeline straight into the atmosphere that would spew out a steady stream of sulfur so we could pollute as much as we like in the meantime. I believe that was out of "Hot, Flat, Crowded". Great...because who needs fresh air anyway?
This was difficult to listen to. I was certainly interested in the topic and the author had done the homework but the timeline was scattered and tough to follow. The reader made the subject more dry than it should be.
Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.
I really liked the majority of this audiobook, however what keeps it from getting 5 stars is the ratio of background material to the actual amount of information on the explosion itself. Personally, I would have liked 25% more information on the explosion and its consequences and less of the history of the area. Having said that, there's a lot of great stuff here and an UNBELIEVABLE story about how stupendous the explosion at Krakatoa actually was. The effects on art (the Krakatoa sunsets) was also a facinating tale. I've shared many of the facts in the books with friends and they (like myself) have almost been in disbelief as to the sheer magnitude of the explosion. Well worth the read.
Being a historian, I dismissed the comments of earlier reviewers, thinking that they just probably didn't like details. But in this case, the criticisms are more than justified. While each detail might be interesting, a good editor needed to tear Winchester away from his notes. The book made me so impatient in places (I was stuck with it on a long fight) that I imagined the author being paid by the word or in love with the sound of his own voice. I only read unabridged books, but an abridged version might have earned Winchester the literary prize worthy of the book's fascinating subject matter.
Leaves no stone unturned as to the reasons and effects of this famous eruption. Winchester's research and understanding of the ramifications are breathtaking.