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review 2017-10-20 08:00
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded - Simon Winchester

With Krakatoa Simon Winchester gives a very interesting account not only of the actual eruption of the Krakatoa and its immediate aftermath, but also spend a lot of time to set the scene and look into consequences of the eruption.

It was the first book I read by Simon Winchester and I enjoyed it a lot. Not everything was new information for me, but I liked the writing and the general pace of the book. I would recommend it.

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text 2015-01-01 20:50
Random Linkage: Not really a Theme here...



1) In Degrees of Affection's review of Interior Desecrations, I was reminded of and explained "carpet raking" in the comments. Because once upon a time in the 1970s people would both vacuum and rake their carpets. Really. (This is one of the weirder and fun bits of remembering I've had in the entire year. It probably bodes well for the new year.)


2) Some interesting articles about how landscape paintings change when there's a volcanic eruption due to artists trying to capture the effects of the amazing sunsets:


The Krakatoa Sunsets, Richard Hamblyn, Public Domain Review

"...by late October 1883 most of the world, including Britain, was being subjected to lurid evening displays, caused by the scattering of incoming light by the meandering volcanic haze. Throughout November and December, the skies flared through virulent shades of green, blue, copper and magenta, “more like inflamed flesh than the lucid reds of ordinary sunsets,” wrote Hopkins; “the glow is intense; that is what strikes everyone; it has prolonged the daylight, and optically changed the season; it bathes the whole sky, it is mistaken for the reflection of a great fire.”"


How Paintings of Sunsets Immortalize Volcanic Eruptions, Sarah Zielinski, Smithsonian Magazine website

"It may sound a bit far-fetched, but the researchers are not the first to make connections between volcanoes and art depicting sunsets. In 2004, for instance, Don Olson, an astronomer at Texas A&M University, connected the skies in Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting The Scream with the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. But Munch wasn't the only artist to be inspired by volcano enhanced sunsets. There are hundreds more."


‘Krakatoa’ Author on Iceland Volcano’s Parallels With Eruptions Past, PBS Newshour (author is Simon Winchester, there's both video and transcript)

"...it had effects all over the world, principally, in those days, nothing to do with commerce, because, of course, there weren’t any aircraft, but it caused major coloration of the skies. The sunsets, particularly, were stunningly beautiful. And, immediately, artists picked up their paint brushes and their — their watercolor sets and started recording this."


3) I'm not going to admit how many of the videos in Youtube's Home Holiday Lightshow playlist I watched. The Star Wars one made me smile, as did many others. Though I did wonder about how tolerant neighbors have to be about this stuff - even with the audio broadcast over a short range radio setup (which the radio geek in me adores - outdoor speakers were once the only option here), the amount of flashing lights is, just, wow. Thankfully LEDs Christmas lights mean that lighting things up no longer costs thousands in electrical bills. Though cheaper means it's also probably a more common problem now for neighborhoods with these massive display houses.

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review 2014-12-28 03:20
Review: The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
The Twenty One Balloons - William Pène du Bois

[Still reading children's books. Why we have them around is covered in this review. Short version: children's reading program, public schools.]


Oddly I'd read about this book before I realized there was a copy lying around here. In the book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 (link to my vague review of mostly quotes) by Simon Winchester, this book is mentioned in the chapter called Recommendations for (and, in One Case Against) Further Reading and Viewing. It's not one that Winchester is recommending you avoid, if you were curious. But he does give a plot summary, and I am lazy so I'll quote. (The fact that I have the book handy is another reason to do this. It's rare that this happens.) So um, spoilers?


p 386: ...a slim volume of a children's book, published to near-universal  praise in 1947...


...The children's story was The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois: it won America's reknowned Newbery Medal in 1948, and has never been out of print since. It tells the story of  a math teacher from San Francisco named William Waterman Sherman, who flies in a balloon westward across the Pacific, crash-landing (after seagulls pecked holes in the silk fabric) on what turns out to be "the Pacific island of Krakatoa." Here the impeccably dressed locals are all fabulously rich, since the volcano in the island's center sits directly on top of an immense diamond mine.


The resulting story is all about the professor's adventures among the remarkable people of a utopia, which, because of the eruption of 1883, swiftly becomes a dangerous dystopia. All have to flee in a specially built balloon-lifted platform. The book - 180 pages, endearing, illustrated by its thirty-year old author - is enchanting; most intelligent children will have read it, and they will in consequence know Krakatoa as, at the very least, a place both dangerous and beautiful, and wondrously exotic.


Winchester then goes on to discuss the movie to avoid, unless you enjoy bad films: Krakatoa, East of Java, directed by Bernard Kowalski, who is also to blame responsible for Night of the Blood Beast and Attack of the Giant Leeches. (I've seen the leech film, and possibly the Blood Beast. I'm not entirely sure because I slept through it, which is sad seeing that it's the MST3K version.) Krakatoa was never east of Java by the way - it's to the west.


If you want a much more through plot description, here's a really lengthy one:


Wikipedia: The Twenty-One Balloons


The story reminded me a lot of Jules Verne, and I'm pretty sure the reader is meant to think that. It refers to Around the World in Eighty Days in the book itself - but it's attitudes toward exploration of unknown lands and fabulous adventure, not to mention balloons, are all hat-tips to Verne.


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text 2013-12-17 00:34
So It Seems All I Have to Do Is Post Once and Others Follow - More Ebook Sales...
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 - Simon Winchester
The Astor Orphan: A Memoir - Alexandra Aldrich
The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece - Roseanne Montillo
The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code - Margalit Fox

After I posted the first three I went out and about, and noticed I'd gotten several more email notices about books on sale. I haven't stopped to check if this is all from the same publisher or not - I always wonder if there's some pattern as to when things go on sale. Seriously, every time I get one of these sale notifications it's like a little alarm and flashing lights combo go off in my brain, especially when it's a book I've reeeeally wanted but was too cheap to spend much money on the ebook (especially when it's like $15 and up). So there's a real festival of fun for me in these kind of sales. ...Which normally I would be afraid to share for fear of sounding sad and nerdy, but we're all fellow book addicts here, right? And I've gotten used to fessing up to my nerdhood.


At least I can say that this second Simon Winchester book that I've linked to today is one that I can definitely recommend - I'm one chapter away from finishing myself. If you love stories that weave a lot of history into the mix, and history of science in particular, you should check Krakatoa out.


Again all are $1.99 at Amazon US.


Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded, August 27, 1883


The Astor Orphan: A Memoir


The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece


The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code


Click the link (either on the title or the ones on the cover jpg) to see if you're interested, and again check other booksellers for price matches.


I am particularly full of squee over The Lady and Her Monsters! I've wanted to read that one for some time. I wasn't sure about it due to the reviews - but hey, at this price I don't need to worry about whether I'll like it and give it a chance.


And I can't let myself dig into any of these now because I have oodles to pack before I fly for Xmas break on the 18th. I'll let you imagine how much I'm yearning to sit and read  - I'm pretty sure most of you know that that's like too!


Added minutes later: And after I posted yet another ebook sale popped up for the Labyrinth. What IS it with ebook sales today?! I guess I need to stop saying to myself "ok, now that's it for today."

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review 2013-11-19 02:54
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded - Simon Winchester

For much of my reading of this book I've been all "squee" over science and science history. However! I am still the same person who bought and read Death in Yellowstone and Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon (seriously, you would not believe the stupid things people do in these parks), so I can't pretend there's not a "let me marvel at the horror of this trainwreck" sort of thing about volcanoes. But there's no need to feel guilty or ghoulish (too late, I was anyway) - Winchester seems to suspect we might be wondering about what happens to someone caught in an eruption.


First you have to get to chapter 8, and up to that point Winchester teases you along about the greatest explosion ever, etc. But once you're at chapter 8, you get all the eyewitness reports. Then in the section called The Effects, starting on p 239, you get the details. Which could also be titled Ways Die in A Volcanic Eruption. (Note: there's nothing overtly gory in these quotes.) Since not every danger was to occur at Krakatoa, Winchester cites other volcanic events. I've also added some wikipedia links for those who want more science and/or lava photos. (This way I can absorb the educational info while all awe stuck by the horror of these scenarios. Multi-tasking!)


p 241-243: "...Erupted boulders and lumps of partly congealed lava - generally known by the term tephra, from the Greek word for "ash" - scream back down from the skies and flatten anything in their path. Perhaps a relatively small number of people, fewer than a thousand, died in this way from the Krakatoa eruption. All of them were in southern Sumatra, in the path of the prevailing wind: The hot ash that burned them alive had sped westward from Krakatoa on top of a cushion of superheated steam.


Most of the other means with which volcanoes kill their victims were not experienced here. In other eruptions lava flows surround and trap victims and sear them to death. Earthquakes associated with volcanoes destroy buildings, and huge seismically caused cracks in the earth swallow people and buildings in which they live. The terrifyingly fast-moving clouds of hot lava, ash pumice, and incandescent volcanic gases, known... to the rest of the world as pyroclastic flows, sweep people up and incinerate them in seconds...


...Clouds of sulfur-dioxide gas, usually released during eruptions, choke and poison their victims. Clouds of carbon dioxide suffocate them. Clouds of hydrochloric acid gnaw away at their lungs. The torrents of volcanic mud and water slurry that course down the sides of certain volcanoes and that have the Javanese name lahars...carry victims miles away, and drown and bury them.


...There are still more obscure risks: For example, volcanoes that erupt beneath glaciers - which tend not to have too many people living near them - produce sudden floods of melting ice, which have recently been given the exotic Icelandic name jokulhlaups...


However, all of the victims whose deaths can be attributed directly to volcanic activity during the last 250 years, fully a quarter are now believed to have died - drowned or smashed to pieces - as a result of the gigantic waves that were created by the eruptions. The entire Minoan civilization on Crete was supposedly wiped out in 1648 BC when volcanic tephra from the eruption of Santorini - or, much more probably, the tsunamis thrown up by the eruption - destroyed the palaces at Knossos.


...the greatest of these [tsunamis of the last 250 years] by far was the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. About 35,500 men, women and children died as victims of the two gigantic waves that accompanied or were caused by the death throes of this island-mountain, and they account for more than half of all those in the world who are known ever to have died from waves caused by an erupting volcano.

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