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1 Hawthorne Geology- General

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


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




Chapter One
"An Island with a Pointed Mountain"

Though we think first of Java as an eponym for coffee (or, to some today, a computer language), it is in fact the trading of aromatic tropical spices on which the fortunes of the great island's colonizers and Western discoverers were first founded. And initially supreme among those spices was the one rather ordinary variety that remains the most widely used today: pepper.

Piper nigrum, Syzygium aromaticum, and Myristica fragrans — pepper, clove, and nutmeg — were the original holy trinity of the Asian spice trade. Each was familiar to, and used by, the ancients. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, for instance, the Chinese of the Han Dynasty demanded that their courtiers address their emperors only when their breath had been sweetened with a mouthful of Javanese cloves, the ?odiferous pistils,? as they were later more widely known. There is some vague evidence that Roman priests may have employed nutmeg as an incense; it was definitely in use as a flavoring in ninth-century Constantinople, since the terrifyingly Orthodox Saint Theodore the Studite — the scourge of the image-smashing Iconoclasts — famously allowed his monks to sprinkle it on the pease pudding they were obliged to eat on days when monastery meat was forbidden. And in Elizabethan times a nutmeg pomander was an essential for keeping foul ailments at bay: The notion that nutmeg could ward off the plague survived longer than many another old wives' tale.

Pepper, though, was of infinitely more moment to the ancients than to be merely a topping, nostrum, or cachou. The Romans used it in abundance: Gibbon wrote of pepper being ?a favourite ingredient of the most expensive Roman cookery,? and added his authority to the widely held idea that Alaric, the rambunctious king of the Visigoths, had demanded more than a ton of it from the Romans as ransom when he laid siege to the city in a.d. 410. The aureus and the denarius, the gold and silver coins of the empire, became the preferred currency of the Spice Route, and the Indian pepper merchants of Cochin and Malacca and the ports of southern Ceylon were said to be impressed that the denomination of coins was indicated by the number engraved upon them, not by their size.

However they may have been denominated, the coins must have been paid out in enormous numbers. Pepper was so precious and costly and so much in demand that the cost of it all had Pliny the Elder fulminating. ?There was no year in which India? — and by this he meant the Indies, since pepper traded came both from the Malabar Coast and from western Java — ?does not drain the Roman empire of fifty million sesterces.? So dearly, he added drily, ?do we pay for our luxury and our women.?

(There is a pleasing symmetry about Pliny's involvement in this part of the story of Krakatoa, even if he appears in only a walk-on role. Although this rich and well-connected former soldier — he was a cavalry officer in Roman Germany — happily took on a variety of official duties on behalf of his emperors, Pliny was above all else a naturalist. He was a savant, or a student, as he once famously put it, of ?the nature of things, that is, life.? His reputation is based largely on his thirty-seven-volume Natural History, an immense masterpiece in which, among countless other delights, is the first use of the word from which we derive today's encyclopedia.

It was during the late summer of a.d. 79, while pursuing his official task of investigating piracy in the Bay of Naples, that Pliny was persuaded to explore a peculiar cloud formation that appeared to be coming from the summit of the local mountain, Vesuvius. He was duly rowed ashore, visited a local village to calm the panicked inhabitants — and was promptly caught up in a massive eruption. He died of asphyxiation by volcanic gases on August 24, leaving behind him a vast reputation and, as memorial, a single word in the lexicon of modern vulcanology, Plinian. A Plinian eruption is now defined as an almighty, explosive eruption that all but destroys the entire volcano from which it emanates. And the most devastating Plinian event of the modern era occurred 1,804 years, almost to the day, after Pliny the Elder's death: at Krakatoa.)

Pepper has a confused reputation. There is no truth, for example, in the widely held belief that it was once used to hide the taste of putrefying meat; this charming thought perhaps derives from the equally delightful notion, still recognized by pharmacists today, that pepper can be used as a carminative, a potion that expels flatulence. But it was very much used as a preservative, and more commonly still as a seasoning. By the tenth century it was being imported into England; the Guild of Pepperers, one of the most ancient of London's city guilds, was established at least before 1180, which was when the body was first recorded (they were in court for some minor infraction); by 1328 the guild had been formally registered as an importer of spices in large, or gross, amounts: its members were called grossarii, from which comes the modern word grocer. Joseph Conrad caught the obsession, in Lord Jim:

The seventeenth-century traders went there for pepper, because the passion for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of love in the breast of Dutch and English adventurers about the time of James the First. Where wouldn't they go for pepper! For a bag of pepper they would cut each other's throats without hesitation, and would forswear their souls, of which they were so careful otherwise: the bizarre obstinacy of that desire made them defy death in a thousand shapes; the unknown seas, the loathsome and strange diseases; wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence, and despair. It made them great! By heavens! it made them heroic...

Copyright © 2003 by Simon Winchester

Product Details

The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883
Winchester, Simon
Harper Perennial
Chemistry - Organic
Natural Disasters
Earth Sciences - Geology
Earthquakes & Volcanoes
Asia - Southeast Asia
General History
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
April 2004
8.10x5.44x1.15 in. .84 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Asia » Indonesia Malaysia and Singapore
History and Social Science » World History » General
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Earthquakes and Volcanoes
Science and Mathematics » Geology » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » Meteorology

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.21 In Stock
Product details 448 pages Perennial - English 9780060937362 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Krakatoa is the eloquent narrative of the cataclysmic destruction in 1883 of the volcanic island of the same name. Killing nearly 40,000 people (mostly from the resultant tsunamis), this violent eruption was "the most violent explosion ever recorded and experienced by modern man." With his flair for conveying considerable detail in dramatic storyteller fashion, Winchester once again exhibits his great talent for recounting an episode in history that keeps readers fixed to the page.

"Review A Day" by , "As with Winchester's other books, Krakatoa overflows with rich characters and vivid landscapes. His well-established love of words and etymologies enlivens descriptions and makes the familiar seem new....Winchester has created a lush, rich book which — forgive the cliché — vividly captures a bygone era." (read the entire review)
"Review" by , "Krakatoa is volcanic."
"Review" by , "Build[s] thrillerlike suspense....If you've ever sat through a dry geology lecture, Winchester's human-oriented volcanology will grip you."
"Review" by , "Krakatoa is...thrilling, comprehensive, literate, meticulously researched and scientifically accurate; it is one of the best books ever written about the history and significance of a natural disaster."
"Review" by , "An erudite, fascinating account....[Winchester's] investigations have produced a work that is relevant to scholars and intriguing to others, who will relish it footnotes and all."
"Review" by , "A vivid reconstruction....Supremely well told: a fine exception to the dull run of most geological writing."
"Review" by , "Winchester is a teacher to the world....All readers, science-prone or not, will be delighted by this experience-expanding book."
"Review" by , "Simon Winchester has...written an exhaustive and often exciting account....In particular, it is outstanding in describing the sequence of events from...the moment of the first great the immediate aftermath of the climactic blast."
"Review" by , "Part history, scientific detective story and travelogue....There are some problems in his coverage of events before and after the eruption, but this is a good read for anyone interested in Indonesia, geology or earthshaking catastrophes."
"Review" by , "The author cuts a broad swath...but the telling is masterful and conscientious readers are rewarded by his elucidation of complex interrelationships."
"Review" by , "Winchester uses the disaster, which became a worldwide media event, to incorporate [several] stories...into one mightily fascinating book."
"Review" by , "A real-life story bigger than any Hollywood blockbuster."
"Review" by , "Krakatoa is a pleasure from beginning to end."
"Review" by , " noted for his ability to turn scholarly history into engrossing narrative."
"Review" by , "Winchester dramatically delivers...the book is absorbing."
"Review" by , "The rich and fascinating Krakatoa confirms [Winchester's] preeminence.
"Review" by , "Winchester's exceptional attention to detail never falters."
"Review" by , "Masterful build-up of literary and geological tension."
"Synopsis" by , Now in paperback comes the New York Times bestseller on the catastrophic eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883, and its lasting and world-changing effects. 57 line drawings. 18 halftones & maps.
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