Fire From The Mountain

In Simon Winchester's magnificent Krakatoa, a tropical volcano gives fiery birth to the modern era

Very early on the morning of May 10, 1883, a lighthouse keeper gazing out at the Sunda Strait, which separates Sumatra from Java, saw the surface of the ocean suddenly whiten, go still, then become oil-slick smooth. Like an unsuspecting sorority girl in a horror movie, he shrugged it off as insignificant--just part of the region's usual seismic background noise. Ninety-nine days later, the nearby volcanic island of Krakatoa exploded, producing probably the loudest sound heard in human history and killing more than 36,000 people.

In Krakatoa (HarperCollins; 416 pages), Simon Winchester takes an event that happened in a white-hot second...

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