This week I would like to share a great book that I have recently finished. Personally, I really enjoy learning about connections between two or more things that are seemingly different. This book is filled with these connections:
On February 18th, 2015, I closed the covers of a book that brought to life one of the most cataclysmic natural events recorded and witnessed by humans. Simon Winchester sets the scene of one of the most paramount volcanic eruptions in his book Krakatoa The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883. By engaging readers in the rich history of the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia, Winchester intertwines significant events ranging from the spice trade to scientific discoveries to the rise and fall of religious powers both pre and post the momentous explosion. He does this all while painting a picture of sheer beauty masking ultimate powers of destruction found in and near this tropical archipelago.
Throughout the book, Winchester unlocks answers to the once mystery of why the seemingly peaceful island Krakatoa erupted so violently, causing the majority of the island to disappear from existence. To provide reason to the “why” of the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, and those that may have occurred prior, the book tells the story of a man with evidence but no explanation. Alfred Wegener was intrigued with how the present day continents looked as though they were puzzle pieces that could fit together to make one supercontinent. To see if this was a possibility, Wegener drew the supercontinent by joining all the continents together in the best fit locations. On this theoretical supercontinent, Wegener traced known fossil trails from across the world to find that these, which were once thought to have no connection, lined up. However, despite his attempts to share the evidence he had, his ideas were not accepted by the scientific community. Wegener lacked a process that his evidence supported to introduce such a revolutionary idea. It was not until the 1960’s when Harry Hess brought forth sea floor spreading backed by evidence of paleomagnetism, that the Theory of Continental Drift had a mechanism. This mechanism was given the name plate tectonics, in which rigid lithospheric plates move across a liquid mantle powered by convection currents.
While the history of plate tectonics unfolded and the struggles/ridicule scientists faced while finding answers to natural phenomena were revealed, not only is the reader’s understanding of what causes a volcano to occur deepened, but another comprehension begins to build. The nature of science shows its characteristics throughout Winchester’s book. This is especially seen when the science community refuses to accept Wegener’s Theory of Continental Drift. Empirical data supporting an argument is key when it comes to the practices of science. Wegener had empirical data but lacked a strong argument since an explanation was not present. The history of plate tectonics also shows the tentative nature of science. These examples of the nature of science can be brought up in a classroom when implementing a unit on Plate Tectonics.
Krakatoa The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 provides a great wealth of insight to the environmental, economical, and societal impacts of a volcano. The explosion of Krakatoa had lingering effects across the world. There was one part of the book that mentioned a meteorologist writing a letter to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in regards to actions taken by Poughkeepsie firemen who were confused by an intense sunset caused by the particles placed in the atmosphere by the volcanic eruption. The different angles on the influences of the volcano can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. They can be used to get students thinking about “why do I care, why should I know about this”.
Winchester’s book is definitely worth the read. He has an interesting way linking many different aspects of history to Krakatoa, while engaging the reader in the “why” of the event, writing in such a way that the understanding of the science is attainable. I would put this book at a high school reading level and recommend it everyone to better understand the impacts of natural phenomena on the world as a whole.
Winchester, S. (2005). Krakatoa The Day The World Exploded: August 27, 1883. New York: HarperCollins