Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World

Gillen D’Arcy Wood. Princeton Univ, $29.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-691-15054-3
The greatest volcanic eruption of modern times occurred in 1815 on the small island of Tambora in the East Indies. It spawned the most extreme weather in thousands of years. In what contemporaries described as the “year without a summer,” its immense ash cloud encircled and cooled the Earth. While historians have mostly ignored the decades of worldwide misery, starvation, and disease that followed, Wood (The Shock of the Real), professor of English at the University of Illinois, remedies this oversight, combining a scientific introduction to volcanism with a vivid account of the eruption’s cultural, political, and economic impact that persisted throughout the century. Artists like Mary and Percy Shelly, Lord Byron, and John Constable shivered while they documented the miserable weather. Cooled oceans disrupted currents and altered rain patterns, producing famines from India to Ireland, a global cholera pandemic, an explosion of opium production in China, violent storms, and, paradoxically, an interlude of arctic warming much remarked upon by climate-change deniers. Soaring grain prices enriched the young United States, followed by its first and perhaps greatest depression when the ash cloud dispersed in 1819 and prices crashed. Wood delivers an enthralling study of the fragile interdependence of human and natural systems. Illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/17/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
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