Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Volcano That Rewrote History


Thomas Jefferson went broke, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and Arctic exploration got a new life, all because a massive volcano erupted in 1815.

If you think this winter was unseasonably long and cold, you’re playing history’s tiniest violin. 

Instead, with a year without summer, famines on multiples continents, an explosion in the Chinese opium trade, the global scourge of cholera, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a golden age of Arctic exploration, and modern meteorology on its résumé, that distinction belongs to Tambora and its eruption in 1815 on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia.

That story, and its portentous lessons on the consequences of global climate disturbances, is told with particular élan and a flair for the dramatic in Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World

“I realized that there was this massive ecological event that occurred right in the middle of my [academic] period, which hadn’t really been fully discussed or fully explored by anyone,” Wood said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I think I set out to write the book I couldn’t find.”

It turns out that Wood, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, was sitting in a climatology class at the university, and kept hearing about the eruption of Tambora, which was twice the size of Krakatau in magnitude—a major ecological disaster right in the heart of his scholarly area—Romantic and other early 19th-century literature.

For the rest of the story: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/05/the-volcano-that-rewrote-history.html

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