Recommendations for (and, in One Case, Against) Further Reading and Viewing
“Wake up, wake up; you’ve got to get in the shade!”
I shook my head and opened my eyes again. There was a man kneeling over me. He wasn’t a native, and didn’t suggest an explorer or a traveller. He was wearing a correctly tailored white morning suit, with pinstripe pants, white ascot tie, and a white cork bowler.
“Am I dead?” I asked. “Is this heaven?”
“No, my good man,” he answered. “This isn’t heaven. This is the Pacific island of Krakatoa.”
-from The Twenty-one Balloons, by William Pène du Bois, 1947
Just after 8:32 on the crystal-clear Sunday morning of May 18,1980, the long-awaited, universally expected eruption of Mount St. Helens, in the southwestern corner of Washington State, blew away the entire northern face of what was then America’s most notorious volcano. The event turned out to be a classic of the volcanic art, camera-ready for the textbook: an ash cloud rising sixteen miles into the sky, and visible two hundred miles away; the mountain’s summit suddenly reduced in height by thirteen hundred feet; scores of square miles of countryside burned and devastated; twenty-two thousand further square miles blanketed with debris; billions of trees swept flat; and fifty-seven people killed, most of them suffocated by clouds of boiling grit.
And yet, though the eruption of Mount St. Helens-which was televised, filmed, photographed, and chronicled in more loving detail than any other eruption in history-was to become briefly so very famous, it never even came close to dislodging Krakatoa from its position as the most notorious volcano of all time. For some curious reason-and part of that reason quite probably no more than the euphonious nature of the volcano’s given name-the saga of Krakatoa has remained firmly and immovably welded into the popular mind.
The principal elements of the story of its great eruption of August 27, 1883-the immense sound of the detonation, the unprecedented tidal waves, the death-rafts of drifting pumice, the livid sunsets-all still play their part in the world’s collective consciousness. They remain welded into the popular mind in a way that the spectacular eruptions of the planet’s other truly great volcanoes, like Etna, Santorini, Tambora, and St. Pierre-and even the Vesuvius of Pliny and Pompeii-have still never quite managed to match.
Krakatoa-the name. That may well account for it. But there are other reasons too-among them quite probably the timely appearance of two items of popular culture relating to the event. One is a slim volume of a children’s book, published to near-universal praise in 1947; the other, a Hollywood film released twenty years later to near-universal scorn. More than any other external factor, these two creations quite probably account in large measure for the extraordinary durability of the Krakatoa story.
The children’s story was The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois: it won America’s renowned Newbery Medal in 1948, and has never been out of print since. It tells the story of a math teacher from San Francisco named William Waterman Sherman, who flies in a balloon westward across the Pacific, crash-landing (after seagulls pecked holes in the silk fabric) on what turns out to be “the Pacific island of Krakatoa.” Here the impeccably dressed locals are all fabulously rich, since the volcano in the island’s center sits directly on top of an immense diamond mine.
The resulting story is all about the professor’s adventures among the remarkable people of a utopia, which, because of the eruption of 1883, swiftly becomes a dangerous dystopia. All have to flee in a specially built balloon-lifted platform. The book-180 pages, endearing, illustrated by its thirty-year-old author-is enchanting; most intelligent children will have read it, and they will in consequence know Krakatoa as, at the very least, a place both dangerous and beautiful, and wondrously exotic.
Children who were born in time to read the first editions of The Twenty-One Balloons would have been in their early thirties in the year 1969. They would thus have been a precise demographic target for one of Hollywood’s archetypal B-movie directors, the otherwise little-known Bernard Kowalski, who in that year made the universally known, much derided, utterly improbable, irredeemably mediocre, and magisterially mistitled epic Krakatoa, East of Java.*
*Kowalski directed some fourteen films and countless episodes of popular American television shows. Prior to Krakatoa, East of Java, he made A Night of the Blood Beast, The Hot Car Girl, and Attack of the Giant Leeches; four years after Krakatoa he directed an epic, which presumably involved the activities of dangerous snakes, called Sssssss. The director is, however, not entirely responsible for siting the volcano at the wrong end of Java: His film was based on a book of the same name by an even more obscure writer named M. Avallone: It is to others we should look for matters of geographical exactitude.
The ensemble cast-Maximilian Schell, Diane Baker, Rossano Brazzi, Brian Keith, and Sal Mineo among them-might possibly have saved a stronger script or storyline. But the sheer lunacy of the plot, which involved sunken treasure, wayward hot-air balloons, long-legged and half-naked female Japanese pearl divers, escaped prisoners, and a series of very obvious polystyrene models of a volcano, inevitably forced whatever grand vision Kowalski might have had to disintegrate into farce.
Despite the lavish technological promise offered by both Cinerama and Technicolor, the film performed very badly at the time, remains generally a cinematic joke today, and is thought of as merely a less costly precursor to such titanic disasters as Ishtar, Waterworld, and Heaven’s Gate.Krakatoa, East of Java can be seen very late at night on some obscure American television channels; by contrast in Britain, where for some reason the film still enjoys the status of a minor cult classic-a fondness for kitsch, some say-it was part of the expensive and much touted television schedules as recently as Christmas 2001.
In the late 1980s Lorne and Lawrence Blair, two seemingly indefatigable and irrepressibly enthusiastic British explorers,** produced a series of extraordinary television documentaries about the island of Indonesia called Ring of Fire. In the way of such things, the television company then produced a book (Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey, London: Inner Traditions International, 1991), which is copiously illustrated and informative. One of the films, cheekily titled East of Krakatoa, has two minutes of memorable footage of the early eruptions of Anak Krakatoa in the thirties.
In 1999 Channel Four showed an ambitious two-part television series based on David Keys’s remarkable book Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (London: Century, 1999), which, as chapter 4 indicates, speculates that an early eruption of Krakatoa may have thrown the entire known world of the time into profound disarray. The idea has supporters and detractors in equal measure: It ought to be read, skeptically, for a good analysis of the possible early history of the volcano.
There have been surprisingly few books about the volcano’s 1883 eruption in recent years, other than an immense number of specialist and technical volumes. One of the few is Krakatoa by Rupert Furneaux (London: Secker & Warburg)-but it was published in 1965, an unfortunate two years before the establishment of the theory of plate tectonics arrived to answer all questions about why volcanoes erupt, and so the book has a necessarily limited value. It is, however, a stirring tale, and exceedingly well told, and I made liberal use of some of the eyewitness descriptions that Furneaux so assiduously dug out of various Dutch and maritime archives of the day. Ian Thornton’s Krakatau: The Destruction and Reassembly of an Island Ecosystem(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996) is thoroughly up to date and much more readable than its title suggests; but, on the other hand, it concentrates heavily on the biogeography of the island, which those hoping for the more general story may lament.
**One of the pair wore a monocle, which made them highly caricaturable.
The enormous and well-nigh definitive Krakatau 1883: The Volcanic Eruption and Its Effects by the distinguished vulcanologists Tom Simkin and Richard S. Fiske (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983) is required reading for anyone with a serious interest in the event and its aftermath: My own copy is thumbed to the point of near destruction. It has scores of illustrations, diagrams, tables, and a vast bibliography, all of immense use to someone like me. But it is at heart a scientific book, and its appeal will tend to be limited to the specialist: The fact that no one ever answered the authors’ appeal for yet more eyewitness descriptions suggests either that there are no more to be had (which is not true: At least two entirely fresh accounts appeared while I was doing my own research) or the audience for the book was limited to scientists and somehow missed the kind of people who hoard old letters and journals from long-dead relatives who once traveled Out East.
The Royal Society’s famous report, The Eruption of Krakatoa and Subsequent Phenomena (London: Trübner & Co, 1888), can still be found, expensively, in antiquarian bookshops; as can the heroic Krakatau by R. D. M. Verbeek (Batavia: Government Printing Office, 1886), with copies available-at a price-in either Dutch or French. Simkin and Fiske very obligingly translated much of Verbeek’s work into English (for the first time) in their own 1983 volume. Serious students of the volcano should make all possible attempts to read at least some of this marvelously enthusiastic work, in whatever language available.
Finally, in the must-read category: Anyone with the available funds should buy for their shelves the massive, astonishingly detailed and beautifully written Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (San Diego: Academic Press, 2000), not least because it is edited by the Icelandic vulcanologist and world-renowned Krakatoa enthusiast, Haraldur Sigurdsson, presently a professor at the University of Rhode Island.
Other books I found useful and interesting include: Abeyasekere, Susan. Jakarta: A History. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Angelino, A. D. A. de Kat. Colonial Policy. Vol. 2: The Dutch East
- Indies. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1931.
- Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.
- —. Muhammad. London: Gollancz, 1991.
- Bangs, Richard, and Christian Kallen. Islands of Fire, Islands of Spice. San Francisco, Sierra Club Books, 1988.
- Barty-King, Hugh. Girdle Round the Earth: The Story of Cable & Wireless and Its Predecessors to Mark the Group’s Jubilee. London: Heinemann, 1979.
- Berger, Meyer. The Story of the New York Times 1851-1951. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1951.
- Bertuchi, A. J. The Island of Rodriguez, a British Colony in the Mascarenhas Group. London: John Murray, 1923.
- Blue, Gregory. Colonialism and the Modern World: Selected Studies. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2002.
- Blussé, Leonard. Strange Company: Chinese Settlers, Mestizo Women and the Dutch in VOC Batavia. Dordrecht: Foris Publications, 1988.
- Bruce, Victoria. No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado del Ruiz. New York: Harper-Collins, 2001.
- Cardini, Franco. Europe and Islam. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
- Carson, Rob. Mount St. Helens: The Eruption and Recovery of a Volcano. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1990.
- Clarke, Arthur C. Voice across the Sea. London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1958.
- Colijn, H. Neerlands Indie Land en Volk. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1912.
- Conrad, Joseph. An Outcast of the Islands. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1896.
- Couperus, Louis. The Hidden Force. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.
- Cribb, Robert. Historical Atlas of Indonesia. London: Curzon Press, 2000.
- Daum, P. A. Ups and Downs of Life in the Indies. Singapore: Periplus, 1999.
- Daws, Gavin, and Marty Fujita. Archipelago: The Islands of Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
- Decker, Robert, and Barbara Decker. Volcanoes. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1979.
- De Vries, H. M., ed. The Importance of Java Seen from the Air. Batavia: H. M. De Vries, 1928.
- Fairchild, David. Garden Islands of the Great East. New York: Scribner, 1943.
- Forster, Harold. Flowering Lotus: A View of Java in the 1950s. London: Longman, Green & Co., 1958.
- Friederich, Walter L. Fire in the Sea. The Santorini Volcano: Natural History and the Legend of Atlantis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- Geertz, Clifford. The Religion of Java. New York: Free Press, 1960.
- Gilbert J. S., and R. S. J. Sparks. The Physics of Explosive Volcanic Eruptions. London: Geological Society of London 1998.
- Haigh, K. R. Cableships and Submarine Cables. London: Adlard Coles, 1968.
- Hall, R., and D. J. Blundell, eds. Tectonic Evolution of Southeast Asia. London: Geological Society of London, 1996.
- Hamilton, Warren. Tectonics of the Indonesian Region Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1979.
- Helsdingen, W. H. van, and Hoogenberk, Dr. H., Mission Interrupted: The Dutch in the East Indies and Their Work in the Twentieth Century. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1945.
- Heuken, Adolf, S. J. Historical Sites of Jakarta. Jakarta: Cipta Loka Caraka, 2000.
- Hicks, Geoff, and Hamish Campbell. Awesome Forces: The Natural Hazards that Threaten New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Te Papa Press, 1998.
- Hillen, Ernest. The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java. London: Viking, 1993.
- Hobhouse, Henry. Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985.
- Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.London: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- Johnson, George, ed. The All Red Line: The Annals and Aims of the Pacific Cable Project. Ottawa: James Hope & Sons, 1903. Kartodirdjo, Sartono. The Peasants’ Revolt of Banten in 1888. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966.
- Keay, John. Empire’s End: A History of the Far East from High Colonialism to Hong Kong. New York, Scribner, 1997.
- Kemp, P. H. vander. De Administratie der Geldmiddelen van Nederland-Indie (The Financial Administration of the Dutch East Indies). Amsterdam: J. H. de Bussy, 1881.
- Keys, David. Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World. London: Century, 1999.
- Kuitenbrouwer, Maarten. The Netherlands and the Rise of Modern Imperialism. Providence, R.I.: Berg Publishers, 1991.
- Kumar, Ann. The Diary of a Javanese Muslim: Religion, Politics and the Pesantren 1883-1886. Canberra: Australian National University, 1985.
- Krafft, Maurice. Volcanoes. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993.
- Legge, J. D. Indonesia. New York: Prentice Hall, 1964.
- Levelink, Jose. Four Guided Walks through the Bogor Botanic Garden. Bogor: Bogorindo Botanicus, 1996.
- Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: 2,000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995.
- —. What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East.London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002.
- Lucas, E. V. A Wanderer in Holland. London: Methuen & Co., 1905.
- Merrillees, Scott. Batavia in Nineteenth-Century Photographs. London: Curzon Press, 2000.
- Milton, Giles. Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: How One Man’s Courage Changed the Course of History. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1999.
- Money, J. W. B. Java, or, How to Manage a Colony. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1861.
- Multatuli [Dekker, Eduard Douwes]. Max Havelaar, or, The Coffee Auctions of a Dutch Trading Company. London: Heinemann, 1967.
- Naipaul, V. S. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples.London: Little, Brown, 1998. Netherlands Royal Mail Line. Java the Wonderland. Arnhem: [n.d.].
- Nieuwenhuys, Rob. Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature. Hong Kong: Periplus, 1999.
- — Faded Portraits: E. Breton de Nijs Amherst, MA, University of Massachusetts Press, 1982. Oey, Eric, ed. Java Singapore: Periplus, 1997. Oosterzee, Penny van, When Worlds Collide: The Wallace Line. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.
- Oreskes, Naomi, ed. Plate Tectonics. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2001.
- Ponder, H. W. Javanese Panorama. London: Seeley, Service & Co. .
- Poortenaar, Jan. An Artist in the Tropics. London: Sampson Low .
- Pope-Hennessy, James. Verandah: Some Episodes in the Crown Colonies 1867-1889. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964. Preger, W. Dutch Administration in the Netherlands Indies. Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire, 1944.
- Quammen, David. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.New York: Scribner, 1996.
- Raby, Peter. Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Raffles, Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley. The History of Java. London: Black, Parbury & Allen, 1817.
- Read, Donald, The Power of News: The History of Reuters 1849-1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
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- Ross, Robert, and George Winius. All of One Company: The VOC in Historical Perspective. Utrecht: HES Uitgivers, 1986.
- SarDesai, D. R. Southeast Asia, Past and Present. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989.
- Scarth, Alwyn. La Catastrophe: The Eruption of Mount Pelee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- — Vulcan’s Fury: Man against the Volcano. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999.
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- Scidmore, E. R. Java, the Garden of the East. New York: Century Co., 1897.
- Severin, Timothy. The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1997.
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- Shermer, Michael. In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace.New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Sigurdsson, Haraldur. Melting the Earth: The History of Ideas on Volcanic Eruptions.New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Sitwell, Sacheverell. The Netherlands: A Study of Some Aspects of Art, Costume and Social Life. London: B. T. Batsford, 1948.
- Soebadio, Dr. Haryati, et al., eds. Indonesian Heritage Encyclopedia. 10 vols. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 1996 et seq.
- Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s Online Pioneers. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998.
- Stephens, Mitchell. A History of News: From the Drum to the Satellite. New York: Viking, 1988.
- Suarez, Thomas. Early Mapping of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong: Periplus, 1999.
- Taylor, Jean Gelman. The Social World of Batavia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.
- Thornton, Ian. Krakatau: The Destruction and Reassembly of an Island Ecosystem.Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.
- Turner, Peter, ed., Java. Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 1995.
- Umbgrove, J. H. F. Structural History of the East Indies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1949.
- Vlekke, Bernard M. Nusantara: A History of the East Indian Archipelago. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945.
- —. The Story of the Dutch East Indies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1945.
- Vandenbosch, Amry. The Dutch East Indies, Its Government, Problems and Politics.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1941.
- Vissering, G. Geweldige Natuurkrachten (Nature’s Power). Batavia: G. Kolff & Co., 1910.
- Wallace, Alfred Russel. The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orangutan and the Bird of Paradise. Narrative Travel, with Studies of Man and Nature. London: Macmillan, 1869.
- Weyer, Robert van de. Islam and the West: A New Political and Religious Order Post September 11. Alvesford, Hants.: O Books, 2001.
- Wilkinson-Latham, Robert J. From Our Special Correspondent. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.
- Williams, Stanley, and Fen Montaigne. Surviving Galeras. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
- Woodcock, George. The British in the Far East. New York: Atheneum, 1969.
- Zebrowski, Ernest Jr. The Last Days of St. Pierre. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
- Zeilinger de Boer, Jelle, and Donald Sanders. Volcanoes in Human History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.