THE PUBLISHERS OF Krakatoa: T h e Day the World Exploded (Viking 432pp £16.99) should be very careful into whose hands it falls. It is all too easy to imagine some staring- eyed Dr Strangelove in a Texan bunker feeling personally challenged by the claim that its subject is 'the greatest detonation, the loudest sound, the most devastating volcanic event in modern recorded history'. Simon Winchester makes the challenge quite explicit: not even the atomic tests of the Cold War, he says, can begin to rival the magnitude of Krakatoa.
For the last two hundred years, it has been something of a cliche to tremble before the might and majesty of nature - but when it comes to 'shock and awe', the statistics that surround the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 are hard to beat. The explosion blasted the entire island apart and sent a tsunami 135 feet high crashing into nearby towns. It created a noise that was heard over 13 per cent of the Earth's surface. Thousands of European and American meteorologists, not knowing what they were witnessing, measured the pressure wave it sent seven times round the world - 'an earthquake in the air', as Simon Winchester expresses