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A global history of the climate catastrophe caused by the Tambora eruption
When Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, it unleashed the most destructive wave of extreme weather the world has witnessed in thousands of years. The volcano’s massive sulfate dust cloud enveloped the Earth, cooling temperatures and disrupting major weather systems for more than three years. Communities worldwide endured famine, disease, and civil unrest on a catastrophic scale.
Here, Gillen D’Arcy Wood traces Tambora’s global and historical reach: how the volcano’s three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Bringing the history of this planetary emergency to life, Tambora sheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.
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.