Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

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Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

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Buy Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It might sound like a book for a speciait but it's very accessible and reads like a good story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1781250044

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I'm fascinated by volcanoes, by their uncontrollability and potential to disrupt way beyond their immediate environment and for years to come, but I've always struggled to find books which were accessible to someone without specialist knowledge - or at least more behind them than my very basic qualifications. Like many people my attention was drawn to Iceland when Eyjafjallajokull erupted in the spring of 2010, not because of the plight of the Icelanders and their livestock, but because of the disruption it caused over much of Europe, I'm afraid. I began to look at other volcanoes in Iceland - particularly Katla, reputed historically to erupt in conjunction with Eyjafjallajokull. It's likely that a full-scale eruption of Katla would cause even more disruption than its little sister - and then I started to look back at other eruptions in Iceland. The one which few people seem to know about is Laki - which might have been one of the triggers of the French Revolution.

Island on Fire was the perfect book for me. Laki erupted in 1783 and Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe have constructed a compelling history of what happened before the eruption, during the eight months when sulphuric aerosols were emitted and in the years after when the effects were felt. It's said that deaths were caused as far away as the Nile and that the monsoon system, which brought rain to Africa and India, was weakened. It's not just the story of the fissures which opened and spewed fire for miles around but of the people who lived in the shadow of the volcano and of the heros who are still remembered today.

You will need very little in the way of basic knowledge to enjoy this book. Interspersed with the story of the 1783 eruption is background information on the volcanoes of Iceland. It's all put in context by a look at the so-called supervolcanoes - an eruption of one of these would be a planet-changing event. It's suspected that there was such an eruption in 1258, but no one can tell where it was! Descriptions of the way that the Laki eruption poisoned Iceland, the horrible year which followed and the global effects point up the effects of a major event and we're given some pointers as to how worried we should be by the possibility of the next 'big bang'.

If this all sounds rather dry then I'm not doing the book justice: I've read a lot of novels which didn't hold my attention in quite the same way. The history and the science are made totally accessible with diagrams or black and white photographs where these add to the text. I read the book in a couple of sittings when I originally thought that it would last for much longer. I don't often comment on book covers - but do have a close look at this one. It was the diagram of the fissure which opened up on each side of the mountain which brought what happened home to me. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

For more from a land of ice have a look at Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis. For fiction based in Iceland we can recommend Frozen Out by Quentin Bates and the work of Arnaldur Indridason.

Buy Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Island on Fire: The extraordinary story of Laki, the volcano that turned eighteenth-century Europe dark by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe at Amazon.com.

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