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. Amid devastating storms, drought, and floods, communities worldwide endured famine, disease, and civil unrest on a catastrophic scale. On the eve of the bicentenary of the great eruption, Tambora tells the extraordinary story of the weather chaos it wrought, weaving the latest climate science with the social history of this frightening period to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.
The year following Tambora’s eruption became known as the “Year without a Summer,” when weather anomalies in Europe and New England ruined crops, displaced millions, and spawned chaos and disease. Here, for the first time, Gillen D’Arcy Wood traces Tambora’s full global and historical reach: how the volcano’s three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, set the stage for Ireland’s Great Famine, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster, inspired by Tambora’s terrifying storms, embodied the fears and misery of global humanity during this transformative period, the most recent sustained climate crisis the world has faced.
Bringing the history of this planetary emergency grippingly to life, Tambora sheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies, and the threat a new era of extreme global weather poses to us all.
Gillen D’Arcy Wood is professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he directs the Sustainability Studies Initiative in the Humanities. He has written extensively on the cultural and environmental history of the nineteenth century.
"This engaging interdisciplinary study links Tambora's disruption of global weather patterns not only to Arctic melting, famine, and cholera but to the landscape paintings of William Turner, the debts that plagued Thomas Jefferson near the end of his life, the elegiac verse of the Chinese poet Li Yuyang, and Mary Shelley's novel 'Frankenstein,' written in 1816, the 'Year without a Summer.' The lessons of Tambora's 'Frankenstein weather'--as Wood is quick to point out--may carry special weight in today's era of climate upheaval."--The New Yorker
"Wood, who intends no hyperbole in his subtitle, makes a convincing case for Tambora's role in causing 'the most catastrophic sustained weather crisis of the millennium.'"--Thomas Jones, London Review of Books
"Persuasively entertaining. . . . If not the first, Mr. Wood's book is by far the best on the subject, and most comprehensive. What Mr. Wood has achieved in Tambora is to uncover, collect, and collate a great deal of new scientific evidence to bolster his case."--Simon Winchester, Wall Street Journal
"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."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations xi
Note on Measurements xv
INTRODUCTION Frankenstein's Weather 1
ONE The Pompeii of the East 12
TWO The Little (Volcanic) Ice Age 33
THREE "This End of the World Weather" 45
FOUR Blue Death in Bengal 72
FIVE The Seven Sorrows of Yunnan 97
SIX The Polar Garden 121
SEVEN Ice Tsunami in the Alps 150
EIGHT The Other Irish Famine 171
NINE Hard Times at Monticello 199
EPILOGUE Et in Extremis Ego 229