Interview with Simon Winchester, Author of Book on Krakatoa

Historians in the News

Simon Winchester, interviewed by Deborah Solomon, in the NYT Magazine (1-23-05):

You are the author of ''Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: Aug. 27, 1883,'' as well as a coming book on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 -- what went through your head when you first learned of the tsunami?

I was on holiday in England at the time. I heard the 5 o'clock news, and I have to confess: I thought, Should I go? Should I ring up The Sunday Telegraph and go? English friends of mine called and said, ''Are you sure you are not exploiting this?''

How odd. Do they think you exploited Krakatoa by publishing a book about it?

Krakatoa has passed into history, so it has historical validity. But to write about this current event, and to do it with enthusiasm, you're advancing your career on the back of a tragedy.

You Brits are so anxious about advancing your station in life that it's amazing you get can out of bed in the morning.

That is one reason I like to live here in America. I am ambitious. I like success. Here it is not something to be ashamed of.

You began your career as a geologist, after studying at Oxford.

All I wanted to do was wander around the world. But I was a bad geologist.

How, exactly, would you define a bad geologist?

They're the ones who don't find the copper deposits they are sent to find.

Are you suggesting you were too anxious about advancing your career to find any copper?

Not quite. I had been sent to Uganda by a mining company and, to be fair, the area where I was sent didn't have any copper.


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