The world-roving British author Simon Winchester may be a self-described “bad geologist” but he is unquestionably a masterful spinner of historical and scientific sagas.
Janet Maslin of the New York Times declares Winchester “the leading practitioner” of enlivening science and history with “wonderfully arcane information” and “enthralling trivia.” The Oxford-educated author takes on bold, dramatic tales: a lethal volcano in Krakatoa (2003), the legendary Yangtze River in The River at the Center of the World (1993), and the Great California Earthquake in A Crack in the Edge of the World (2005). But it was an idiosyncratic little story that produced his biggest bestseller. The Professor and the Madman (1998) recounts the unlikely tale of an asylum-bound murderer who helped to write the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester describes the impact on his sluggish career as a book author: “I’ve had years and years of being completely unsuccessful and unnoticed, and then all of the sudden, with The Professor and the Madman, this volcano, if I can use that metaphor, erupted.”
Working for thirty years as a journalist and travel writer for British newspapers, National Geographic, and other popular periodicals, Winchester has demonstrated his wit and love of quirky details in galloping reports from Asia, the Pacific, and outposts of the British Empire. When not circling the globe, he divides his time between Massachusetts and western Scotland.
Excerpt from Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded—August 27, 1883
And then came the moment when a Delft dinner plate fell off a dining-room table in the old part of Batavia and broke into a thousand pieces. The plate had belonged to Mrs. van der Stok, a middle-aged Dutch lady who at the time of its breakage—shortly after ten minutes to eleven on the Sunday morning—was quite probably setting her table for family luncheon. It had been a part of her trousseau on the day she had married Dr. J. P. van der Stok—the distinguished scientist from Utrecht who had brought her out to Batavia some years before on his appointment as director of the colony’s Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory. The couple lived in a single-story house attached to the observatory, and on that hot and cloudless Sunday morning both could not help but notice that something, somewhere, had gone badly awry.
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded (2003)
The Meaning of Everything (2003)
The Map That Changed the World (2001)
The Professor and the Madman (1998)
The River at the Center of the World (1996)