In the best tradition of Paul Theroux and J. Maarten Troost, comes Derek Pugh's torrid tale of Sumbawa, and his ascent of the iconic volcano Mt. Tambora, whose 1815 eruption did indeed change the world.
Pugh's account of the eruption and its aftermath is masterfully done - clearly the product of much dogged research through archives, scientific journals, as well as conversations with Indonesians lasting long into the steamy night.
Himself a long-time resident of the neighboring Indonesian island of Lombok, Pugh is a well-qualified tourist who also brings a wry and rollicking insider's account of local and ex-pat life along the volcanic chain of islands.
The reader meets a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, from pre-schooler jockeys, to an ancient princess alone in her decaying Sultan's palace, to brainless Western surfer dudes and their chicks who have no clue about the history of the slacker's paradise they've stumbled upon.
Pugh does a sterling job of filling that gap in Asian travel writing, as the many-layered dimensions of Sumbawan culture - their strict Islamism, great friendliness, and intermittent traumas, with the colossal Tambora looming across every page - unfold to the reader like layers of volcanic earth from a hidden Pompeii.
Gillen D'Arcy Wood, author of Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World (Princeton University Press, 2014)