What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

Updated 10 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

  • Eurovision started in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 people in Switzerland
  • Today the contest is watched by an audience of billions

For those who think the Eurovision Song Contest is just an evening of questionable tunes, dubious dancing and general over-the-top cheesiness, think again.

From its beginnings in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 polite, but not terribly enthusiastic, people in Switzerland, the contest has been a mirror for cultural, social and political developments in Europe.

For the countries once imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, it has been a voice of rebellion.

For regional minorities it has been a voice of liberation. It even triggered a national revolution.

And the notorious bloc voting by regional neighbors is so blatant that nobody is surprised any more.

Nowadays the contest is watched by an audience of billions. People throw Eurovision-themed parties.

The singers have not always come from the country they represent. Canadian Celine Dion competed for Switzerland in 1988, while Greek singer Nana Mouskouri sang for Luxembourg in 1963.

Even the “Euro” element of the contest is now very loosely interpreted, with Israel and Australia competing.

Eurovision! charts both the history of Europe and the history of the song contest over the past six decades and shows how seamlessly they interlink. Something to ponder while watching this Saturday’s cheese-fest from Lisbon.


What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Updated 18 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Authors: Jelle Zeilinga de Boer & Donald Theodore Sanders

When the volcano Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, as many as 100,000 people perished as a result of the blast and an ensuing famine caused by the destruction of rice fields on Sumbawa and neighboring islands. Gases and dust particles ejected into the atmosphere changed weather patterns around the world, resulting in the infamous “year without a summer” in North America, food riots in Europe, and a widespread cholera epidemic. And the gloomy weather inspired Mary Shelley to write the gothic novel Frankenstein.
This book tells the story of nine such epic volcanic events, explaining the related geology for the general reader and exploring the myriad ways in which the earth’s volcanism has affected human history.
Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders describe in depth how volcanic activity has had long-lasting effects on societies, cultures, and the environment. The authors draw on ancient as well as modern accounts — from folklore to poetry and from philosophy to literature. Beginning with the Bronze Age eruption, the book tells the human and geological stories of eruptions of such volcanoes as Vesuvius, Krakatau, Mount Pelée, and Tristan da Cunha.
Along the way, it shows how volcanism shaped religion in Hawaii, permeated Icelandic mythology and literature, caused widespread population migrations, and spurred scientific discovery.
From the prodigious eruption of Thera more than 3,600 years ago to the relative burp of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the results of volcanism attest to the enduring connections between geology and human destiny.