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Pompeii: A Novel Hardcover – November 18, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this fine historical by British novelist Harris (Archangel; Enigma; Fatherland), an upstanding Roman engineer rushes to repair an aqueduct in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which, in A.D. 79, is getting ready to blow its top. Young Marcus Attilius Primus becomes the aquarius of the great Aqua Augusta when its former chief engineer disappears after 20 years on the job. When water flow to the coastal town of Misenum is interrupted, Attilius convinces the admiral of the Roman fleet-the scholar Pliny the Elder-to give him a fast ship to Pompeii, where he finds the source of the problem in a burst sluiceway. Lively writing, convincing but economical period details and plenty of intrigue keep the pace quick, as Attilius meets Corelia, the defiant daughter of a vile real estate speculator, who supplies him with documents implicating her father and Attilius's predecessor in a water embezzlement scheme. Attilius has bigger worries, though: a climb up Vesuvius reveals that an eruption is imminent. Before he can warn anyone, he's ambushed by the double-crossing foreman of his team, Corvax, and a furious chase ensues. As the volcano spews hot ash, Attilius fights his way back to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue Corelia. Attilius, while possessed of certain modern attitudes and a respect for empirical observation, is no anachronism. He even sends Corelia back to her cruel father at one point, advising her to accept her fate as a woman. Harris's volcanology is well researched, and the plot, while decidedly secondary to the expertly rendered historic spectacle, keeps this impressive novel moving along toward its exciting finale.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School--With detailed examination of time, place, and circumstance, Harris brings to life first-century Pompeii and its surroundings. Vesuvius, a sleeping giant, towers over the Bay of Naples while the citizenry frets over a drought that is threatening the water supply. Marcus Attilius Primus, the new chief engineer for the huge aqueduct that supplies the area, is summoned by Corelia, beautiful daughter of the powerful and corrupt Ampliatus, to investigate a fish kill in their villa's pool, fed by the aqueduct. Attilius discovers that the bay's water supply is diminishing rapidly and is contaminated with sulfur. Youthful, upright Attilius vows to Pliny, famous scholar and admiral in charge of the huge fleet based there, to repair the damaged aqueduct in two days. Meanwhile, tremors are felt in Pompeii, and the populace fears that the god Vulcan is angry and may send another earthquake, such as occurred 17 years earlier. Attilius is successful, but the air, now filled with a fine gray dust, begins to rain pumice, and Vesuvius unleashes its fury. As the populace flees, he turns back to rescue Corelia, trapped in Pompeii, and the aqueduct he knows so well becomes their salvation. This story of a corrupt, violent society focused on its own pleasure, set against the fascinating history of a familiar catastrophe, makes for a compelling drama.--Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harris, Robert
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (November 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679428895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679428893
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (436 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Eileen on December 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It is August of 79 A.D. in the Bay of Naples and the Aqua Augusta, the aqueduct carrying water to the cities of the area, begins to dry up. Fish are mysteriously dying in their ponds. There are ground tremors and rock falls in the cities surrounding Mount Vesuvius. Some residents attribute these things to giants or to the wrath of the gods. But Marcus Attilius Primus, the aquarius, or water engineer of the Aqua Augusta, who is sent to Misenum to research and repair the problem, knows that there is a scientific explanation. As he tracks the aqueduct from its terminus in Misenum to Pompeii and then onward to the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius, he observes unusual natural phenomena, discovers the upheaval that disrupted the water flow, and realizes that an inevitable cataclysmic event is about to occur.
In this painstakingly researched story, Robert Harris has produced much more than a historical thriller. Although we know the story will end with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the surrounding cities, Harris has built suspense by describing the mysterious disappearance of the former aquarius Exomnius and the attempts of the officials of Pompeii to prevent Attilius from discovering the truth. This book also provides fascinating detail on the culture of ancient Rome, from the feasts in the sumptuous villas to the ingenious plumbing in the bath houses. It provides details on the aqueduct system, a marvel of Roman engineering. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from a treatise on volcanos that describes the causes of, and events occuring during, an eruption. The reader is entertained while learning all this, and is not overburdened with facts and figures.
The characters are well developed and fascinating.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend on January 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Pompeii by Robert Harris has received some excellent reviews, and it was on the strength of these that I decided to read the book. I was not disappointed. Mr. Harris does have the gift of giving his reading the feel of a place and time. He breathes life into the late first century and presents the many facts and customs in a way that sparks interest and not boredom. The novel begins on August 22, 79 CE, and the chapters are cleverly organized following the Roman hours of the day and also give the actual hour when the events are taking place. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from a technical work on volcanology that provides the reader with an idea of the activity going on inside Mount Vesuvius.
The story revolves around the Aqua Augusta, an aqueduct that the protagonist of the story, Marcus Attilius Primus, first becomes the aquarius (the person responsible for maintaining the structure) of the aqueduct and then searches for a break that prevents the flow of water to the drought stricken countryside. Atillius is a noble character, an imperial official who takes pride in his work and is incorruptible. But he is now in the self-proclaimed city-on-the-make: Pompeii.
Along the way we meet Ampliatus, a wealthy freedman who is, ironically, marrying his daughter to Popilius, his old master. Ampliatus represents a long line of uncouth and ambitious freedmen that came to dominate the principate in the early empire under Claudius and Nero. Mr. Harris paints a probing and revealing portrait of Ampliatus and draws an inevitable comparison with Trimalchio of Petronius' Satyricon, with the freedman presiding over a similar overly sumptuous banquet Ampliatus. As a classicist, I found the banquet scene a little too reminiscent of the novel by Petronius.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on November 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Everybody thinks they know about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii--79 AD . . .rivers of bubbling magma . . .citizens immortalized in pleading poses for all eternity by ash . . .the heedless rich getting their comeuppance from nature. Those basics are true, but Robert Harris reminds us that the eruption of Vesuvius was much more than that. It remains one of history's greatest and most dramatic disaster stories, and we know a great deal about it because one of the Roman Empire's greatest historians was there to write a blow-by-blow record of the destruction; and although Pliny did not survive, his report did.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were the Malibu and Santa Barbara of Rome. In the hot August of 79 AD, tourists were swarming to the cool coast to enjoy the luxury accommodations, crystal swimming pools, and elegant spas of the bayside resorts. Marcus Attilius is there too, but he's not there to enjoy the occasional cool breeze, he's there to work as the new aquarius of the Aqua Augusta--the new water engineer in charge of the enormous aqueduct that brings endless water flowing to the nine towns around the Bay of Naples. Springs are failing for the first time in centuries and the flow of water is being disrupted to hundreds of thousands of people. Attilius' family has worked on the great aqueducts for generations, but even he is bewildered by the cause of this crisis somewhere along the Aqua Augusta's sixty-mile line--a line that stretches along the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.

The Roman aqueducts were an amazing feat, and Harris describes their workings in great detail. He does an excellent job of showing, not telling, and through Attilius and his crew he weaves an incredible amount of information into the narrative and it is fascinating.
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