Summary and book reviews of Pompeii by Robert Harris

Pompeii

By Robert Harris

Pompeii
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2003,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2004,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire's richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world's largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta's sixty-mile main line—somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him.

With his trademark elegance and intelligence, Robert Harris, bestselling author of Archangel and Fatherland, re-creates a world on the brink of disaster.

MARS

22 August. Two days before the eruption

CONTICINIUM [04:21 hours]

A strong correlation has been found between the magnitude of eruptions and the length of the preceding interval of repose. Almost all very large, historic eruptions have come from volcanoes that have been dormant for centuries.
- Jacques-Marie Bardintzeff, Alexander R. McBirney, Volcanology (Second Edition)


They left the aqueduct two hours before dawn, climbing by moonlight into the hills overlooking the port—six men in single file, the engineer leading. He had turfed them out of their beds himself—all stiff limbs and sullen, bleary faces—and now he could hear them complaining about him behind his back, their voices carrying louder than they realized in the warm, still air.

"A fool's errand," somebody muttered.

"Boys should stick to their books," said another.

He lengthened his stride.

Let them prattle, he thought.

Already he could feel the heat of the morning beginning ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Reader's Guide
  1. 'It struck me that Rome might be a way to write about America' —Robert Harris Robert Harris had initially set out to write about a utopia gone wrong, set in the future and created by a giant American corporation, he even originally researched the Walt Disney 'empire'. Do you think the Roman Empire is an interesting way to write about a modern day superpower? What are the similarities with current global events?

  2. There is a current vogue in film (Gladiator, Troy, Alexander the Great) as well as books for classical themes — why do you think this is? What are the parallels with our society?

  3. Harris has referred to 'toga resistance' because so much about the Romans — their habits, assumptions, they way they...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Booklist - Kristine Huntley

With rich historical details and scientific minutiae, Harris vividly brings to life the ancient world on the brink of unspeakable disaster.

Library Journal - Jane Baird

Readers who like their historical fiction well grounded in fact won't be able to put this down. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

Fast, fact-filled, and quite fun. A blast, really.

Sunday Times (UK)

Blazingly exciting...Pompeii palpitates with sultry tension....Harris provides an awe-inspiring tour of one of the monumental engineering triumphs on which the Roman empire was based.... It is hard to imagine a more thorough goingly enjoyable thriller.

Daily Mail (UK)

Breakneck pace, constant jeopardy and subtle twists of plot...a blazing blockbuster... The depth of the research in the book is staggering.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

[A] stirring and absorbing novel...The final 100 pages are terrific, as good as anything Harris has done.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

The long-drawn-out death agony of [Pompeii and Herculaneum]—a full day of falling ash, pumice stone, and then, the final catastrophe, a cloud of poisonous gas—is brilliantly done. Explosive stuff, indeed.

Reader Reviews
Alan

The Lost 40 Pages
Straight out of The Titanic stable (if there is chaos, go to it!). This is a cumbersome read, weighted down by a onslaught of detail ('realism') that works hard to disguise the incredible plot devices. As if that wasn't bad, there are no less than 40...   Read More

Jon Paul
Harris has been working the historical fiction vein for a number of years now, but only with Pompeii has he finally hit his stride. The work is a seamless blend of good plotting, excellent character writing, and exciting action. As with both ...   Read More

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