ISBN: 0812974611
ISBN 13: 9780812974614
By: Robert Harris

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About this book

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.From the Hardcover edition.

Reader's Thoughts

Patricia Rodrigues

Achei este livro muito interessante em vários aspectos. Vamos acompanhando um engenheiro de aquedutos - o aquarius - com os problemas no abastecimento de água. Temos também uma pequena "amostra" sobre o modo de vida dos romanos e da corrupção existente na altura. Bem, como o descobrimento existente na altura sobre estes fenómenos naturais, pois vamos tendo pequenos sinais de que a erupção do vulcão está para breve, mas para a população da altura, Vesúvio era apenas um monte.Apesar da pequena janela temporal - 4 dias, 2 dias antes da erupção e os 2 dias da erupção - temos um livro muito interessante.


Natürlich geht es bei Pompeji letztlich um den wohl bekanntesten Vulkanausbruch der Menschheitsgeschichte, bei dem der Vesuv im Jahr 79 n. Chr. ebendiese Stadt vollkommen unter Asche und Lava begrub. Dennoch geht Harris einen sehr interessanten Weg und lässt eine Handlung entstehen, in der zunächst der Ausbruch des Vulkans nur in Vorzeichen angedeutet wird. Die meiste Energie geht stattdessen in die Erzählung über einen Aquarius (den Bauer und Pfleger von Aquädukten), der sich darum kümmern soll die abgeschnittene Wasserleitung wieder in Gang zu setzen, die von Vorboten des Unglücks unterbrochen wurde. An Nebenschauplätzen werden die Lebensgewohnheiten der damaligen Zeit hervorragend dargestellt - Harris lässt das erste nachchristliche Jahrhundert wieder auferstehen. Und natürlich kommt auch eine Liebesgeschichte nicht zu kurz. Sehr schön fand ich auch den Schluss, der sich die befürchtete Kitschszene ersparte.Auch sprachlich ist Harris ein wirklich hervorstechendes Werk gelungen, seine Sätze haben die Kraft des ausbrechenden Vulkans. Ebenso ist das Werk stilistisch sehr gut gearbeitet, so setzt Harris Vor- und Rückblenden sehr geschickt ein um der Geschichte den nötigen Pepp zu verleihen. Nebenbei spinnt er auch noch eine Geschichte um das Thema Korruption ein, die für Spannung sorgt. Interessant sind die vor jedem Kapitel angeführten Fakten und Zitate zu Vulkanen, die dem ganzen Werk eine weitere Aufwertung geben, denn um dem Genre des historischen Romans treu zu bleiben erlaubt sich Harris keine Anachronismen, und so muss er moderne Beschreibungen vom Text abtrennen.Die Charaktere sind sehr gut beschrieben und glaubwürdig dargestellt. Trotz des zwangsläufig am äußeren Geschehen orientierten Handlungsverlaufes, macht sich Harris die Mühe seinen Personen Charakter, Tiefe und Glaubwürdigkeit zu verleihen, eine zweifellos wertvolle Herangehensweise an das Thema. Es gibt keine nennenswerten Ausrutscher oder Schwächen, weshalb man das Buch nur uneingeschränkt empfehlen kann - vorausgesetzt der geneigte Leser erwartet sich nicht Action pur.

Tudor Ciocarlie

I've listened to this in preparation for the trip to Pompeii. Excellent narration and a very good historical fiction.

Nancy (Hrdcovers)

POMPEII.....BEFORE AND AFTERAfter visiting Pompeii, on a recent trip to Rome, I was eager to read something about that fateful day in August,79 AD, when Mt. Vesuvius erupted suffocating an entire city with ash and rocks. If you've been to Pompeii, you've probably left there with an eerie feeling and a desire to learn more. This was the impetus in my searching out some historical fiction surrounding this event and Robert Harris' book looked like it might be the right one for me. Based on all the other reviews here, I think I'm in the minority in saying that I really wasn't that drawn to this book. When I'm reading a good book, I can't wait to get back to it. I found myself putting off picking this one up again and again and ended up taking more time to read it than I usually do with a book this size. I will say, however, that the second half was much better than the first half. While I found it interesting how the eventual catastrophe was foreshadowed by blockages in the water system, I just found the beginning descriptions so tedious. After seeing what still remains of the town, I was able to clearly picture the streets and the stores and the homes of the Roman inhabitants having walked around this same town myself. I guess when you're reading a book where you know the eventual outcome, it takes some of the bite out of it for me and I'm probably being too critical of a book that I just thought could have been better. One thing I will say with some certainty is that I'm glad I didn't live during this time of overall decadence. Some of it really sickened me.

Liza Perrat

Well-written, action packed account of the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius. Very informative, with well-formed characters. I was sorry to reach the end.


I read a review of this in The Atlantic Monthly a couple of years back that was quite favorable. What I found most intriguing about the book was the perspective of the main protagonist (an engineer trying to ascertain why the water flowing through the aqueducts was poisonous and dropping rapidly). Harris's writing here is much better than it is in Imperium; it's a fascinating read with lots of interesting historical notes and a riveting chronicle of the actual explosion.With that said, there's some fairly disturbing sexual content, primarily disturbing in that it's not taking place between people who love each other. So if you decide to read this, be prepared to skip paragraphs!


A sort of novelized amalgamation of some of Pliny the Younger's letters with a bit of Frontinus' "Aqueducts" and parts of Vitruvius thrown in. This book tells the story of the last days of Pompeii (as did another book entitled appropriately enough "The Last Days of Pompeii" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton). In his take Harris paints the well known volcanic events as a sort of mystery that must be solved by a young aquarius (aqueduct engineer) named Attilius. Attilius must not only figure out what's going on before he's buried in a pyroclastic flow, but he must escape all manner of vile creature from violent slave to scummy magistrate. Who knew being a civil servant could be so dangerous?I really enjoyed this book. It seemed to capture both the violent atmosphere of the times and the beauty of the region around Pompeii in the height of summer. You don't have to know much about ancient Rome to become immersed in Harris' writing.


I'm not usually much for historical fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It is the well-known story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but told from a slightly different perspective: the engineer of the aqueduct, dealing with a drought, a pipe blockage, and strange smells of sulfur in the water. In addition to the science (which I found fascinating - Roman technology was amazing), there is plenty of personal and political intrigue to keep the plot rolling along. This fun little book made me want to learn more about Pompeii and the Roman Empire, which says a lot, considering I'd never given them much thought outside the occasional History Channel documentary. Definitely recommended if you're in the mood for some good historical fiction.


Just days before the eruption of Vesuvius, the engineer Attilius arrives in Pompeii to take charge of the aqueduct that provides water for all the communities dotted around the Bay of Naples. Pompeii is a bustling town whose inhabitants are busy making money and enjoying themselves. They have no idea of the imminent disaster that will overtake them.But the novel is not primarily concerned with that eruption, at least not until the climax. Before that happens, Harris cleverly weaves a human story around the historical events. The previous water-engineer has disappeared without trace; his disappearance seems to be tied up with the dealings of a freed slave who has become a millionaire and is bankrolling Pompeii's magistrates; the millionaire's daughter, who is trapped in a loveless betrothal, reminds the engineer painfully of his dead wife. The result is an extraordinarily gripping thriller. It doesn’t matter that we know how the novel will end. The reader is caught up in the struggle of the two young people to make sense of what is taking place all around them and to take control of their own lives. The writing is muscular and the pace compelling but not at the expense of detail: Harris really brings the sights, smells, tastes and even the table-manners of the Ancient World to life.The characters are believable, sympathetic and entirely authentic. In particular, there’s a marvellous portrait of Pliny the Elder, the Admiral of the Fleet who witnessed the eruption and described it in meticulous detail. I shall never think of him as a dusty Latin writer again.

Lance Greenfield

This is the story of a latter day Super Mario, an Italian plumber who overcomes very difficult challenges to fix the water supply to Napoli and surrounding areas before the local volcano erupts to ruin everything for everybody.OK, I admit that I am grossly trivialising a tremendous story, which is really about Marcus Attilius Primus, the aquarius, or chief water engineer, who is sent to the Bay of Naples to manage the water supply to all of the towns in the area. The main artery of the supply is the aqueduct, Aqua Augusta, which Attilius's grandfather may have had a hand in building under the supervision of the great Agrippa. Water engineering has been the career path of Atillius's family back through at least four generations.From the off, Attilius is up against it. His predecessor disappeared mysteriously, and neither his team of engineers and slaves nor those masters who govern Naples and the surrounding area, are inclined to trust the new aquarius. The first chapter opens with the horrendous execution of a slave who has been held responsible for the deaths of one of the local lord's prize fish. The lord's daughter, accompanied by the unfortunate slave's mother, urgently seek the help of Attilius, who quickly discovers that it is something in the water which has killer the precious fish. But they are too late to save the wretched slave.Events unfold and develop during the two days leading up to the famous eruption which buried Pompeii.This is a rivetting read, if ever there was one. As you would expect, there are many dangers to overcome, and, as you read, you will be wondering who will survive and who will not. This does not become clear until the final pages. I have to confess that I was wishing for the demise of certain characters, whilst hoping for the survival of others. That is a sign of how well Robert Harris engages the reader with the actors in this story.Definitely merits five stars.

Sue Smith

Again - my rating is more of a 3.5 than a 4, but I upped the rating because it was so nice to read about someone else having a wee bit of heat in their lives. Well, until the mountain exploded anyways. Then I felt a little sorry for their lot.It was actually kind of fun to read a fictional book about a catastrophe that we all know about and marvel over. It would have been quite a thing to witness actually and this book lets you be a witness to the tragedy without any of the trauma to your personal self. The story was rather well laid out and plausible - even though I thought it was going to be the exact opposite. All I really wanted was a story that took me to a warm place (albeit only in my mind) so I could escape the nasty reality of my -45 windchill winter mornings. This winter really has been the worst for making me want a warm destination to soak up some vitamin D from those glorious sun rays. But, a story and popping extra vitamin D pills was going to have to do. For now.I won't go into the plot. Suffice it to say it follows an aquarian (water engineer) as he tries to fix an issue with an aqueduct during one of the hottest, weirdest summer weather that the area has had to endure. Of course, it's all about the eminent blow up of Vesuvius - the pre signs to what is still regarded one of the worst natural disasters in the world. It was an interesting glimpse and was handled with a lot of thought so it made for good story. There's nothing worse than going into a historical fiction and thinking 'Pfffft, this is ridiculous'. I thought it might fall into that, but it thankfully did not and I enjoyed it as a result. Worth the read.


I read this book after doing the archaeological excavation at Pompeii and found it to be very realistic in it's portrayal of life in the city before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. This book is centered around a geologist and hydraulic engineer that are researching they mystery of why the water in Pompeii isn't flowing like it should. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone that has visited the ruins of Pompeii or the Roman Empire or is interested in the day to day life of people living almost 2000 years ago.

Dick Reynolds

I visited the town of Herculaneum some twenty-five years ago, saw the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius one August day in A.D. 79, and wondered what it was like during that horrible time. After reading this novel, I wondered no longer, thanks to Robert Harris’s careful research and vivid portrayal of Pompeii’s citizenry. The novel starts out slowly but tension keeps building all the way to the end with many clues of the impending disaster: sulfur in the water, the trembling earth and unusual increases of temperature on the ground. The protagonist is a water engineer named Attilius, responsible for the operation and maintenance of the region’s aqueduct, with the job title of Aquarius. I liked that literary touch (I’m a computer & communications engineer). Altogether a most excellent literary and historical reading experience.

Sam Quixote

The waters have stopped flowing from the aquedect - who you gonna call? Dambusters! The water engineer heads out amid widespread corruption in Pompeii, thwarts a murder plot, finds out what happened to his predecessor, falls in love, and investigates the ominous rumbling from the nearby Vesuvius. Sounds good no? Harris is good at building up the air of menace in the days preceding the eruption. Every action can be looked at as minor compared to the devastation coming and he really does a great job of creating an atmosphere of anticipation in the reader. He's also done a great job at recreating the feel of living in Roman times, as well as supplying a lot of information on Roman aqueducts giving you a sense of awe and genius for the Roman Empire. Where he falls down though is in the characterisation. Attilius, the engineer, is the hero. He's a stoic, good looking gent who sends his pay home to his mother and sister in Rome. He doesn't take bribes, he's hardworking, and is disliked for his strict attention to detail (all for the good of Rome naturally). He's so perfect in fact that he's boring. But he's not alone. A equally dreary love interest is introduced who meets the engineer no more than 3 times briefly but over the course of those 3 encounters the reader is supposed to buy that they have fallen madly in love and would die for each other. The whole reason for the engineer to rush back to Pompeii after escaping it is because of this love interest and as such everything feels very contrived. It's this lack of convincing that stops the reader in their tracks because there's no real reason, once the eruptions start, to care what the engineer's motivations are. He's a paper thin cardboard cut out and so is his love interest. So what? The third act also falls down. Harris does a great job of setting the scene but once Vesuvius erupts he somehow manages to make it boring. For a thriller to fail in the third act is not a good sign and I could quite easily put the book down and do anything else. It's not a bad novel by any means it just seems trite at times which spoils the overall effect. Harris has obviously done his research, it's just a shame the same effort didn't go into making an interesting enough scenario to take place during this immense natural disaster or characters worth caring about.

Neil Pierson

It should be a Two-For-One: A suspense novel to take to the beach; and some insight into life in the Roman Empire and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. (And maybe a small tutorial in primitive plumbing.) Unfortunately, it turns into an 0-For-One.The plot is serviceable. Marcus Attilius Primus is an engineer newly in charge of the section of aqueduct that services Pompeii. He investigates the mysterious failure of the water supply and along the way, discovers that his predecessor was corrupt. He falls in love and is stalked by bad guys who want to shut him off permanently. Meanwhile, Vesuvius prepares to make it all moot.But the characters are caricatures. The hero is REALLY, REALLY NOBLE, the villain is AWFULLY, AWFULLY EVIL, and the love interest is darned good looking. Life in the Empire is similarly exaggerated with lingering attention to the grotesque and decadent but almost nothing about how most people lived.I was relieved when Vesuvius erupted.

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