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

Tudor Ciocarlie

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

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.

Monica Davis

Overall 3.5 stars...4 stars for the story, but it fell short in character development for me. Not much depth to set the characters in this tale apart from those in any other novel about the time period: an overbearing father, a defiant daughter, a submissive wife, etc. Having previously read Harris's Imperium and Conspirata I was expecting Pompeii to be more on par with those works, but it wasn't quite there. Still, it was an enjoyable read.


I'm always curious how an author (or a director in the case of Titanic) is going to take a situation about whose tragic outcome we are already aware and attempt to render it nevertheless suspenseful and narratively driving, and Robert Harris succeeds here beyond all expectation. In terms of books that have made an indelible impression on my memory in the recent past, this is at the top of the list. For pure force of visualization, detail that is not only brilliant and vivid - and bone-chilling - in its own right but that is also completely in service to the story, I have a hard time recalling a piece of writing so taut and well-executed. The pacing is near perfection. The mix between real and imagined characters - all equally well imagined - has the effect of giving them all a wonderfully tangible life. And I think Harris actually managed to leave me, going forward, picturing death itself as hovering a bit on the periphery of my life like the chillingly impersonal fireball spewing mountain in the near distance that is Vesuvius in this book. If I have one minor cavil it is that the book in a couple of brief asides a little too pointedly breaks its poker face, revealing itself to be clearly inspired by the political and historical obtuseness of the George W. Bush years. But of course for that I forgive him.

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.


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.


Think you have pressure at work? Consider Marcus Attilius Primus. He just received an important promotion from Rome. The young engineer is now the Aquarius, in charge of the immense aqueduct serving the entire bay of Naples. His predecessor has mysteriously disappeared. His workers are surly. The water supply is interrupted. And then he gets on the wrong side of one of the richest men around, a cruel former slave, the behind-the-scenes political boss of Pompeii. Of course, he does have a very beautiful daughter who appeals to Attilius for help.There’s trouble bubbling up for our hero, and it’s not just political corruption, bribes, missing persons, and bad plumbing. There’s something very strange about the high, flat-topped mountain close to the aqueduct. Odd rumblings, strange gases, and earth tremors have been coming from Vesuvius in the past few days. This is a disaster thriller that will keep you flipping the pages late into the night. Will the hero be able to save the heroine, or will she need to save him, or is everyone going to end up toast in the explosive conclusion?

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.


After hearing parts of the first few chapters on Dick Estelle's Radio Reader program on my local NPR station, I decided to check it out to fill in what I'd been missing. Marcus Attilius Primus, a young Roman engineer, has been sent to Misenum to replace the former aquarius, who has mysteriously disappeared. Another mystery soon crops up - the aquaduct that feeds Misenium, as well as the other towns along this portion of the Mediterranean coast, appears to be failing. Attilius asks Pliny, the famous scholar and current commander of the local arm of the navy, for men and a boat so he can cross the bay to Pompeii, to track down the cause of the failure. In Pompeii, Atillius encounters Numerius Pompedius Ampliatus, an ex-slave turned millionaire, who not only has a beautiful daughter, but is also involved in some shady dealings. The story is told in a matter-of-fact way, giving a slice-of-life view of the events surrounding a historical event. The main mystery - what has happened to the aquaduct - is easily solved by looking at the title of the book; however, watching Attilius slowly put the pieces together is still compelling. The characters are very believable, and the details of daily life, as well as the engineering & construction details of the aquaduct are (to me at least) simply remarkable. I knew very little about this period of history, other than the basics of the eruption of Vesuvius; now I feel a little more educated. I managed to finish the story before Mr. Estelle, but will still be tuning in to the show. I recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in this portion of Roman history from a fictional point of view.


In 79 AD, a new Aquarius is appointed to the area around Pompeii. There has been a water shortage in the cities around Pompeii and Marcus Attilius Primus is sent to find the problem and correct it.Attilius begins to investigate a possible fault in the aqueduct while certain officials try to stop him becuase they fear he will learn that they have manipulated the water for their own profit.There is excellent drama as the action begins two days before Veseuveus errupts. Attilius investigates the problem as his life becomes more and more in danger.This is a highly entertaining story that shows the author's detailed research into the times and life in the city of Pompeii. We become interested in the history as the characters come to life and a momentous disaster looms.

Ron Charles

One cataclysmic disaster can ruin your whole day, but at least it has the advantage of surprise. That's more than can usually be said for stories about cataclysmic disasters, which lumber toward their climax like some bore telling a multipart joke you've already heard. Who honestly didn't feel the urge to push a few heads under water to speed up James Cameron's interminable "Titanic"? We endure documentaries about German aerodynamics because we want to see the Hindenburg in flames. "Oh, the banality!"Robert Harris confronts this very problem in his new novel about the explosion of Vesuvius, called simply "Pompeii." When the story opens on Aug. 22, AD 79, we know that by the end of the week, none of these characters will be shouting "TGIF." But how to fill the pages till that moment when the mountain erupts with a force 100,000 times as strong as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, shooting magma at a speed of Mach 1?Harris admits that he just barely avoided disaster himself. After observing the United States for more than a year, he had intended to write a novel set in the near future. "The story I had in mind," he says, "might loosely be described as 'The Walt Disney Company takes over the world': a thriller about a utopia going horribly wrong," but "the characters stubbornly refused to come alive and the subject remained as flimsy as smoke." Or, perhaps he realized that Julian Barnes had already written that novel brilliantly just three years ago in "England, England." But for whatever reason, we've been spared another Brit's satire of America ("Vernon God Little" is enough to endure for this season), and given this terrifically engaging novel instead.The key to Harris's success is his concentration on a crisis that preceded the volcano's eruption by two days. Back in 33 BC, the Romans had constructed a 60-mile aqueduct that eventually served towns all along the Bay of Naples, giving rise to a culture and an economy that floated high on the presumption of dependable, clean water. When a break in the main line begins shutting off one town after another, only Marcus Attilius Primus knows how to save the day.Attilius, as he's called, is a young widower, a water engineer from a long line of water engineers, who's just been appointed to Misenum, home to a Roman fleet. His early weeks on the job have been rough: His predecessor has vanished mysteriously, his staff mocks his authority, and now the water has stopped flowing for the first time in 100 years, threatening to plunge a quarter of a million people into dry chaos.Piecing together reports from travelers about the status of other towns along the coast, Attilius quickly deduces that the break must be some- where near Pompeii. As the reservoir drains in Misenum, he secures permission from Pliny the Elder (wonderfully brought back to life here) and heads out with a small, reluctant crew.The passage of 2,000 years has not diminished the technical dimensions of this task - nor the social risks of failure. Harris conveys the modern elements of this ancient life with startling effect.One can't help considering the two crumbling tunnels that supply New York City with all of its water. Let's hope there are many Attiliuses toiling away on Tunnel No. 3, to be completed in 2020. (Sip slowly, New Yorkers.)In fact, what's even more interesting than the mechanical aspects of this ancient system are the moral developments that Harris traces through these characters. First-century Romans enjoyed the benefits of a remarkably advanced system of commerce, science, and art, but their society was dogged by that familiar triumvirate of corruption, cruelty, and sloth. Attilius emerges as a timeless hero, a man driven by duty but animated by compassion, courageous enough to fight nature, but wise enough to fear its fury. His struggle to solve this engineering crisis, fend off his mutinying workers, and resist the grief that always threatens to wash back over him makes him an utterly fascinating and sympathetic character. And though he's far removed from the sophisticated economy humming around him, he demonstrates that essential requirement for a successful market economy: integrity.But in the literary tradition of all great struggles, the flashier part goes to the villain. Numerius Popidius Ampliatus rose from slave to master the modern way: insider trading. Cruel and clever, he's both Caligula and Ken Lay. We meet him on the afternoon he's trying to generate a little entertainment by feeding a servant to the eels. Attilius interferes, earning Ampliatus's rage and his daughter's heart. But this self-made crook owns a heavily mortgaged empire of bathhouses that need cheap water so he pretends to support Attilius's emergency efforts - at least until he can kill him.Of course, while our hero races against the clock to stave off a collapse of the aqueduct and avoid being murdered, we know that his clock is about to be blasted away by one of history's most spectacular natural disasters. Harris marks the passing hours and minutes with fanciful precision at the beginning of each chapter, along with pithy quotations from volcano experts ancient and modern.If the present-day dialogue sounds a bit incongruous in togas and the romance a bit forced, such minor objections are quickly blasted away. When the moment finally arrives - a column of magma shooting miles into the sky - the story rises spectacularly to convey the surreal conditions that tortured these people for days: the sea filled with pumice, the ground rolling in waves, whole towns flash-burned, asphyxiated, and then sealed beneath tons of ash.But Harris hasn't brought those haunting, calcified forms to life just for the sport of entombing them again 2,000 years later. The light he shines on that awesome crisis, and the way good and bad people responded, illuminates our continued dependence on the most fundamental elements - a stable earth and a righteous man.http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1118/p1...


I really liked the begining of this book and read half of it in one day hiding just below my desk at school. The opening isn't quite what you expect from a novel about a volcano but gave a really interesting insite in to life t the time as well as the worings of the rather genius roman aqueducts which i really didn't know much about. But a day later I found myself picking up a different book (never a good thing, I'm aweful at finishing one book before starting another). Pompeii just got left to one side and I read four completely different novels before finally remembering it and finishing it one the plane home from Barcelona during February half-term. The final chapters were completely gripping my dad had to force me to let go of cascades of pumice falling from the skies and threatening the once stable shealter built from the remains of a once magnificent vessel to make me eat nasty aeroplane food I really didn't want. I found the ending a bit of a let down although it was poinient, sweet and quite clever.

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.


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.


Volcano stories are never really about volcanoes, just like shark stories are never about sharks, and zombie stories are not about the shambling hordes, but the few that cower from them. Sadly, this volcano story IS about a volcano--or rather it is about the volcano-related research that the author did in order to write it. It's full of sentences like, "They could feel the warmth from the hypocaust, a clever Roman heating system that worked like this..." in which you can feel how Harris is dying to tell you about this cool thing from ancient times. I'm all for cool things from ancient times, but it takes a great writer of historical fiction to make the details seamless, and this one doesn't fit the bill. (Disclosure: I made up that sentence, and it's a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much.)Story-wise, Harris devised a pretty great premise, and then proceeded to march it forward step by deliberate step, occasionally prodding at it with something sharp, until it was devoured by pumice and ash and noxious gasses in the final 50 pages.That premise is: Something is wrong with the aqueduct that services the towns around the Bay of Naples, and tenderfoot engineer Marcus Attilius is dispatched from Rome to investigate. The previous hydro-engineer, or "aquarius," has vanished without a trace, and it is all quite mysterious. Except that it isn't. The mystery is neither very complex nor very interesting, even to a reader who like me who NEVER figures out whodunnit and never sees the twist coming. In this case, there is no twist; the answer to everything is volcanoes.But it's Attilius himself who is the real ball-and-chain of this book. If I had to describe his personality, I'd say...he doesn't have one? I guess he's kind of serious and stoic, humorless, not a good leader of men, not especially bright (though Harris seems to want you to think he is). He has a dead wife, which feels like something from the Instant Characterization Toolbox. "What's that? Nothing interesting about the character? I don't know [rummages through toolbox] here, give him this dead wife!"Attilius's job in this book is not to be a person, but to convey the story forward. His job is to stay on the path, to go where Harris needs him to go. Go where the action is, fix the aqueduct, meet Pliny, visit Pompeii before and after, and so on. He's an unmanned drone taking us on a tour.All that said, this isn't the worst way to pass the time. It is competently written, largely devoid of hideously amateur genre prose, and it's about ancient Rome, so it can't be all bad. If you've been to Pompeii, that will probably help. Harris's descriptions certainly do recall the place in recognizable ways. But this is no "I, Claudius." You'd be better off re-reading that.

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