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A Novel

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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.

Publishers Weekly Review

Oct 27, 2003 – 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.

Customer Reviews


Having been in

Pompeii in 2010, this brought to life the ruins we saw in our visit to Pompeii. Many thanks to Robert Harris.

Fascinating take

This is a great book - a quick read, beginning with the first signs of trouble on Vesuvius and culminating in the eruption just a couple of days later - and has the best ending line of any book I've ever read. Highly recommended.

Brought to Life

Author Robert Harris brings ancient Rome to life in this novel about the eruption of Vesuvius. Most of the plot revolves around an aquarius from Rome who has to repair the aqueducts in and around Mount Vesuvius. There is a bit of a mystery thrown in about the former aquarius, who has gone missing, and a lot of space devoted to descriptions of ancient Roman plumbing-- probably too much of that. I found myself skimming some of the parts about the waterworks because, frankly, they got a little tedious. Where the book shines is in the author's meticulous research. He really brings the setting and people of ancient Rome to life. The description of Vesuvius's eruption is historically accurate and exciting. The characters are, for the most part, believable and complex-- all but some of the villains, who are a bit too bwah-haha evil for my tastes. Altogether, Pompeii is a book I can recommend, to fans of mysteries and historically accurate historical fiction.

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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Historical
  • Published: Nov 18, 2003
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings