Cover image for Pompeii [a novel]
Title:
Pompeii [a novel]
Author:
Harris, Robert, 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Random House Audio, [2003]

â„—2003
Physical Description:
5 audio discs (6 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Abridged.

Compact discs.

Subtitle from container.
Language:
English
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ISBN:
9780739307892
Format :
Audiobook on CD

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Summary

Summary

Ancient Rome is the setting for the superb new novel from Robert Harris, author of the number one bestsellersFatherland,EnigmaandArchangel. Where else to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples. All along the coast, the Roman Empire's richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas. 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. Only one man is worried. The engineer Marius 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. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. His predecessor has disappeared. 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. Marius -- decent, practical, incorruptible -- promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. But as he heads out towards Vesuvius he is about to discover there are forces that even the world's only superpower can't control. Pompeiirecreates in spellbinding detail one of the most famous natural disasters of all time. And by focusing on the characters of an engineer and a scientist, it offers an entirely original perspective on the Roman world.


Author Notes

Author Robert Harris was born in Nottingham, England in 1957. He attended King Edward VII College and Selwyn College. He has worked as a BBC journalist, the Political Editor of the Observer, and a columnist for The Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph. He was named Columnist of the Year by the British Press in 2003. He has written both fiction and nonfiction books and currently lives in Berkshire, England.

His works of fiction include; An Officer and a Spy, The Fear Index, Pompeii, Enigma, Fatherland, Dictator, and Conclave.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Popular thriller writer Harris ( Enigma, 1995) sets his sights on one of the most famous natural disasters in history: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. It starts innocently enough: two days before the eruption, Marcus Attilius Primus, the engineer in charge of the massive Aqua Augusta Aqueduct, is summoned to the estate of Ampilatus. He is in the process of executing a slave for killing his fish. Attilius finds sulfur in the water and immediately realizes the problem is bigger than a few dead fish. With the approval of the famous admiral Pliny, Attilius sails to Pompeii and treks to the heart of the Aqua Augusta at the base of Mount Vesuvius. Attilius discovers the blockage that threatens to deprive a large chunk of the empire of water, but he is also troubled by the strange natural occurrences that may portend something far more serious than a blocked water supply. With rich historical details and scientific minutiae, Harris vividly brings to life the ancient world on the brink of unspeakable disaster. --Kristine Huntley Copyright 2003 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Nov. 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Marius Primus is worried. Rome's richest citizens are escaping the August heat by relaxing by the Bay of Naples, but Marius has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta and knows that somewhere along the line, near the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, something is impeding the water flow. The celebrated author of Enigma and Fatherland, reimaginings of World War II, has certainly gone far afield. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

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 to build, the promise of another day without rain. He was younger than most of his work gang, and shorter than any of them: a compact, muscled figure with cropped brown hair. The shafts of the tools he carried slung across his shoulder--a heavy, bronze-headed axe and a wooden shovel--chafed against his sunburned neck. Still, he forced himself to stretch his bare legs as far as they would reach, mounting swiftly from foothold to foothold, and only when he was high above Misenum, at a place where the track forked, did he set down his burdens and wait for the others to catch up. He wiped the sweat from his eyes on the sleeve of his tunic. Such shimmering, feverish heavens they had here in the south! Even this close to daybreak, a great hemisphere of stars swept down to the horizon. He could see the horns of Taurus, and the belt and sword of the Hunter; there was Saturn, and also the Bear, and the constellation they called the Vintager, which always rose for Caesar on the twenty-second day of August, following the Festival of Vinalia, and signaled that it was time to harvest the wine. Tomorrow night the moon would be full. He raised his hand to the sky, his blunt-tipped fingers black and sharp against the glittering constellations--spread them, clenched them, spread them again--and for a moment it seemed to him that he was the shadow, the nothing; the light was the substance. From down in the harbor came the splash of oars as the night watch rowed between the moored triremes. The yellow lanterns of a couple of fishing boats winked across the bay. A dog barked and another answered. And then the voices of the laborers slowly climbing the path beneath him: the harsh local accent of Corax, the overseer--"Look, our new aquarius is waving at the stars!"--and the slaves and the free men, equals, for once, in their resentment if nothing else, panting for breath and sniggering. The engineer dropped his hand. "At least," he said, "with such a sky, we have no need of torches." Suddenly he was vigorous again, stooping to collect his tools, hoisting them back onto his shoulder. "We must keep moving." He frowned into the darkness. One path would take them westward, skirting the edge of the naval base. The other led north, toward the seaside resort of Baiae. "I think this is where we turn." "He thinks," sneered Corax. The engineer had decided the previous day that the best way to treat the overseer was to ignore him. Without a word he put his back to the sea and the stars, and began ascending the black mass of the hillside. What was leadership, after all, but the blind choice of one route over another and the confident pretense that the decision was based on reason? The path here was steeper. He had to scramble up it sideways, sometimes using his free hand to pull himself along, his feet skidding, sending showers of loose stones rattling away in the darkness. People stared at these brown hills, scorched by summer brushfires, and thought they were as dry as deserts, but the engineer knew different. Even so, he felt his earlier assurance beginning to weaken, and he tried to remember how the path had appeared in the glare of yesterday afternoon, when he had first reconnoitered it. The twisting track, barely wide enough for a mule. The swaths of scorched grass. And then, at a place where the ground leveled out, flecks of pale green in the blackness--signs of life that turned out to be shoots of ivy reaching toward a boulder. After going halfway up an incline and then coming down again, he stopped and turned slowly in a full circle. Either his eyes were getting used to it, or dawn was close now, in which case they were almost out of time. The others had halted behind him. He could hear their heavy breathing. Here was another story for them to take back to Misenum--how their new young aquarius had dragged them from their beds and marched them into the hills in the middle of the night, and all on a fool's errand. There was a taste of ash in his mouth. "Are we lost, pretty boy?" Corax's mocking voice again. He made the mistake of rising to the bait: "I'm looking for a rock." This time they did not even try to hide their laughter. "He's running around like a mouse in a pisspot!" "I know it's here somewhere. I marked it with chalk." More laughter--and at that he wheeled on them: the squat and broad-shouldered Corax; Becco, the long-nose, who was a plasterer; the chubby one, Musa, whose skill was laying bricks; and the two slaves, Polites and Corvinus. Even their indistinct shapes seemed to mock him. "Laugh. Good. But I promise you this: either we find it before dawn or we shall all be back here tomorrow night. Including you, Gavius Corax. Only next time make sure you're sober." Silence. Then Corax spat and took a half step forward and the engineer braced himself for a fight. They had been building up to this for three days now, ever since he had arrived in Misenum. Not an hour had passed without Corax trying to undermine him in front of the men. And if we fight, thought the engineer, he will win--it's five against one--and they will throw my body over the cliff and say I slipped in the darkness. But how will that go down in Rome--if a second aquarius of the Aqua Augusta is lost in less than a fortnight? For a long instant they faced each other, no more than a pace between them, so close that the engineer could smell the stale wine on the older man's breath. But then one of the others--it was Becco--gave an excited shout and pointed. Just visible behind Corax's shoulder was a rock, marked neatly in its center by a thick white cross. Attilius was the engineer's name--Marcus Attilius Primus, to lay it out in full, but plain Attilius would have satisfied him. A practical man, he had never had much time for all these fancy handles his fellow countrymen went in for. ("Lupus," "Panthera," "Pulcher"--"Wolf," "Leopard," "Beauty"--who in hell did they think they were kidding?) Besides, what name was more honorable in the history of his profession than that of the gens Attilia, aqueduct engineers for four generations? His great-grandfather had been recruited by Marcus Agrippa from the ballista section of Legion XII "Fulminata" and set to work building Rome's Aqua Julia. His grandfather had planned the Anio Novus. His father had completed the Aqua Claudia, bringing her into the Esquiline Hill over seven miles of arches, and laying her, on the day of her dedication, like a silver carpet at the feet of the emperor. Now he, at twenty-seven, had been sent south to Campania and given command of the Aqua Augusta. A dynasty built on water! He squinted into the darkness. Oh, but she was a mighty piece of work, the Augusta--one of the greatest feats of engineering ever accomplished. It was going to be an honor to command her. Somewhere far out there, on the opposite side of the bay, high in the pine-forested mountains of the Apenninus, the aqueduct captured the springs of Serinus and bore the water westward--channeled it along sinuous underground passages, carried it over ravines on top of tiered arcades, forced it across valleys through massive siphons--all the way down to the plains of Campania, then around the far side of Mount Vesuvius, then south to the coast at Neapolis, and finally along the spine of the Misenum peninsula to the dusty naval town, a distance of some sixty miles, with a mean drop along her entire length of just two inches every one hundred yards. She was the longest aqueduct in the world, longer even than the great aqueducts of Rome and far more complex, for whereas her sisters in the north fed one city only, the Augusta's serpentine conduit--the matrix, as they called it: the motherline--suckled no fewer than nine towns around the Bay of Neapolis: Pompeii first, at the end of a long spur, then Nola, Acerrae, Atella, Neapolis, Puteoli, Cumae, Baiae, and finally Misenum. And this was the problem, in the engineer's opinion. She had to do too much. Rome, after all, had more than half a dozen aqueducts: if one failed the others could make up the deficit. But there was no reserve supply down here, especially not in this drought, now dragging into its third month. Wells that had provided water for generations had turned into tubes of dust. Streams had dried up. Riverbeds had become tracks for farmers to drive their beasts along to market. Even the Augusta was showing signs of exhaustion, the level of her enormous reservoir dropping hourly, and it was this that had brought him out onto the hillside in the time before dawn when he ought to have been in bed. From the leather pouch on his belt Attilius withdrew a small block of polished cedar with a chin rest carved into one side of it. The grain of the wood had been rubbed smooth and bright by the skin of his ancestors. His great-grandfather was said to have been given it as a talisman by Vitruvius, architect to the Divine Augustus, and the old man had maintained that the spirit of Neptune, god of water, lived within it. Attilius had no time for gods. Boys with wings on their feet, women riding dolphins, greybeards hurling bolts of lightning off the tops of mountains in fits of temper--these were stories for children, not men. He placed his faith instead in stones and water, and in the daily miracle that came from mixing two parts of slaked lime to five parts of puteolanum--the local red sand-- conjuring up a substance that would set underwater with a consistency harder than rock. But still--it was a fool who denied the existence of luck, and if this family heirloom could bring him that . . . He ran his finger around its edge. He would try anything once. He had left his rolls of Vitruvius behind in Rome. Not that it mattered. They had been hammered into him since childhood, as other boys learned their Virgil. He could still recite entire passages by heart. "These are the growing things to be found which are signs of water: slender rushes, wild willow, alder, chaste berry, ivy, and other things of this sort, which cannot occur on their own without moisture . . ." "Corax over there," ordered Attilius. "Corvinus there. Becco, take the pole and mark the place I tell you. You two: keep your eyes open." Corax gave him a look as he passed. "Later," said Attilius. The overseer stank of resentment almost as strongly as he reeked of wine, but there would be time enough to settle their quarrel when they got back to Misenum. For now they would have to hurry. A gray gauze had filtered out the stars. The moon had dipped. Fifteen miles to the east, at the midpoint of the bay, the forested pyramid of Mount Vesuvius was becoming visible. The sun would rise behind it. "This is how to test for water: lie face down, before sunrise, in the places where the search is to be made, and with your chin set on the ground and propped, survey these regions. In this way the line of sight will not wander higher than it should, because the chin will be motionless . . ." From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.