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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

Title: Pompeii 
Author: Robert Harris 
Genre: Fiction - Historical

I'm still working toward my goal of reading as many books taking place in Ancient Rome as humanly possible in my lifetime. That was what influenced me to pick up Robert Harris's Pompeii. Well that and I have read another novel of his, Imperium, and really loved it. In Pompeii, we enter the Imperial Age, August 79 AD. This is a post-Augustus Roman world, ya'll, so the Roman Empire is expanding with ever increasing passion, and the troubled times of the economic crisis and subsequent invasions is a problem still far in the future by a century and then some. Rome is a powerful, proud, and glimmering empire ruled by the Flavian emperor Titus. Rather than take us through a historical drama about the eruption of Pompeii, Harris prefers to use the eruption as context for another sort of story. His tale centers around a young aquarius named Marcus Attilius who has been sent to care for the Aqua Augusta, one of the many aqueducts that flowed through the Roman world. The Aqua Augusta carried water from Terminio-Tuoro toward the Bay of Naples, supplying water to cities like Pompeii, Misenum, and Nola. The aquarius soon begins to notice strange things taking place. First, the former aquarius is missing. Then there is the strange smell of sulfur in the water. Then the aqueduct begins to stop supplying water. Finally the aquarius takes his team toward Vesuvius to find where the break has occurred and fix it. Of course he manages to anger some very important men in Pompeii, most notably a rich former slave who has made a ton of money in retail following the earthquake of 62 AD, which we now know was a foreshock of the impending eruption. What caused the stopping of the water was a massive underground shift of earth, which is just another thing to foreshadow the impending disaster. The aquarius doesn't realize what is going on until it is too late. Then we are taken through the dramatic moments of eruption, confusion, panic, death, and finally end. The cast of Pompeii also includes some notables. Pliny the Elder makes an appearance, and it is only fitting that he does since he and his nephew Pliny the Younger are the pair that supplied us with the most information about the eruption of Vesuvius, through the Elder unfortunately lost his life due to his insatiable curiosity for the natural world. 

Harris isn't, at least to my knowledge, a historian. He does seem to have a great interest in Rome since he has written at least three books that I know of about the subject. Part of the reason I chose to read Pompeii is because I felt Imperium was not only well written, but paid great attention to historical accuracy without coming across as pompous or loaded with historical detail to compensate for an author's lack of historical training. Harris pays very great attention to historical accuracy, juggling his facts with his prose so that his story isn't inundated with too much detail such that it reads like a textbook. The story is interesting, while at the same time you find yourself unintentionally learning things about Ancient Rome: things about their political system, their various classes, social mobility, architecture, resources, knowledge, etc. It presents itself as a intense and informative story, a snapshot if you will, of what happened just before one of the worst natural disasters of Roman history. It connects us more with the past as not something only isolated to facts, details, and carbonized relics, but we get to see the people and life involved.

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