Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

This is a historical novel following Attilius, an engineer who is new to his position and must discover why the waters have stopped flowing to Roman cities near Mount Vesuvius. As he investigates and attempts to repair the problem, he realizes that while nature is conspiring against humanity (with the pending eruption), there are a series of corrupt deals that have led Rome to be blind to the signs of the impending destruction.

I enjoyed the historical details—so many references to wealthy Romans lounging in luxury while their slaves tend everything; references to the strange practices of the time; references to Pliny’s last days (Pliny is a character in the novel), and political intrigue not dissimilar to some of what we experience today. Just like today, there are few honest men. Attilius is one of them, and in a culture run by money, corruption, and political connections, his honesty is a liability. The details—at once foreign and familiar—made the story for me.

The plot picked up as the volcano got closer to erupting (and then continued to do so), though I found the story could have moved faster at times. I also would have liked just a bit more imagery and details from the time period. I was relying on television shows and visits to museums to fuel my mental imagery. Still, it’s a great read for those interested in the history of Rome and ancient Roman culture.