Pompeii by Robert Harris – Book Review

Can you imagine the pandemonium of emotions people must feel when a slumbering volcano suddenly erupts? Robert Harris uncovers the fear, panic and confusion of this frightening experience in Pompeii. The events around the catastrophic eruption are explored with a fresh and interesting angle through various Roman citizens’ viewpoints. With his in-depth historical knowledge, Harris brings the intrigues, cruelty and splendour of the Roman empire to life.

Marcus Attilius is called to oversee the Aqua Augusta, an aqueduct that provides water to the Bay of Naples, when the previous aquarius (hydraulic engineer) goes missing. He suspects that something’s wrong when a wealthy citizen’s expensive fish die due to high levels of sulphate in the water. When the water mysteriously dries up, he’s determined to get to the root of the problem and he suspects a link between the failing aqueduct, the missing aquarius, and the dead fish. But with Vesuvius waking up in the background, his quest is ultimately more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. To complicate matters further, he gets mixed up in the intrigues of Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, a wealthy but cruel man. The corrupt Ampliatus delights in unappetising behaviour like hosting grotesquely decadent meals and feeding unfortunate slaves to eels. He also happens to have a beautiful daughter, Corelia, who he intends to marry off to his former master. Despite the impending doom, Corelia makes a lasting impression on the young Attilius who cannot get her out of his mind, even when everything falls apart around them…

“…Mother Nature is punishing us […] for our greed and selfishness. We torture her at all hours by iron and wood, fire and stone. We dig her up and dump her in the sea. We sink mine shafts into her and drag out her entrails – and all for a jewel to wear on a pretty finger. Who can blame her if she occasionally quivers with anger?” Robert Harris, ‘Pompeii’.

Harris is a best-selling author for a reason, and he knows how to create tension and drama from well-known historical stories. Pompeii is packed with historical facts about the Roman lifestyle and he educates his readers with interesting snippets about volcanoes. If you enjoy history, especially Roman history, this will be a real treat. The storyline is secondary to the monstrous Mount Vesuvius and it’s all about the science, history and drama of this frightening piece of history. Pompeii is for history buffs. This well-paced novel reads easily and has enough tension to keep you gripped until the end. The terrifying and vivid scenes detailing the eruptions and aftermath will give you the chills for days after you’ve finished.

Warning: violent and crude language can feel at odds with the rich historical descriptions and might be disturbing and/or offensive to sensitive readers.


For more book recommendations and reviews, have a look at my Wild Reading List. There’s something for everyone. You can also follow me on Instagram for more reading inspiration.

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