I chose to read Pompeii by Robert Harris because of my interest in ancient Roman history. I am fairly familiar with most of the content covered in Pompeii, but it was still a compelling read because I find the insights into Roman life interesting, the fact that it was a fiction book also helped me enjoy it.
Pompeii is essentially about a roman engineer, Marcus Attilius, who attempts to solve a problem with an aqueduct providing water for over 250,000 people throughout Italy.
The water stops running, and Attilius is sent out to find the problem. His investigation leads him to Mount Vesuvius, where very strange things are happening. He manages to fix a block in the aqueduct’s system but is soon caught in the middle of a catastrophic eruption. After an intense climax, the book ends somewhat suddenly, but that is not to say that I did not like the ending.
Pompeii takes place in 79 AD, meaning early imperial Roman times, which in my opinion, is one of the most interesting periods in world history.
While the Roman empire encompassed nearly 25% of the world’s population, the people throughout the empire were greatly varied. Slaves were being worked to death on plantations and in mines, and the extremely wealthy lived an incredibly extravagant lifestyle. Not only did the people vary in social status, but in the race as well. One of the most interesting things to me about Roman life is that there were people from all over the known world.
Greeks, Germans, Africans, Syrians, and Romans, all lived under the same emperor. The main event depicted in Pompeii was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed 3 Roman towns, the most famous of which being Pompeii itself. At least a few thousand people were killed in the eruption, but the majority of people in the area had the sense to run and were able to escape. I found the book’s depiction of the eruption accurate, but I don’t think it truly captured the fear that the people must have had. They would have had no idea of what was happening, which would be truly frightening.
I felt that Pompeii gave an excellent depiction of what life would be like for some people in ancient Rome. It explained the working of an aqueduct and those who managed them, as well as gave insight into many different factors of Roman life. While in Pompeii, Attilius had to deal with corrupt politicians, who were funded by an incredibly wealthy former slave seeking even more power and wealth. Pompeii also described the wealthy extravagance of the upper class, and how poorly treated and abused some slaves were. Another interesting thing described in Pompeii was the eruption of Vesuvius, the book described each of the stages of the eruption while Pliny, a scholar, and admiral of the Roman fleet attempted to understand them, as he did in history. Overall, the depiction of Roman culture in Pompeii was, in my opinion, done very well.
I would most definitely recommend Pompeii as a book for a student to read. Not only is it somewhat informative, but I found it to be quite an enjoyable read. The book is fiction, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t provide many interesting facts and details. It would be a good way to gather some information about Roman aqueducts as well as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius when paired with other sources.