Robert Harris, 1957-

Book - 2004

When the aqueduct that brings fresh water to thousands of people around the bay of Naples fails, Roman engineer Marius Primus heads to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius to investigate, only to come face to face with an impending catastrophe.

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New York : Ballantine Books 2004.
1st mass market ed
Item Description
"A novel."
Originally published: New York : Random House, 2003.
Physical Description
349 p. : map ; 18 cm
Main Author
Robert Harris, 1957- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

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. ((Reviewed October 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In the year 79 C.E., the resort town of Pompeii is home to more than 20,000 people. Rumors of isolated tremors and vaporous gases on the mountain circulate, but the last serious earthquake had occurred some 15 years earlier, residents reason. To boot, rebuilding projects from that disaster are nearing completion. Only one man sees cause for concern: Attilus, newly arrived from Rome to take charge of the massive aqueduct that supplies water to all the towns along the Bay of Naples. Told from his point of view, this latest novel by Harris (Archangel) not only depicts the people of the region and their tragic loss of life but also the immensely powerful forces of nature that shaped their lives and deaths. In spite of the inherent drama in the eruption of Vesuvius, there is a detached and analytical feel to the novel, appropriate to the scientific nature of the protagonist. However, rather than detracting from the novel, Attilus's observations and calculations add to the air of impending and unstoppable disaster. Readers who like their historical fiction well grounded in fact won't be able to put this down. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/03.]-Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Recently placed in charge of the Aqua Augusta, the aqueduct that brings fresh water to thousands of people around the bay of Naples, Roman engineer Marius Primus struggles to discover why the aqueduct has ceased delivering water and heads to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius to find the problem, only to come face to face with an impending catastrophe of mammoth proportions. Reprint. 75,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

When the aqueduct that brings fresh water to thousands of people around the bay of Naples fails, Roman engineer Marius Primus heads to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius to investigate, only to come face to face with an impending catastrophe.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

BESTSELLER - "Terrific... gripping... A literally shattering climax." -- The New York Times Book Review All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. 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. But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius 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 of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. 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. Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him. With his trademark elegance and intelligence, Robert Harris, bestselling author of Archangel and Fatherland, re-creates a world on the brink of disaster.