Thursday, June 14, 2007


My mother got me Robert Harris's Pompeii: A Novel for my recent birthday, and book junkie that I am, I read it in a single sitting. It's hard to nail down the genre; It's certainly a historical novel, taking place in the two days running up to the [spoiler alert!] eruption of Vesuvius, but it has elements of crime fiction, perhaps suspense fiction, geology fiction, and of course, civil engineering fiction. Wait are those last two even genres? There is quite a bit of commentary on aspects of life in the Roman empire, especially how those not in Rome viewed life in the Roman empire.

My main critique is that the compressed time frame makes it tough to ramp up suspense, flesh out the underlying crimes, or build truly deep characters with complex motivations. I could have done with some maps at the beginnings of chapters where there was travel. Diagrams of the aqueduct features in which key aspects of the action occurred would have been great.

I enjoyed reading it, but can't put it on my list of books I'd ever re-read. But I might borrow some other books by Robert Harris from the library.

I'm reminded of not reading the other volcanic eruption book I have, Simon Winchester's Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

I also find it troubling that books like this make me want to talk to a geologist friend about volcanoes. But that's a whole other issue.

Was there some subtle commentary on how modern society has become just thoughtlessly tied to our water projects? Hmmmm.... Fear of water scarcity in the Los Angeles Basin is one of my not-so-secret "hide under the bed" fears, so this might just be imagined. But seriously, what would we do if something (earthquake? terrorists? incompetence?) interfered with our water sources? We just don't have the water infrastructure for our inhabitants. I'm scared.

Another water-fear related book: When the Rivers Run Dry: Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century

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