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Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections

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The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which obliterated the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, was a disaster that resounds to this day. Now, paleontologist Charles Pellegrino, author of the New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic, presents a wealth of new knowledge about the doomed towns –– the people, their last moments, and the aftermath. By employing the l The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which obliterated the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, was a disaster that resounds to this day. Now, paleontologist Charles Pellegrino, author of the New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic, presents a wealth of new knowledge about the doomed towns –– the people, their last moments, and the aftermath. By employing the latest in ⥯rensic archaeology⟲esearchers have been able to piece together long–buried stories, including that of wealthy abolitionists (sometimes called Christians) who were supporting a slave girl named Justa against her former master; they have discovered evidence of a thriving ⬩ddle class,⟷hich lived in houses with iron supports, concrete walls, sliding glass doors, and sanitary facilities; they have learned that these Roman citizens, whose medical technology included antibiotics, had a life expectancy not achieved again until the mid–1950s. The lessons learned from modern scrutiny of that ancient eruption produce disturbing echoes in the present. For the strange physics of volcanic ⣯wnblast⟡nd ⢯llapse column⟷ere at play in the 9–11 World Trade Center disaster. Dr. Pellegrino, who worked at Ground Zero in the attack's aftermath, shares his unique knowledge of these forces, drawing a direct link from past to present, and providing readers with a poignant glimpse into the last moments of our ‭erican Vesuvius."


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The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which obliterated the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, was a disaster that resounds to this day. Now, paleontologist Charles Pellegrino, author of the New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic, presents a wealth of new knowledge about the doomed towns –– the people, their last moments, and the aftermath. By employing the l The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, which obliterated the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, was a disaster that resounds to this day. Now, paleontologist Charles Pellegrino, author of the New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic, presents a wealth of new knowledge about the doomed towns –– the people, their last moments, and the aftermath. By employing the latest in ⥯rensic archaeology⟲esearchers have been able to piece together long–buried stories, including that of wealthy abolitionists (sometimes called Christians) who were supporting a slave girl named Justa against her former master; they have discovered evidence of a thriving ⬩ddle class,⟷hich lived in houses with iron supports, concrete walls, sliding glass doors, and sanitary facilities; they have learned that these Roman citizens, whose medical technology included antibiotics, had a life expectancy not achieved again until the mid–1950s. The lessons learned from modern scrutiny of that ancient eruption produce disturbing echoes in the present. For the strange physics of volcanic ⣯wnblast⟡nd ⢯llapse column⟷ere at play in the 9–11 World Trade Center disaster. Dr. Pellegrino, who worked at Ground Zero in the attack's aftermath, shares his unique knowledge of these forces, drawing a direct link from past to present, and providing readers with a poignant glimpse into the last moments of our ‭erican Vesuvius."

30 review for Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ozymandias

    This is one of those rare books that will leave you dumber for having read it. Any fact that you find in here is almost certainly wrong, or if not wrong then taken so far out of context as to be irrelevant. Pellegrino knows nothing about any of the issues covered here, though he’s marginally better informed about archaeology, but that doesn’t stop him from speaking about them all with enormous confidence. And ego! The number of times he forced the narrative back to himself is staggering. His “Ab This is one of those rare books that will leave you dumber for having read it. Any fact that you find in here is almost certainly wrong, or if not wrong then taken so far out of context as to be irrelevant. Pellegrino knows nothing about any of the issues covered here, though he’s marginally better informed about archaeology, but that doesn’t stop him from speaking about them all with enormous confidence. And ego! The number of times he forced the narrative back to himself is staggering. His “About the Author” blurb even boasts that his brilliant theories on bioengineering inspired Jurassic Park! And now he’s posing as an archaeologist? What a con man!* The book isn’t really about Pompeii, it’s a long, rambling diatribe on whatever interesting topic the author feels like talking about next. But not in too much depth! Oh no. We've got to rush onto the next topic. The topics covered in chapter 9 (Testament) are the Roman grid system, Star Trek, North American Indians, Roman trade with Brazil (what!?!?), Roman shipbuilding techniques, the political division of Mauretania during the tetrarchy, the Declaration of Independence as a promise of abolition (what?!?), George Washington, Cincinnatus, Cicero, Washington again, the atom bomb, the Silk Road, Rome’s near-complete absence of ethnic tensions (WHAT?!?!?), Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (composed on the centennial of the eruption!?!?), Romans in China, the rise of Christianity in the third century, the Sibylline oracles, the Book of Revelations, Atlantis, Constantine the Great, Justa’s House in Pompeii, Christian shrines, Gnostic sects, the New Testament, Claudius and early Christians, Roman luxury liners, Christians in Pompeii, the Latin language, the author on September 11, the incompatability of civilization and religion, Arthur C. Clarke and what great friends they were, Gnostic books again, Jewish messianic beliefs, the Apocrypha, James, Jesus’ geneology, the discovery of Jesus’ grave (what?!?!), Cherokee religion, Tacitus, Eusebius, belief in magic, the a-bomb again, Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, the Nile Dialogue of the Savior, Gnostic Bibles, September 11 and the author again, the literal truth of Gnostic prophecies, 2010 (the movie), and the clear omens of 9/11 the author received at the Titanic wreck. That’s just one chapter! The last topic shows his intellectual consistency at its peak. It comes right after this quote: “Religion is based on fact, whereas archaeology, like the other sciences, is based on doubt.” Pellegrino doesn’t seem to even notice the contradiction in criticizing Christianity for its blind faith and illogic while being equally, if not more, irrational himself. He sees himself as a man of great insight and logic, a scientist, yet his books are filled with unfounded conclusions, a total lack of research (the few interesting bits of data he does provide are anecdotes from real scientists he knows, and don't think he'll ever let you forget he knows them!), and a belief in the supernatural (but not Christian!) connection between things. He’d undoubtedly claim his meandering and unfocused musings are a sign of a broad education (he fancies himself a great intellectual) but they’re really just an inability to put his thoughts in order or discipline his stream of consciousness editorially. He writes like a chipmunk on crack. Some of his statements filled me with actual rage. The description of Diocletian crushing the British usurper Allectus as "the Hispanic Armada [bringing] the breakaway British Empire's War for Independence to an end"? Ugh. Or the quote attributed to Cincinnatus, founder(!!!!!) of the Roman Republic that he “shall pledge allegiance to the Republic, for which we must stand.” Trying to force the universe to fit narrow little patterns to give you a sense of control is pure conspiracy theory nonsense. It is how he approaches the world. Other statements just made me laugh for their ignorance. Cicero was a “brilliant military leader and a farmer” who “seems not to have survived” 43 BC? Priceless! But regardless of how frustrating they are, these are errors so profound and all-encompassing that it can take years of study to correct them all. Nothing that you read in this book should be trusted without independent verification. NOTHING! * Literally. He claims to have been awarded a PhD from the University of Wellington but never graduated as his thesis was rejected for what are now obvious reasons. He also invented sources for a claim he wanted to make about the bombing of Hiroshima and was forced to withdraw the book (to another publisher so he still got his money) and publicly apologize for “being duped.” What a farce. The man is a prime example of how far you can get on being a compulsive liar and shameless self-promoter with intellectual pretensions and a bit of charm (well, almost as far as you can get...). Had I known all this I would never have opened the book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cari

    The origins of the universe, the solar system, the earth, and how life evolved on said Earth is all very interesting...but when the first one hundred and twenty pages of a book about Vesuvius, Pompeii, and connections through history to the fall of the Towers are about said development of the Universe as we know it, I start to feel a bit misled. A hefty chapter or two specifically focusing on the way the planet developed and how shifting plates and geology all come together in relation to volcan The origins of the universe, the solar system, the earth, and how life evolved on said Earth is all very interesting...but when the first one hundred and twenty pages of a book about Vesuvius, Pompeii, and connections through history to the fall of the Towers are about said development of the Universe as we know it, I start to feel a bit misled. A hefty chapter or two specifically focusing on the way the planet developed and how shifting plates and geology all come together in relation to volcanoes - that I would have been able to understand. But taking over a fifth of the book to tell me about how life on this planet went from tiny, unrecognizable organisms to their current form, or to plot out the position of the stars in the Big Dipper a billion years ago? Not only was that entirely irrelevant, it also seemed more like bragging, showing off knowledge while rambling. Stick to the point, Mr. Pellegrino, and talk about what you promised when I picked up the book. And my oh my, Mr. Pellegrino is very proud of himself, isn't he? Another reviewer mentioned this, and I whole-heartedly agree: there is too much "I" in this book. Academic studies are supposed to limit the personal pronouns, and the author doesn't have the sly wit required to pull off the rambling diversions from the point of the book or the stories he randomly tells about his own adventures. (I swear to God, he even keeps mentioning his cat. Charles, seriously, what the hell do I give a damn about your cat?) I don't care that the author once, in the midst of testing currents in the ocean, put a message in a bottle, tossed it into the sea, and proposed marriage that way. It has nothing to do with Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Towers falling, or any other "strange connections." I could have done without the near-constant name-dropping, too. Big names in the fields whom the author either worked with or once talked to or wants to be seen having a connection to: Gould, Sagan, etc. After awhile, the author just started sounding like that blow-hard at the fancy party who, in the guise of telling you an interesting historical story, is actually taking the opportunity to talk nonstop about himself. And it got irritating, to the point where it ruined the book for me. Which is unfortunate, because when he did drop the "I" sentences and actually talked about the eruption of Vesuvius and how each successive surge destroyed the surrounding towns, the book was incredibly interesting. Those parts were well-written, packed with information, and almost chilling with their detail. The history leading up to and immediately following the eruption was also engrossing, very well told. And the way he relates the finds of the archaeological teams that have been slowly uncovering Pompeii and her sister city? Amazing. You can picture the fossilized remains of the slave girl cradling the baby from the blast. You can see the brother, crippled by polio, and his attending sister, forever locked in ash together, whole families dying together because one member couldn't be evacuated. Absolutely mesmerizing. Alas, those parts did not make up the bulk of this book, and it's now in the "sell to the used book store" box, because it's not worth the space on my shelf.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten McKenzie

    A tough one to review. More a 3.5 stars than 3 stars. I skim read the first 100 pages, which were filled with oodles of scientific information about volcanoes through the ages, and their impact on earth. After that, there were about 100+ pages of fascinating historical insights in Pompeii, including plenty of evidence about the population and their religious leanings, and how things happening elsewhere in the Roman empire impacted on the residents of Pompeii. The rest of the book dealt with para A tough one to review. More a 3.5 stars than 3 stars. I skim read the first 100 pages, which were filled with oodles of scientific information about volcanoes through the ages, and their impact on earth. After that, there were about 100+ pages of fascinating historical insights in Pompeii, including plenty of evidence about the population and their religious leanings, and how things happening elsewhere in the Roman empire impacted on the residents of Pompeii. The rest of the book dealt with parallels between the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the explosion of Mt Vesuvius, with plenty of examples from New York. To be honest, I skimmed those pages as well. The data was fascinating, but I was reading the book more for the Pompeii side of things. Hence why I feel a little bad only scoring 3.5 stars. If scientific data is your thing, then you will LOVE this book. If you enjoy historical insights and social commentary, then you'll love part of this book - this part was exceptional. I just wish the whole book was like this!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nisha

    Masterfully written in a deliberate web, showing the connections among 9/11, Vesuvius, Titanic, and a host if other world-changing events. Not a book for a linear reader. Fascinating and a little scary, but one of the best books I've read in a long time. Masterfully written in a deliberate web, showing the connections among 9/11, Vesuvius, Titanic, and a host if other world-changing events. Not a book for a linear reader. Fascinating and a little scary, but one of the best books I've read in a long time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    M. D. Hudson

    I just don’t like optimistic, future-oriented, prolix science writers. Never have. Don’t like Isaac Asimov and don’t like Carl Sagan. Better living through rockets and Outer Space and chemistry. Even when they are talking of calamities, they are still insisting on how great everything is and how much better it can be if we just set our gazes and grins towards the nebulae of our better selves. To infinity and beyond! Pellegrino is one of these guys and he is also a scientist historian of the “pop I just don’t like optimistic, future-oriented, prolix science writers. Never have. Don’t like Isaac Asimov and don’t like Carl Sagan. Better living through rockets and Outer Space and chemistry. Even when they are talking of calamities, they are still insisting on how great everything is and how much better it can be if we just set our gazes and grins towards the nebulae of our better selves. To infinity and beyond! Pellegrino is one of these guys and he is also a scientist historian of the “popular” sort. I love popular history (what choice do I have; a 500 page dissertation on the importance of portages on the upper Mississippi River, 1750-1780?). But all the problems I have with popular histories are embodied here: bad writing and authorial preening. Add, in the case of Pellegrino’s “Ghosts of Venus” some spotty organization, and you have a pretty bad book in many, many ways. However, many popular histories can be saved by their subject matter, and that is, to some extent, the case here - I couldn’t put the lousy thing down. Basically, what this book tries to be is one of those “connections” sort of things perfected by James Burke wherein history, culture, science, religion and a bunch of neat-o facts are shown as being interrelated. Not to sound dismissive - I really like this kind of stuff (and I am a big fan of Burke’s). But Burke knew how to let the facts do the speaking and avoided inserting his own flapdoodle in the telling. Pellegrino loves the sound of his own Big Thoughts. This manifests itself in some of the most breathless prose I have ever encountered - Pellegrino loves the rumble of his own profundity and he will frequently cause him wax poetic in fragments, sometimes in parentheses and italics (the second line below is italicized): But Earth has never been static -- (Earth abides--) (p. 274) He does this mostly when he is mulling over the New Testament and the deep spooky mysteries of the Gnostics, topics of endless fascination for Pellegrino and neither having much to do with the book overall except that Big Connections are being made therefore the Earth abides etc. Perhaps worse than the profound fragments are his longer prose gassings: In time-present, with more than two-thirds of Herculaneum still sealed in rock and unexplored, we cannot help but wonder how many similar mysteries wait to be discovered. The story of those last days is one that deserves to be reexplored, resolved more clearly, and told anew in every generation, lest we fail to remember whence we came, where we are going, and the sway that fate and random chance hold over us." ”(p. 282) Down there, in the shallows of times backward abyss; down there in Pompeii’s “Number 11 House,” archaeology’s first physical appearance of the word Christianos wades us into the deeps of empire and enigma.” (p. 337) So how can we “remember” where we are going? But even beyond not making sense, a little of this kind of profound rumbling goes a long way. Add to it Pellegrino’s shameless name-dropping (Cameron Crow, Michael Crichton, Asimov, etc.) and the exciting adventures he’s been on (submersible visits to the Titanic!), and the kitchy way he proposed to his wife (message-in-a-bottle via “Squid Mail”) which he felt compelled to mention and this book can be a pretty tough slog. Two hundred years ago, Pellegrino would’ve been a clergyman of the sort Jane Austen liked to ridicule - at one point he goes on to describe making a Christian Cross out of a chunk of RMS Titanic’s rail. The self-satisfied piousness of this combined with a kind of spiritual vacuity that is hard to describe: a cheap ecumenical gesture combined with Science as Religion dosed with Philosophical Deep Thoughts topped with narcissistic frosting? Whatever it is, were I a Titanic victim, I’d be haunting his ass now. However, I am almost ashamed to say that I couldn’t put this book down. When he is not gushing or bragging or waxing philosophical, Pellegrino has a talent for passing on information. He gives one of the most engaging Timelines of the Universe I have ever read, and his descriptions of the destruction of Pompeii/Herculaneum and the Twin Towers are quite informative despite the gusts of Deep Thoughts wafting through the history and science. His long, long aside on Gnosticism and the Tomb of Jesus was tiresome and seemed far too sure of itself and, oddly enough for all his Love of All Things Scientific, told with the fervor of a True Believer. But when he sticks to the mechanics of destruction (volcanoes, asteroids, and terrorists) he is quite engaging.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Teejay

    The contest for "May favorite book ever" is a narrow one, between this and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". If you read no other book this decade, please read this one. Pelligrino takes us on a journey through time, space, chemistry, geology, cosmology, biology, politics, religion, history, and the human condition. And he does so in such a natural and unforced fashion, you never realize (or care) that you have diverged from the topic of Pompeii and Herculaneum, until he steers you ba The contest for "May favorite book ever" is a narrow one, between this and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". If you read no other book this decade, please read this one. Pelligrino takes us on a journey through time, space, chemistry, geology, cosmology, biology, politics, religion, history, and the human condition. And he does so in such a natural and unforced fashion, you never realize (or care) that you have diverged from the topic of Pompeii and Herculaneum, until he steers you back there. And through the entire voyage, you're hanging on every word. An absolutely FANTASTIC read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I loved how rambly it was. I think that was one of its strengths. I didn't get the impression it was meant to be a scientific monograph so I didn't judge it as lacking in that respect. On the other hand it was very informative and I felt, after putting it down, I'd learned a lot. The stuff about the shock wave was fascinating, especially applied to the twin towers collapse hypothesis. I loved how rambly it was. I think that was one of its strengths. I didn't get the impression it was meant to be a scientific monograph so I didn't judge it as lacking in that respect. On the other hand it was very informative and I felt, after putting it down, I'd learned a lot. The stuff about the shock wave was fascinating, especially applied to the twin towers collapse hypothesis.

  8. 5 out of 5

    PWRL

    SM

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." A fascinating look at the similarities and connections between historical events from ancient Rome, through the founding of the United States, the sinking of the Titanic, and the attack on the World Trade Center. The individual analysis of historic events is by itself quite fascinating, but when you start to see the connections and influences across time things really get interesting. While certainly not light reading, it's not so de "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." A fascinating look at the similarities and connections between historical events from ancient Rome, through the founding of the United States, the sinking of the Titanic, and the attack on the World Trade Center. The individual analysis of historic events is by itself quite fascinating, but when you start to see the connections and influences across time things really get interesting. While certainly not light reading, it's not so deep or technical that someone with an interest couldn't get through it. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking to develop their view of history and historical events.

  10. 5 out of 5

    devon

    I don't do science. And I shy away from non-fiction. But Pellegrino is a moving writer, and has the dark jaded view of the universe that only a scientist of ancient volcanoes and even more ancient universe formations can possess. Hope is hard to find, but it is there, and the book quietly reflects the connections we all try to make between the past and the present, from Vesuvius to September 11, and our own lives with that of our universe. I don't do science. And I shy away from non-fiction. But Pellegrino is a moving writer, and has the dark jaded view of the universe that only a scientist of ancient volcanoes and even more ancient universe formations can possess. Hope is hard to find, but it is there, and the book quietly reflects the connections we all try to make between the past and the present, from Vesuvius to September 11, and our own lives with that of our universe.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    This book combines the science of stars, the history of Pompeii, and present day 9/11 in a fantastical journey to the heart of what it means to be a fragile human in a dangerous world of incredible hidden power. It manages to combine science and history, my two favorite book topics together in a way that made me want to read all of Pellegrino's books. This book combines the science of stars, the history of Pompeii, and present day 9/11 in a fantastical journey to the heart of what it means to be a fragile human in a dangerous world of incredible hidden power. It manages to combine science and history, my two favorite book topics together in a way that made me want to read all of Pellegrino's books.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Krelsk

    A bit rambly with some florid prose, but a gripping read touching on many of my interests. So in my opinion it's a good book. He tells us its about strange connections in the title, and some of them take a while in the telling. The author is a proclaimed agnostic but I find much faith and light seeps out, intentionally or not. A bit rambly with some florid prose, but a gripping read touching on many of my interests. So in my opinion it's a good book. He tells us its about strange connections in the title, and some of them take a while in the telling. The author is a proclaimed agnostic but I find much faith and light seeps out, intentionally or not.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I liked bits and pieces of it, but I thought it could definitely use some more organizing. Most of it is quite confusing and pretty much all over the place.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Swenson

    Fascinating. So interesting to learn about the forces involved in the destruction. And to learn about the shock cocoons and WHAT and who survived in them.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mathers

    "The oldest known diamonds on Earth are only a few molecule layers thick, so small and so numerous that anyone who has worked with the Genesis Stone presently exhales diamonds with every breath, and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives." "Between A.D. 30 and 79, prophets were murdered, a holy city burned, a mountain exploded; and history swerved, sending forth a cascade of consequences, like ripples through time." To say this is a book about Vesuvius, or even a book about Vesuvius an "The oldest known diamonds on Earth are only a few molecule layers thick, so small and so numerous that anyone who has worked with the Genesis Stone presently exhales diamonds with every breath, and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives." "Between A.D. 30 and 79, prophets were murdered, a holy city burned, a mountain exploded; and history swerved, sending forth a cascade of consequences, like ripples through time." To say this is a book about Vesuvius, or even a book about Vesuvius and 9/11, or even a book about Vesuvius, 9/11, and the Titanic, doesn't do it justice. It's a book about science, and wonder, and mystery, and context, and terrifyingly deep time, and art, and human nature, and morality, and astrophysics. It's also, frequently and I admit sometimes gratingly, sometimes a book about how cool Charles Pellegrino's life has been. It's a book where the closing notes of hope, which I think would have landed very differently in 2004, unfortunately have aged the poorest of all the insights or claims here. It's also a book with frequent flights of conjecture and/or fancy, frequently laden with portent. It's one that seems almost designed to generate mixed reviews, just because it's such a potent and sometimes (or for some readers) ridiculous mix that it's probably either going to really work or really not work for you. Yes, it's also jam packed with really fascinating information about volcanos, the three disasters mentioned above, history, science, etc etc etc., but there are plenty of books that could just give you information. If Ghosts of Vesuvius is going to work for you, it's probably because even when you find Pellegrino's authorial voice a bit silly, you still get swept up in it. I certainly was. I don't agree with every little claim or tangent, but the number of times I felt like my mind and understanding was expanding as I read through parts of this are worth any number of little infelicities. There are bits of this book I still think about regularly, and it's one I definitely need to reread in the future, to see where it hits me then. Not for everyone, but unlike almost anything else I've read, and worth checking it out just in case it turns out you do tune into its wavelength.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    My chief burden is to warn non-specialist teachers who consider using information from this book to enliven their classrooms not to trust any of the author’s assertions about ancient history without checking them first in some work of scholarship. Pellegrino himself provides no citations, and—more significantly—was caught lying about having earned a PhD. Pellegrino claims most Christians in AD 325 believed in reincarnation (262), that Nero envisioned “seas filled with steam-assisted sailing ship My chief burden is to warn non-specialist teachers who consider using information from this book to enliven their classrooms not to trust any of the author’s assertions about ancient history without checking them first in some work of scholarship. Pellegrino himself provides no citations, and—more significantly—was caught lying about having earned a PhD. Pellegrino claims most Christians in AD 325 believed in reincarnation (262), that Nero envisioned “seas filled with steam-assisted sailing ships” (255), and that Roman shipwrecks have been found off Brazil (303-06). He is unaware that Augustus was called divi filius not for any supposed relationship to Jupiter but because of his very real connection to the Divine Julius, his granduncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar (280). Cicero has been called many things over the centuries; “writer” and “orator” are fine, but “farmer” is a stretch, and “brilliant military leader” is truly out in left field. (310) Caveat lector. Most of this book is little more than a self-important, stream-of-consciousness ramble, much of which has little to with the events of 79 AD. The first 128 pages can be skipped entirely as irrelevant guesses about the primordial earth, and the rest of the book could easily have been issued under the title of Chapter 4, “Then Listen, Josephus, For I Digress…” And yet, if the reader is persistent enough, Pellegrino highlights a few ideas worth thinking about, most important to my mind the notion that in both natural and human-created disasters (from Herculaneum to the Titanic to the Twin Towers) material goods can inexplicably survive in “shock cocoons” while tornadoes or nuclear explosions or whatever turn everything around them to powder.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grindy Stone

    This book is all over the place, very much like one of those general science books by Asimov or Sagan. Unlike his predecessors, Pellegrino tries to tie all the general science together. I don't understand the destination he left me at, but the journey was pretty good. This book is all over the place, very much like one of those general science books by Asimov or Sagan. Unlike his predecessors, Pellegrino tries to tie all the general science together. I don't understand the destination he left me at, but the journey was pretty good.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I liked this book fine, it just wasn't what I was expecting. It's very meta - the Pompeii to non-Pompeii ratio is very large, and the Pompeii info is spread out so you can't read just that. It was really cool info, just not what I expected. I liked this book fine, it just wasn't what I was expecting. It's very meta - the Pompeii to non-Pompeii ratio is very large, and the Pompeii info is spread out so you can't read just that. It was really cool info, just not what I expected.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I wanted to give this more stars, but the focus shifts too far from the promise in the title. I wanted more on Pompeii, less on 9/11 and the Titanic; both of which have been extensively covered.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Oh, I so much wanted to give it five stars, but the last 100 pages or so just meandered. But, Romans in South America, formation of life on earth, Justa’s back story - all compelling!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zvi

    Love the variety of topics covered in this book

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dearbhla

    It is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also a book about the origins of the earth, of the universe, and about how precarious our existence is. How so much of what we are today is dependent on natural events a thousand years ago, or a millennia ago, or so long ago that it is almost pointless to count the time because it is so difficult to grasp those sort of numbers. It is hard to blurb this boo It is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also a book about the origins of the earth, of the universe, and about how precarious our existence is. How so much of what we are today is dependent on natural events a thousand years ago, or a millennia ago, or so long ago that it is almost pointless to count the time because it is so difficult to grasp those sort of numbers. It is hard to blurb this book. On the one hand it is about Vesuvius and volcanic explosions and disasters both natural and man-made. But it is also a book about the origins of the earth, of the universe, and about how precarious our existence is. How so much of what we are today is dependent on natural events a thousand years ago, or a millennia ago, or so long ago that it is almost pointless to count the time because it is so difficult to grasp those sort of numbers. I have seen it called a Metalogue and I have to agree with that definition, a text or conversation in which the form resembles the content. I’m not sure what I expected of this book. I picked up based on the recommendation of someone or other on a library-related work “how to” forum. The cover made me assume it was about Pompeii. But then I read “a new look at the last days of Pompeii, how towers fall, and other strange connections” and I figured that the best thing to do was just start reading and hope it was entertaining. Well, I’m not sure if entertaining is the right word. When talking about disasters on such a huge scale it seems wrong somehow to describe a book as entertaining. But it was certainly informative. It is a narrative history, with science and religion and philosophy all mixed in there as well. It is extremely well-written, but it has a style all of its own. In a way it is sort of stream of consciousness. And on occasions it is slightly repetitive, but that is a deliberate decision, or at least, that is how it comes across. Some readers might say it rambles all over the place, and it does, but at the same time it has a very important message at its heart. We have very little control over our lives, over the world, and for all our scientific achievement and progress, we are still dependent on the earth’s stability and that cannot be guaranteed, because, over the long-haul the earth is not static. It is a constantly changing, constantly shifting entity. It is a personal account as well, and for that reason I cannot be too critical of what I found was too much time spent covering individual tales of survival at the World Trade Centre attacks. Some of it was incredibly well told and moving, but reading one story after another in such a manner made these extraordinary events somehow mundane, in my opinion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christina Maria

    4.5 stars This book single handedly made me reexperience my elementary school fascination for paleontology, geology, and the universe in general. It also woke me up the necessity of marrying geological with more conventional history. I'm still amazed at how much of Pompeii and Herculaneums' last days have been reconstructed. The bits about 9/11 and influences on the bible were also interesting. Nonetheless, half a star has been removed for American exceptionalism and the blatantly indulgent insert 4.5 stars This book single handedly made me reexperience my elementary school fascination for paleontology, geology, and the universe in general. It also woke me up the necessity of marrying geological with more conventional history. I'm still amazed at how much of Pompeii and Herculaneums' last days have been reconstructed. The bits about 9/11 and influences on the bible were also interesting. Nonetheless, half a star has been removed for American exceptionalism and the blatantly indulgent insert of one of the author's novels.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I agree with the last 2 reviews. I just skimmed the first 90% of the book, but I don't feel like I missed anything. Seriously incoherent ramblings. My three stars are because of the last 10% of the book only. The detailed info on 9/11, while heartbreaking to read, gave me my first and so far only explanation of how buildings that weren't hit came down, & how the towers came down in such "perfect" freefall, straight down. So much to learn about blasts & shock cocoons. The awful footage from that I agree with the last 2 reviews. I just skimmed the first 90% of the book, but I don't feel like I missed anything. Seriously incoherent ramblings. My three stars are because of the last 10% of the book only. The detailed info on 9/11, while heartbreaking to read, gave me my first and so far only explanation of how buildings that weren't hit came down, & how the towers came down in such "perfect" freefall, straight down. So much to learn about blasts & shock cocoons. The awful footage from that day doesn't begin to show what was really happening, but this book does. And I'm humbled after reading the many examples of bravery & sacrifice shown by the firefighters, police & rescue personnel, WTC staff (security & engineers) & of the civilians, all who did everything they could to save so many, just as we were losing so many. God bless those we lost. This book serves them well.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    As a fan of volcanoes in general, and Vesuvius specifically, I LOVED this book! Comprehensive study and story of the lives that forensic archaeology has uncovered and very interesting history of Roman culture intertwined throughout. This is one of those books that has you saying, "So, that's how it all happened!" As a fan of volcanoes in general, and Vesuvius specifically, I LOVED this book! Comprehensive study and story of the lives that forensic archaeology has uncovered and very interesting history of Roman culture intertwined throughout. This is one of those books that has you saying, "So, that's how it all happened!"

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lara Eakins

    I was drawn to this book because of the connections that the author draws between Pompeii and 9/11 - in part because I visited Pompeii on the 6 month anniversary of September 11, 2001. Pellegrino sometimes wanders around his topics, but it was in all a very enjoyable and fascinating book. One of the things I like about him is the over-all connections he sees in things from history to today.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Quigley

    Since I had just visited Pompeii, I was fascinated about the history of that city. I must admit that some of the scientific information was "over my head," but the sections about Vesuvius kept me reading. Since I had just visited Pompeii, I was fascinated about the history of that city. I must admit that some of the scientific information was "over my head," but the sections about Vesuvius kept me reading.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    Well it's a little Pompeii, with some gnostic gospels, history of the earth, 9/11, and a couple of kitchen sinks thrown in. The author bolts off on a tangent about every second paragraph, but it you like where he goes, you'll like the book. Just don't expect a beginning, a middle and an end. Well it's a little Pompeii, with some gnostic gospels, history of the earth, 9/11, and a couple of kitchen sinks thrown in. The author bolts off on a tangent about every second paragraph, but it you like where he goes, you'll like the book. Just don't expect a beginning, a middle and an end.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter D. McLoughlin

    This is a meditation on Pompeii and the eruption of 79C.E. but it wanders through geology, astronomy, Deep time, September 11th, origins of christianity, blast cocoons, and fate of empires. The diffuse focus around Pompeii and the wandering from topic to topic is what most appealled to me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Felicia

    This book was a terrific read following my visit to Pompei. It also made some fascinating connections to the events at Ground Zero on September 11. However, there were some very long "tangents" that I found very difficult to get through. This book was a terrific read following my visit to Pompei. It also made some fascinating connections to the events at Ground Zero on September 11. However, there were some very long "tangents" that I found very difficult to get through.

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