Ghosts of Vesuvius

Ghosts of Vesuvius : A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii

By (author) Charles Pellegrino

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The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and the subsequent destruction of the thriving Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are historic disasters of monumental proportions, resonating across millennia and remembered to this very day. Now Dr. Charles Pellegrino -- the acclaimed author who unearthed Atlantis, returned readers to Sodom and Gomorrah, and revealed startling new secrets about the most fabled sea tragedy of all in his superb New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic -- takes us back to the final days of an extraordinary civilization to experience an earth-shattering catastrophe with remarkable and unsettling ties to the unthinkable disaster of September 11, 2001. Through the modern wonders of forensic archaeology, astonishing facts about the everyday lives of the doomed citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum have been brought to light, revealing a society that enjoyed "modern" amenities such as central heating, sliding glass doors, penicillin, hot and cold running water -- and a standard of living and life expectancy that would not be achieved again until the 1950s. But these thriving twin cities would be buried along with every hapless citizen in less than twenty-four hours when Vesuvius came frighteningly alive, sending a fearsome column of smoke and fire twenty miles into the sky. Employing volcano physics, Pellegrino shows that the Vesuvius eruption was one thousand times more powerful than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima, bringing to vivid life the frightful majesty of that volcanic apocalypse. Yet Pellegrino digs deeper, exploring fascinating comparisons and connections to other catastrophic events throughout history, in particular the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. As one of the world's only experts on downblast and surge physics, Pellegrino was invited to Ground Zero to examine the site and compare it with devastation wreaked by Vesuvius, in the hope of saving lives during future volcanic eruptions. In doing so, he offers us a poignant and unforgettable glimpse into the final moments of our own "American Vesuvius." A stunning combination of science, history, humanity, and riveting storytelling, Charles Pellegrino's Ghosts of Vesuvius is an extraordinary accomplishment, an electrifying, edifying, astonishing, and powerful work of literary art.

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  • Hardback | 489 pages
  • 154.9 x 233.7 x 43.2mm | 816.48g
  • 01 Aug 2004
  • HarperCollins Publishers Inc
  • HarperCollins
  • New York, NY
  • English
  • Reinforced binding Reinforced binding Reinforced binding
  • 0380973103
  • 9780380973101

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Review text

Jack-of-all-scientific-trades Pellegrino (Ghosts of the Titanic, 2000, etc.) takes a wide-ranging look at awesome phenomena associated with Earth's volcanic past and possible future. The Earth has a life of its own, he reminds us, humbling the reader with a record of major volcanic events powerful enough to obliterate discrete civilizations and entire species, even to redirect evolution itself. And it ain't over 'til it's over, Pellegrino asserts. His charting of key incidents shows Mount St. Helens releasing in 1980 energy equivalent to a ten-megaton nuclear blast, but that's nothing compared to his "standard unit" of an estimated 24,000 megatons, based on the 1628 b.c. explosion of the Island of Thera, a possible Atlantis in the Mediterranean. Records of ancient cultures from China to Byzantium chronicle the "years without summer," including mini-ice ages, which is often what resulted. The richness of preserved artifacts from the a.d. 79 destruction of the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum by Mount Vesuvius affords the author a romp through the eruption's grisly but poignant aftermath, dwelling on the "carbonized tongues" and "exploded teeth" of presumed victims. Less colorful but possibly more interesting are Pellegrino's summaries of the amazing depth of detail gleaned from the fossil record in relevant locales, effectively rendered via the format of a trip back in time. The author's vaulting digressions, however, are sometimes merely frustrating: introducing the notion of an infinitely "oscillating" series of identical universes, for example, he doesn't really explain why Red Sox fans would have to watch that ball go through Bill Buckner's legs time and again every 20 billion years or so. And a discussion of the mechanics of the World Trade Towers' collapse in volcanologist's terms has the ring of afterthought. Nonetheless, an engrossing, challenging read. (Kirkus Reviews)

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