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

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

by Charles R. Pellegrino

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A fascinating look at Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Vesuvius eruption in comparison with other historically significant volcanic eruptions, including the World Trade Center disaster.

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 palaeontologist Charles


A fascinating look at Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Vesuvius eruption in comparison with other historically significant volcanic eruptions, including the World Trade Center disaster.

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 palaeontologist Charles Pellegrino presents a wealth of new knowledge about the doomed towns – and brings to vivid life the people, their last moments, and the aftermath.

The lessons learned from modern scrutiny of that ancient eruption produce disturbing echoes in the present. Dr Pellegrino, who worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, shares his unique knowledge of the strange physics of volcanic 'downblast' and 'collapse column', drawing a direct link from past to present, and providing readers with a poignant glimpse into the last moments of the 'American Vesuvius'.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A stunning and magical alchemy of science, philosophy, Bible study and brilliantly detailed on-the-scene reporting, Pellegrino's book moves effortlessly from the sweeping grandeur of infinite time and space to the briefest moment in the lives of ordinary men. In August A.D. 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted and famously buried the city of Pompeii and, less famously, the city of Herculaneum. From this node of history, Pellegrino goes off on a sometimes cosmic search for the connections and ruptures that have shaped not only human civilization but the very course of life on Earth and the universe at large. Pellegrino includes easily understood nuggets of hard science, and his passion for his subject keeps the whole thing together. Rooted in the solid ground of rational investigation and intense research, the book never flies out of control but carries one along from point to point on a tour of Pellegrino's wide-screen thinking. The emotional heart of the book lies at ground zero in lower Manhattan, where Pellegrino and a small band of volcanologists put their skills to work making sense of the towers' collapse. As the column of white-hot volcanic ash descended on the ancient Roman cities nearly 2,000 years ago, so the 109 stories of the World Trade Center came crashing down, burying the dreams and aspirations of another civilization at the height of its power-or so says Pellegrino. This is a book to be savored, reread and passed along to future generations. Illus. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This new book from Pellegrino (Unearthing Atlantis: An Archaeological Odyssey to the Fabled Lost Civilization) must fill a niche somewhere. Perhaps for readers who take Michael Crichton's novels too seriously? It's not that the text is full of falsehoods. On the contrary, it is so loaded with information that a reader wants to dip into it and come away with a clearly defined sequence of events that also make sense historically. But that is nearly impossible; the author really does make some strange connections, as the subtitle suggests. Relying on forensic archaeology, Pellegrino reconstructs the final days of Pompeii and Herculaneum and then goes on to tie the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to other catastrophic events in history, including 9/11. (An expert on downblast and surge physics, Pellegrino was able to survey Ground Zero.) Unfortunately, there is only a select bibliography, so the reader is often left at sea when trying to verify Pellegrino's claims. Readers interested in the far-reaching influences of such catastrophes as Vesuvius or 9/11 will be fascinated, but otherwise the breadth of the book precludes useful interpretation. Recommended with reservations for public libraries.-Clay Williams, Hunter Coll. Lib., New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 billionyears 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. Agent: Russell Galen/Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

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

Chapter One

In the Beginning

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Si'nai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
-- EXODUS 19:16–18 (ca. 1630 B.C.)
Let none be deceived by the fictions poets tell That Aetna is the home of a god.
(from a poem by Lucius Junior, as referenced by Seneca, A.D. 63–79)


Call them Alpha and Omega.

The beginning and the end.

Somewhere very far back in my ancestry, and in yours, they were the source of water and ice, the creators of proteins and porphyrin molecules. Somewhere near 4 billion B.C., volcanoes became the cause of every breath we take. They are the foundations of life, the fountains of Eden. The rocks tell us so.

By the measure of human life spans, our civilization is very old, but the water and the carbon that run in our veins are the exhalations and regurgitations of Earth itself; and our Earth is older than life itself. And our universe -- most certainly nothing more (or less) than the most recent episode in an infinite and possibly identical series of "Big Bangs" and "Cosmic Crunches" -- is older still ... far, far older than Earth itself.

Even before the first atom of silicon existed, long before the most basic components of lava and volcanic dust were born, our universe was a fascinatingly violent and beautiful womb. And most of all, when we come to think about our beginnings at all, even the dust teaches us that our universe was a strange womb, as viewed from the perspective of anything larger than a proton.

When the wizards of CERN and Fermilab smash protons and antiprotons together, they are working the same sort of magic on atomic nuclei that a child might inflict upon a watch: smashing it open with a hammer to learn from its pieces what makes the watch work. Seen up close, a proton is nothing more (or less) than forces -- gyrating, interconnected bends in space-time called, for human convenience, quarks and gluons. The very basis of matter arose from defects in what would otherwise have been perfectly flat space-time geometry; as if the substance of our existence burst forth from mere geometric flaws, from submicroscopic cracks in the universe; as if all matter is in fact as close to nothing as anything can be and still manage to think of itself as being something -- which, in fact, it is.

From this discovery, from this simple observation, scientists have begun to pen a new story of Genesis --

(And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep) --

And when we peer into the darkness and the void, when we peer as deeply as our primitive tools allow, we descend into a realm of the "jiffy" -- which defines the travel time of light across the diameter of a proton, or one billion-trillionth of a second. Within this space, far below the realm of everyday human experience, invisible lines of force -- lines of interconnected quarks and gluons -- stretch out of nothingness, con-tracting, gyrating, and creating the spherical field of an equally transparent proton.

If one is permitted to imagine a single proton in a single atom of silicon, containing fourteen each of protons and neutrons, and if we then allow ourselves to pull back the view ever so slightly, we behold a bundle of twenty-eight colorless spheres with gyrating interiors -- the nucleus of the most abundant element on this planet.

Pull back farther still, and the silicon nucleus recedes completely from view, through an expanse of space so vast that by the time we retreat to the outermost electron shell, the nucleus is, when scaled against that spherical, ghostly shell, no larger than a New York City bus scaled against the sphere of Earth. And this, too, is a ghostly and empty, yet forceful realm. To continue drawing backward reveals the outermost shells of atoms interlinked by electrons -- which manifest, self-contradictorily and simultaneously and almost everywhere at once, as waves and particles ... Bound electron shell to electron shell, silicon and oxygen form an array of molecules arranged in rows -- silicon bound to oxygen ... silicon and oxygen ... silicon and oxygen, row after parallel row -- a crystalline array in a chip of volcanic rock. And as our retreat from the proton propels us from the quantum universe into the universe of the very large, we can no longer see individual molecules. With increasing distance, the first hints of color begin to enter the world.

The wavelengths of visible light are far smaller than a grain of sand or a fleck of crystalline basalt and far larger than the diameter of an atom of silicon or oxygen -- so only now do we begin to see the brownish black hue of a nugget of once-molten rock collected by my daughter, Amber, not far from midtown Manhattan.

All is exactly as the Greek naturalist Democritus and his student Epicurus had said it would be, nearly 2,400 years ago. Scientists of the future, they predicted, would come inevitably to believe in nothing, for nothing existed in this universe except atoms and empty space --

(And the earth was without form, and void ...)

And perhaps nothing itself really is everywhere in that ten-to-theeightieth power of protons spread throughout the visible universe, but only because our understanding of nothing is everything --

Ghosts of Vesuvius
A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections
. Copyright © by Charles Pellegrino. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Charles Pellegrino has been known to work simultaneously in entomology, forensic physics, paleo-genetics, preliminary design of advanced rocket systems, astrobiology, and marine archaeology. The author of eighteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including Unearthing Atlantis, Dust, Ghosts of the Titanic, and the New York Times bestseller Her Name, Titanic, he is the scientist whose dinosaur-cloning recipe inspired Michael Crichton's bestselling novel Jurassic Park. Dr. Pellegrino lives in New York City.

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