Ghosts Of Vesuvius: A New Look At The Last Days Of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, And Other Strange Connections Paperback – 9 Aug 2005
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About 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.
Top customer reviews
The core of this narrative is "forces". The eruption of Vesuvius performed some intriguing and inexplicable antics. These, of course, remained buried under the layers of volcanic debris produced by the explosions. Vesuvius sent tonnes of ash and gas high into the stratosphere in the early stages of the event. The ash, encountering moisture aloft, rained down on Pompeii in the form of pumice. Those who could find their way out of the city could move in this mostly harmless deluge. Later, magma ejected from the crater, cooled to become hardened rock which proved more deadly. Nearby, Herculaneum suffered similar falls, allowing people to leave the town. A later blast, however, sent a high-velocity stream of gas into the town, killing thousands in a stroke. The temperature and velocity of the "pyroclastic flow" was such that, according to Pellegrino, the victims were dead before their brains could register the pain.
The victims of Pompeii and Herculaneum become symbols for a task Pellegrino tried to avoid - analysing the circumstances of the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers. Applying the lessons of the eruption on the two communities, he interviews survivors and recounts the conditions that ensued in the collapse. One element of the WTC events was the accusation that one of the fire teams had engaged in looting. The finding of neatly stacked clothing seemed too anomalous in such chaos. Pellegrino, however, aware of similar evidence in the Roman towns, exonerated the firemen. Inexplicable calm within a vortex of hot gases and debris he describes as "shock cocoons". These untouched zones in an explosive environment are still unexplained in detail, but their occurrence is unmistakeable. Pellegrino himself appears to have survived one during an airline crash. He describes their results with awe, but feels that lessons derived from them may save lives during volcanic eruptions. Introducing the new field of forensic archaeology, Pellegrino provides the reader with a wealth of information in clinical detail.
Regrettably, while the topics covered in this book are many and varied, his unwarranted asides add little to the theme. A tour of the Judeo-Christian book of "Genesis" is inserted as if it were the sole creation myth. With thousands of such legends to select from, one can only wonder what, besides market outlook, makes this one particularly relevant. His account of Pompeii excavations is dominated by a "Justa's House" which may have contained Christians among its occupants. For a man claiming broad experience and knowledge, this approach seems limiting. The book is permeated with such metaphors, which have questionable value in a study of volcanic forces. Such intrusions may demonstrate his erudition, and certainly enhances his prose skills, but add little to the relevance of the study. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is a tremendously interesting and engrossing book, on many different levels. "GoV", contrary to what the title might lead one to suspect, is NOT just a book about Mt. Vesuvius - it's a tour de force exploration of the effect of volcanic forces on people, on civilizations, on religion(s), on species and evolution in general, on the landscape, and even on the very formation of life itself ... and the author draws upon a wide array of scientific disciplines in order to tell the tale effectively.
In similar fashion to Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe", the book opens with a bang ... or more specifically, with the origins of the universe, the formation of heavier elements in the hearts of stars, the evolution of solid matter (planets, asteroids and dark matter), the formation of volcanoes on those planets, and the role that volcanic forces play in the formation of life. From there, the author gives the reader an introductory taste of some of the possible connective threads between volcanic calamities of recent millennia, their appearances in (and possible influence on) religious accounts & beliefs, and how the tripartite aspects of creation, destruction, and preservation directly mimic the aspects of certain deities recurring throughout human history in various different religions ... a theme touched on indirectly by Fritjof Capra's Hindu-slanted poetic paradigm for viewing physical reality "The Tao of Physics".
From there, the authors pauses (in Chapter 3, "The Time Gate") to neatly tie together a broad range of different fields of human study into a single and innovatively coherent view of time. In it, the author telescopes backwards, in accelerating fashion, as he zooms further and further outwards - from recent history, through archeology (deep history), past paleontology (biological history), past geology (planetary history), and onward into astrophysics (stellar history) ... with major volcanic events as the connective thread every step of the way. A larger and more robust treatment of this material is also covered in a stand-alone novel entitled "Time Gate".
Next, the author reels the reader's time focus back in closer to home again, and delves into the heart of the book, and the author's chief love: archeology. In this case, the primary focus are the twin cities destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD: Pompeii and Herculaneum. The author treats us to a veritable smorgasbord of some of the written accounts dating near, relating to, or directly affected by the eruption:
* Historical accounts (ex: the Plinys, Democritus, Josephus, Spartacus the Gladiator, etc),
* Biblical references (ex: the Council of Nicea that originally collated, edited and winnowed down the scattered accounts of the time into "The Bible" as we know it today),
* Legal records (ex: the legal case of the ex-slave Justa who was suing to retain her freedom at the time of the eruption) recovered from the carbonized remains of a large cache of library scrolls.
Reading those accounts drives home in dramatic fashion the terrible and lasting impact Vesuvius had on both the personal lives of the people nearby, on the surrounding nations and empires, and on the bible itself ... effects that are being felt even today, in ways that we're only just now beginning to understand.
From classic archeology, the author then re-focuses closer still into the subtle nuances and intimate details offered by forensic science, and the oh-so-human stories that the latter is allowing to emerge from the archeological strata. The bones can literally speak to us now ... telling us their exact age & gender, their most likely profession and social status, their dietary habits, wounds and diseases they suffered from, and so much more ... details that truly reinforce that archeology is not just about biology or dead civilizations - it's also about individuals.
It was shortly after the author finished writing the draft of this book that history and fate played a cruel joke ... on September 11th, 2001, hijackers crashed two passenger jets into the Word Trade Center in New York City. The buildings subsequently imploded and down blasted into the Manhattan Bedrock, and massive debris clouds radiated throughout southern Manhattan, burying, damaging and destroying much in it's path. The resemblance to Pompeii and Herculaneum was uncanny ... and that brings us to Chapter 10, the final chapter of GoV, in which several archeologists (including the author) converge on NYC to study the still-fresh archeological record.
Central to Chapter 10 is the story of NYFD Ladder 4 that emerged from the archeological evidence, and subsequent attempts (by certain unscrupulous people) to censor/delay/suppress the publication of this very book for daring to tell the truth ... a truth that exposed an earlier journalistic claim (of looting) as a slanderous hoax. For the details on that matter, I refer interested readers to the author's official discussion forum, which contains a thread on that subject, with additional information by the author.
To conclude, GOV is a must-read for anyone who's interested in the sciences in general, in history (both real and biblical), and in the ongoing efforts by determined researchers to carry forward the bright torch of knowledge & truth across the dark wastelands of time, superstition, ignorance ... and sometimes across the barbed wire boundaries of 'accepted theory', through toxic pools of opportunistic lies, and through suffocating clouds of censorship.
To quote Dr. Pellegrino: "History [and Truth] will eventually have it's way ... it always does."
I enjoyed it immensely, and I was engrossed throughout, from cover to cover.
I'd also like to compliment the author for his steadfast commitment to "Keep faith with the dead", regardless of the risk to his career as a published author. I've seen some of the consequences of that decision, first hand.
August 27, 2011
As advertisements for documentaries and other Sept. 11, 2001 remembrances mushroom, I recommend this book as a way to remember our 9-11 dead. I had no idea that Vesuvius's ghosts could include the Titanic's dead and those who perished in the Twin Towers but they do. Thank you, Mr. Pellegrino, for writing such a moving and informative book.
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