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The Really Popular Book Club is the reading group hosted by Cambridge University Libraries. Everyone is invited to join us and our special guests to discuss a really popular book, one that we all know and perhaps or perhaps not love.

Join us for this club meeting where we will be discussing Robert Harris’s international best-seller Pompeii, a thriller set in the days leading up to the destruction of the city by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The story begins with the hydraulic engineer Marcus Attilius sent from Rome to the Bay of Naples to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor (the man in charge of the underground aqueduct supplying the towns around the Bay of Naples) who has vanished without trace. As Attilius arrives, there’s a second mystery bubbling up, namely why the water supply round the Bay has begun to fail, and as he begins to discover why, he is gradually sucked into a world of excess, corruption and mortal danger.

Our special guest for the evening will be Dr Caroline Shenton, formerly Director of the Parliamentary Archives and now Secretary to Council at Girton College. Caroline’s first popular history book The Day Parliament Burned Down (OUP, 2012) was shortlisted for the Longman-History Today prize, and won the Political Book of the Year Award in 2013.

About Pompeii, Caroline says: ‘As an archivist there’s nothing I like better than a good historical thriller and Robert Harris is an absolute master of the genre. What’s so appealing to me is not only the evocation of a particular place and time, but also Harris’ ability to ramp up and then maintain a state of gripping suspense even though you know that nothing is going to stop Vesuvius from erupting’. 

As well as hearing from Caroline about her thoughts and observations on Pompeii, we will once again be opening the floor up to you, our club members, to share your own observations and remarks. To get you thinking and to help prepare any comments or questions you might want to share, we have prepared three starter questions:

1.    Who is the main villain/antagonist in Pompeii?

2.    Harris had originally intended this, his fourth novel, to be a thriller about political corruption in present-day east-coast America. What remnants of that initial concept, if any, survive in Pompeii?

3.    How does Harris manage explain the phenomena of the lead-up to a massive volcanic explosion through the various responses of characters without our present-day scientific knowledge and for whom such signs were entirely novel?

Further information about The Really Popular Book Club, including our FAQs, can be found here.

Where: Online via Zoom Meetings

Registration: Free, booking essential. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Date: Thursday 18th November 2021