Having just visited Pompeii earlier this year, I decided to read this book, and I was enthralled. The characters seem so real, especially that of Pliny the Elder (uncle of the more famous Pliny the Younger), a man in charge of the fleet at Poteoli (Pozzuoli). Now in his declining years, too heavy for his own good, he nevertheless sets sail into the teeth of the volcanic eruption that happens one fine day in AD 79 to help out a lady friend, who is worried about her house. Of course, he and his men have no helmets, no gas masks, nothing to protect them from the ash and rocky projectiles that are now pouring out of Vesuvius, as they gingerly make their way to Herculaneum, a charming seaside resort that lies right at its feet.
Things get so bad, they are obliged to sail on south, finally landing at Stabiae, the home of the super-rich. Pliny either suffers from a heart-attack or suffocates after ingesting the poisonous fumes, perhaps from lying down to take a nap. In any event, he dies soon thereafter, as the “Manifestation,” (his term for this cataclysm) continues.