Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Book Review: Ghosts of Vesuvius

Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino *****

People who like their reading clear, concise and organized will probably hate this book. To someone like me, who is decidedly “right-brained,” it was a joy to read, even though there were times when I put it aside because I just couldn’t cope with the sheer amount of information.

Charles Pellegrino, who has also explored the wreck of the Titanic and the island of Thera (whose devastation in a volcanic eruption is a possible inspiration for the story of Atlantis), here brings his expertise to the results of the first-century eruption of Mt. Vesuvius as well as the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “The behavior of dust-heavy air in Manhattan was governed by the very same physics that sent volcanic death clouds crashing...upon the cities of Vesuvius in A.D. 79,” he writes, and the book which would have resulted from this simple comparison would probably have been equally fascinating, although much shorter and more focused.

Instead, Pellegrino gives us an extended meditation on catastrophes, human reactions to them and the impermanence of civilizations that is truly breathtaking in its scope, yet also shines a spotlight on intimate human moments and the personal reactions of the author, all the more poignant in the case of 9/11, where he lost people he knew. The bulk of the book is devoted to recent discoveries at Vesuvius, however. Pellegrino’s reconstruction of the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, based on what science knows about the physics of it, eyewitness accounts from authors such as Pliny the Younger, and archaeological evidence, is riveting. He also builds up a context in which to place them, a context of slave revolts, religious ferment and amazingly advanced technology, which help to bring the people whose stories he tells to life.

This book probably could have been more tightly edited without losing its stream-of-consciousness feel, and Pellegrino’s assertions were sometimes hyperbolic and occasionally flat-out wrong (the Pharisees were not a “sect of Temple high priests,” but in general non-priests who were often in opposition to the Temple cult), but I still found it enjoyable and well-worth reading.


Blogger whoami123 said...

We work like a horse.
We eat like a pig.
We like to play chicken.
You can get someone's goat.
We can be as slippery as a snake.
We get dog tired.
We can be as quiet as a mouse.
We can be as quick as a cat.
Some of us are as strong as an ox.
People try to buffalo others.
Some are as ugly as a toad.
We can be as gentle as a lamb.
Sometimes we are as happy as a lark.
Some of us drink like a fish.
We can be as proud as a peacock.
A few of us are as hairy as a gorilla.
You can get a frog in your throat.
We can be a lone wolf.
But I'm having a whale of a time!

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.
May I suggest that you do
everything in your power to
honor your encyclopedic/omniscient
Designer/Architect as well
as your revering audience.
As soon as we acknowledge
this Supreme Designer/Architect,
Who has erected the beauteous
fabric of the universe, our minds
must necessarily be ravished with
wonder at this infinate goodness,
wisdom and power.

Please remember to never
restrict anyone's opportunities
for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity
under heaven. A time to be
born and a time to die. A
time to plant and a time to
harvest. A time to kill and
a time to heal. A time to
tear down and a time to
rebuild. A time to cry and
a time to laugh. A time to
grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones
and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a
time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to
throw away. A time to tear
and a time to mend. A time
to be quiet and a time to
speak up. A time to love
and a time to hate. A time
for war and a time for peace.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,
Dr. Whoami

P.S. One thing of which I am sure is
that the common culture of my youth
is gone for good. It was hollowed out
by the rise of ethnic "identity politics,"
then splintered beyond hope of repair
by the emergence of the web-based
technologies that so maximized and
facilitated cultural choice as to make
the broad-based offerings of the old
mass media look bland and unchallenging
by comparison."

April 15, 2006 at 11:48:00 PM EDT  

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