Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections - Charles R. Pellegrino The origins of the universe, the solar system, the earth, and how life evolved on said Earth is all very interesting...but when the first one hundred and twenty pages of a book about Vesuvius, Pompeii, and connections through history to the fall of the Towers are about said development of the Universe as we know it, I start to feel a bit misled. A hefty chapter or two specifically focusing on the way the planet developed and how shifting plates and geology all come together in relation to volcanoes - that I would have been able to understand. But taking over a fifth of the book to tell me about how life on this planet went from tiny, unrecognizable organisms to their current form, or to plot out the position of the stars in the Big Dipper a billion years ago? Not only was that entirely irrelevant, it also seemed more like bragging, showing off knowledge while rambling. Stick to the point, Mr. Pellegrino, and talk about what you promised when I picked up the book.

And my oh my, Mr. Pellegrino is very proud of himself, isn't he? Another reviewer mentioned this, and I whole-heartedly agree: there is too much "I" in this book. Academic studies are supposed to limit the personal pronouns, and the author doesn't have the sly wit required to pull off the rambling diversions from the point of the book or the stories he randomly tells about his own adventures. (I swear to God, he even keeps mentioning his cat. Charles, seriously, what the hell do I give a damn about your cat?) I don't care that the author once, in the midst of testing currents in the ocean, put a message in a bottle, tossed it into the sea, and proposed marriage that way. It has nothing to do with Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Towers falling, or any other "strange connections."

I could have done without the near-constant name-dropping, too. Big names in the fields whom the author either worked with or once talked to or wants to be seen having a connection to: Gould, Sagan, etc. After awhile, the author just started sounding like that blow-hard at the fancy party who, in the guise of telling you an interesting historical story, is actually taking the opportunity to talk nonstop about himself. And it got irritating, to the point where it ruined the book for me.

Which is unfortunate, because when he did drop the "I" sentences and actually talked about the eruption of Vesuvius and how each successive surge destroyed the surrounding towns, the book was incredibly interesting. Those parts were well-written, packed with information, and almost chilling with their detail. The history leading up to and immediately following the eruption was also engrossing, very well told. And the way he relates the finds of the archaeological teams that have been slowly uncovering Pompeii and her sister city? Amazing. You can picture the fossilized remains of the slave girl cradling the baby from the blast. You can see the brother, crippled by polio, and his attending sister, forever locked in ash together, whole families dying together because one member couldn't be evacuated. Absolutely mesmerizing.

Alas, those parts did not make up the bulk of this book, and it's now in the "sell to the used book store" box, because it's not worth the space on my shelf.