Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Pompeii as an allegory for today's world

A British author's story of Romanmilitary dominance and vulnerabilityenlightens today's situation

By Alan Cowell  /  NY Times News Service , Kintbury, England

"This is really about technology and the threat from the natural world," he said. "And if you know what's going to happen, it can be more tense waiting for it to come."

But before the final historic cataclysm, the narrative meanders through a familiar modern landscape of sexual deviance and corrupted power, ambition and arrivisme.

Harris, 46, is a former TV and newspaper journalist who has devoted more and more of his time to book-writing since he moved away from London in 1993 to take up residence here with his wife, Gill Hornby, and their four children. In Britain he has been viewed as a political player from his days as a columnist. He was once seen as one of the most ardent supporters of Prime Minister Tony Blair. But that coziness has cooled.

"The Middle East was a running sore for the Roman Empire as well, and even when they completely destroyed Jerusalem they still found they were being sucked into it," he said. "It was this question of imperial overstretch. You do have to go back to the Roman Empire" to find a parable for a nation with such dominance as modern America.

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