Rome and Pompeii at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius is a very different setting from the World War II England of the author's In Love and War (1963), but the books share a similarity in that they feature a large range of personalities, indiscriminately affected by a major disaster. The panoramic view of Rome is wide and real. The city and its people are variously shown as opulent and decadent, enlightened and primitive. But unlike In Love and War the characterization is superficial. Instructive comment is too obviously inserted in the dialogue. (For instance, when the wealthy Paulina learns that her bankrupt betrothed has decided to become a gladiator, she edifyingly gasps, ""...the Amphitheater games are sacred to the gods. A gladiator's death displays our Roman virtues of contempt for pain and death, for all to see and marvel at."") And the well-evoked horror of Pompeii is belied by the soft ending-- the slave boy and girl who are the primary figures of the narrative manage, mirabile dictu, not only to escape but to rescue a wealthy merchant who, of course, finances their freedom. Somehow this seems too much like the pasteboard Rome of the Hollywood set.