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Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  879 ratings  ·  136 reviews
Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site in the world, visited by more than two million people each year. Yet it is also one of the most puzzling, with an intriguing and sometimes violent history, from the sixth century BCE to the present day.

Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. But the erup
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published January 1st 2008 by Profile Books(GB)
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I read a lot of this. I carried it everywhere. I really like Mary Beard. But I could not finish it. I'm not sure if it was the repetition of details in a different way time and again or what, because I really did enjoy it and one day I will finish it. Pompeii and ancient Greek and Roman culture interest me a lot.

I expect we all have books like that, ones we like but can't finish.
I've been meaning to get hold of and read this since my visit to Pompeii last September. I was worried it might be quite dry and spoil the fun, since it's billed as being very sceptical and as cutting things down to the facts, but I needn't have worried. It's an easy enough read despite all the detail, and Mary Beard's speculations are as interesting as anything she refutes.

I actually recommend you read it before visiting Pompeii, because you'll have a much clearer understanding of what you're s
Mary Beard of Cambridge University published this carefully researched book in 2008. Its American title is The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found. It was released nearly simultaneously in the UK under the title, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, demonstrating once again the apparent need to change titles for books in this country so that they can more easily appeal to the perceived American adolescent boy mentality. In fact, the book spends relatively little time focusing on the date in ...more
Beard, Mary. THE FIRES OF VESUVIUS: Pompeii Lost and Found. (2008). ****1/2. I’ve been to Pompeii twice, and not seen at least half of what this author discusses in this book. Wouldn’t it be great to have her as a guide, though it might take a few days to make it through. This is more than a retelling of the eruption of Vesuvius and the subsequent destruction of Pompeii. It is a retelling and an interpretation of what the ruins and various artifacts tell us about the people who lived there. Appa ...more
This is one of those books, like Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's book on the Cathars, that makes history come alive for people who like to know "how do you know that? WHy do you think that's so?". I recommend it highly for the general reader with an interest in history and an inquiring, even sceptical, mind. The author discusses life in Pompeii,sticking close to the archeological and historical record. In doing so, she gently pokes fun at some of the more outrageous flights of fantasy that other autho ...more
Pete daPixie
Mary Beard is a chair of Classics at Cambridge University, she also appears quite regularly on UK radio and tv broadcasts and is Classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement. She has been described as standing in the great tradition of myth puncturing Latin classicists.
'Pompeii The Life of a Roman Town' published 2008 certainly keeps her reputation as myth buster.
Mary, Mary quite contrary, certainly picks the bones out of the popularly held views of historians and archaeologists. She even go
I managed to do my undergraduate in classics without learning too much about material culture so much of the information presented in this book is new to me. I haven't been to Pompeii but I think this would an excellent guide; Mary Beard covers as wealth of topics in a very readable, and very even-handed kind of way - always assessing and reassessing current and past presumptions about life at Pompeii.
This book is intense! Lots of information, at times it was information overload. My friend recommended this book and loaned it to me. I thought it was going to be more about Mt. Vesuvius erupting and the city's rebuilding and reaction, etc. Instead, it was 95% just about the life and times of Pompeii in general. The author had an incredible amount of enthusiasm for the subject matter. I shared most of that enthusiasm, however, there were times when the details became too much for me, but that's ...more
Margaret Sankey
Mary Beard is one of my favorite classicists (and how historian-dork is that to even have favorite classicists?), and Pompeii a great travel memory (except that the volcanic glass dust gave me pneumonia, although that led to European strength Nyquil, of which the Romans surely approved), so I welcome her analysis of what that preserved day of catastrophe in 79 AD can tell us about the Roman Empire, contextualized by contemporary documents and other ruins, as well as informed by the latest in sci ...more
In Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town, Cambridge Don Mary Beard presents exactly that - a description of what life was (probably) like in a provincial seaside town in the Roman Empire.

Using archaeological evidence, both from Pompeii and from the wider Empire, along with written sources from contemporary (including the town's own signwriters) and modern authors, Beard builds up a picture of how the town's inhabitants went about their daily lives. Everything is covered, from what, how and where they at
Dec 09, 2009 Guy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Mary Beard doesn't conform to the stereotype of the dessicated ivory tower classicist, and as a result this is an interesting, readable, and, dare I say it, entertaining book. Written in an earthy, direct style, salted with dashes of wit and irony, it delivers an excellent summary of the results of centuries of intensive study of the ruined city of Pompeii.

And it is astounding how much has been learned -- one gets a good feel for the hundreds of years of painstaking meticulous work, starting wi
A wonderful account of the current state of knowledge about life in Pompeii. Despite the routine presentation of Pompeii as a city interrupted in the midst of an ordinary day, giving us a glimpse of ongoing real life, Beard points out that life in Pompeii at the time of the eruption was not quite normal. Not only had there been a major earthquake some years before, from which the city had not fully recovered, there had been serious tremors days before the eruption, warnings of what was to come. ...more
I read this in preparation for a trip to Ephesus, as recommended reading. In part this does not make sense, Ephesus is in Turkey, Pompeii was/is in Italy, etc. However, we were assigned this as a good example of historical imagination dealing with interpreting the architectural and other cultural remains of an ancient city, a skill that will presumable carry into our own experience. In that sense I really liked this book.

I should take a moment to say that ancient Rome/Pompeii are not my areas o
This book was one of the recommended reads for a trip that includes a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum. You really get a great picture of what life might have been like back in the day. The author explains how modern interpretations of the artifacts have changed over the years (as well as her own disagreements with common understandings). I particularly enjoyed the way she dissects the buildings and what they may tell us about Pompeiian life in 79AD (I'm in the interior design biz) but there are ...more
Charlie Newfell
You will find that most of what you think you know about Pompeii is wrong. Also, most of what you read, or what the guides tell you is at best conjecture. This book takes a balanced approach and leaves you with more definitive information or what are best guesses. However, it reads more like a serious textbook than a typical historical non-fiction, so the going can be tough at times.
Rebecca Huston
This was a fantastic book to read, full of stories, history and the city of Pompeii. Worth it for anyone interested in ancient Rome, and very well written. Five stars, and I'm not giving this one up either!

For the complete review, please go here:
Lauren Albert
Beard attempts to reconstruct what life in Pompeii was like before Vesuvius erupted. She carefully shows you what evidence she is basing her conclusions on, notes where she is only making educated guesses, and deflates the more fanciful theories of other writers.
I loved this book. Pompeii was frozen in time when a volcano erupted and buried the city in ash. Some people left Pompeii because there was a fair amount of warning that an eruption was imminent, some people escaped in the nick of time, and some were literally frozen in place. Pompeii was excavated and is now open for public tours. Mary Beard describes and explains the ruins and tells us how the people lived there, what they did, and what the artifacts and architecture tell us about life in Anci ...more
Jennifer Davies
I read this book as part of the six book challenge in 2012. Partly because I rarely read non-fiction, partly because I had been watching on television and thirdly because I studied archaeology so I thought I would understand it better.
I thought it was pitched at the correct level for the novice, highlighting what would be considered the more interesting aspects of life in Pompeii. She also offered various hypothesis for some of the more puzzling aspects and objects. It was also nicely laid out
I've always been fascinated by the Romans. I loved taking Latin as a child and imagining all kinds of exciting adventures in ancient Rome. I'll bet Mary Beard, the author of The Fires of Vesuvius, felt the same way. In this book she displays a healthy skepticism about some of the more common theories about the lives of folks in the town of Pompeii and urges the reader to think more critically about how assumptions to be accepted as the truth. She talks about various aspects of Pompeiian life inc ...more
3 1/2 stars. Very strong research, although honestly I fell in love at the introduction when it was trying to recreate the story of the group who died trying to flee the city and never made it. That's the story I wanted - the speculation on how it happened, the lives of the people who lived there.

Instead I got an in depth analysis of the architectural styles of Rome. Which is interesting, but not riveting. Beard managed to make all of it draw you in though, so I never wanted to stop listening (I
John Cooper
This is this generation's best book on Pompeii; it's impossible to imagine visiting the site without having read it, and although it's not a guidebook, it does have a helpful appendix called "Making a Visit" that covers what to wear, how best to arrive, and which houses you'll probably be most interested in seeing. Mary Beard is a distinguished professor of classics at Cambridge, and she writes about Pompeii as though it were her life's work. What I appreciated most about the book were the compl ...more
A fascinating "insider" look on the real Pompeii by Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, that unwraps some of the mysteries of the city covered in ash in 79 CE. (I confess I only picked it up from a library shelf because it was at the height of the Icelandic volcano explosion that is spewing ash over Europe, and I thought it might be an interesting book to read -- much like I re-read Camus' The Plague at the height of the SARS epidemic, but anyway....) This book de- ...more
Rob Atkinson
An in-depth analysis of what may be gleaned about Roman -- and more specifically Pompeiian -- life and culture from the physical record, "The Fires Of Vesuvius" is an invaluable resource for anyone like myself who is planning a trip to the site. Amply illustrated with photographs of the finds, maps and plans of the buildings discussed, this is probably the most scholarly and thorough treatment of the evidence (to date) now available. In the process author Beard debunks many colorful myths attach ...more
Veronique Zancarini
A must read before going to Pompeii or if you are like me, after, to clarify a few things after going there (Visiting Pompeii or any archaeological site in Italy is a visual and sad reminder that there is not much money to preserve or protect areas of historical significance. One of the consequences is the lack of information on sites... We were there staring at so many things... and had to guess what it was , envying the better organised tourists who were consulting big books full of explanatio ...more
"As the old archaeological cliche goes, 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'."

An enjoyable scramble over the ruins of this half preserved Roman town. Beard starts with the physical remains; the street layouts, architecture, wall paintings and statues etc. From there, the inhabitants are sewn back into its fabric; how and where did people eat, sleep, cook, relax, worship, make love, gossip and so on. The second half, where the conversation moves away from the lives of the stones (I ha
I was particularly intrigued with the subject of Pompeii after seeing it this summer, along with Ercolano, which doesn't get quite as much attention but is just as much worth a visit, if not more so - Pompeii is a little more impressive because of the sheer size, but then some of the houses in Ercolano are more intact than those in Pompeii, not to mention that Ercolano isn't nearly as overrun by crowds of visitors, so each have their appeal. Anyway, I think that having seen the site itself gave ...more
Julia Ibbotson
Informative and easy to read. I read this immediately after reading Robert Harris's brilliant novel Pompeii, and following our trip there in October this year. Mary Beard explores many of the myths about the city and its life prior to its devastation in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 (?), and even the date of the disaster itself. By looking at the clues of volcanology and Roman history she challenges our long-held traditional view that the ruins of Pompeii represent a city "frozen in time", as s ...more
Apanhei o livro na Feira do Livro de Lisboa a um preço bastante razoável que também encontrei em livrarias convencionais e devo dizer que superou bastante as expectativas (que são sempre baixas no que toca a livros baratos em Portugal).

Não é o livro de história habitual, é um mistura de biografia e guia turístico de Pompeia, escrito com a familiaridade que muitas vezes não se encontram nos guias. A escritora guia-nos pela cidade em ruínas tentando recriar a vida antes da erupção, muitas vezes co
Daniel Hadley
Life in Pompeii was not quite as raucous and promiscuous as I once thought. In fact, Beard describes the city as a sleepy outpost of Roman society, a place so ordinary that one of its only distinctions was the fish sauce it produced. The graffiti, legitimate murals, sculpture, pottery and other bric-a-brac tell the story of a rather organized, in some way pious, society. A society whose values, nevertheless, were quite different from our own - i.e. vast slave holdings and bloody gladiator fights ...more
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See also: Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958).

Winifred Mary Beard (born 1 January 1955) is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Newnham College. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog "A Don's Life", which appears on The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements h
More about Mary Beard...
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