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The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found
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The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,892 Ratings  ·  234 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 eru ...more
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published December 15th 2008 by Belknap Press (first published 2008)
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Matt
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
Pompeii is the most famous dead city in the world. In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the Roman city beneath untold tons of volcanic ash. Death is a part of life. But in the case of Pompeii, her death is her legacy. Pompeii exists today because she was buried. It is her tomb-ness that gives her immortality. When we think of Pompeii, we think of the plaster molds taken of the people who died in the eruption; molds that capture their postures in the last instant of life. Pompeii is a maus ...more
Petra X
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.
Jan-Maat
A rich and thoughtfully structured text. Full of enjoyment and discoveries.

But then a prized possession of mine when young was a mug for drinking tea - for drinking wine at a young age was not cultural acceptable sadly during my childhood - it was decorated in blue and black with lava swamping the neat columns of Pompeii, a legend read: Pompeii 79AD. Eventually the glaze was so cracked that the vessel had to be demoted to desk tidy. But this must have been after many thousands of mugs of tea. So
...more
Chrissie
I personally am more attracted by the ancient Greek culture than the Roman. This influences my rating.

I whole-hardheartedly recommend choosing this book if you are curious about ancient Roman life. The book is not about the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. which destroyed the town. It is instead about life in the town before the event. It is about life in a "typical Roman town". It is based on an immense amount of archaeological research carried out over the last two centuries. The book distingu
...more
Kavita
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When people were running away from destruction in 79 AD, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, they had no idea that 2000 years later they would be famous and the subject of fascination and speculation to many. If you are one of these many, then you need to read this book. Right away!

This book is not about Mount Vesuvius, nor is it about the destruction of Pompeii. Instead, it takes a more positive approach and uses the catastrophe to delve deeper into the life of ancient Pompeii. Because the ci
...more
Nikki
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
...more
Iset

I listened to this on audiobook, and the first thing worth mentioning is that Phyllida Nash was an excellent narrator; clearly spoken, and with a pleasing tone that rather than grating or being soporific really got me engrossed in the book.

Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about this book. Let me stress, the reason for that is that it’s so spot on. Mary Beard comes across here the same way she does in her programmes and lectures – well-spoken (well-written in this case!), lucid, intelligent
...more
Tony
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Bruce
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Lauren James
A very fascinating look at what we know about Romans from the Pompeii remains, and how we know those things for sure. I want to be an archaeologist now, please.
Dan Graser
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mary Beard, the finest classicist alive, absolutely never disappoints in her wonderful works of history and this snapshot of Pompeii is no different. Rather than just fill the work with pictures of the site and descend into mere travel-brochure level intrigue, she brings the full weight of her erudition and academic credentials to bear in a serious work of history. Along the way she fills the work with so many levels of history from the remains of huge temples to the ridiculous graffiti left beh ...more
Ray
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A wonderful introduction to Pompeii. It gives an insight into life in a modest Roman town. Much of this was utterly alien, like the way in which the gods intruded into everyday life.

Mary Beard has a great knack of presenting history in a lively and infornative manner without dumbing down. I also liked the way in which often she gave alternative interpretations to findings rather than pontificating about what must gave been - sometimes we simply do not know for sure
Ann
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
l.
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Neil Pearson
Be careful what you wish for - i went into this hoping to know more about Pompeii and came out out of it hoping I knew a little less. I think deep down I'm probably more of a big history person and ultimately not that interested in traffic management and interior design. The other rub is that it's quite clear that Pompeii wasn't that important a roman city/town besides it being frozen in volcanic ash. In that sense the book is good at shattering false preconceptions. Where the book stands out fo ...more
Humberto Ballesteros
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beard's authoritative book on Pompeii pleased me even more than her SPQR, which I also enjoyed. Her clear and measured voice, punctuated by moments of wry humor, provides the perfect counterpoint for her obsessive attention to detail and her massive bibliography; and her penchant for criticizing her colleagues' more fanciful theories lends itself beautifully to the topic, given the tendency to romanticize Roman life that has affected many authors in the past. One truly gets the feeling that the ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly engaging book which brought to life the ancient culture of Rome in a vivid detail. Pompeii and it's surrounding Roman ruins are a magical place. I would love to visit it all over again.
David Eppenstein
Sep 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Initially let me say that the title is deceptive. This book has nothing to do with the actual eruption of Vesuvius in August of 79 CE. The book in actuality is an examination of the culture, art, and architecture of the City of Pompeii. If these topic areas are of little or no interest to you then this book is definitely not for you. If, like me, you find the details of ancient cultures intriguing then welcome to the world of Mary Beard. These topics interest me as a way of examining how far we ...more
Guy
Dec 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Pete daPixie
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-roman
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
...more
Margaret Sankey
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Ryan
Apr 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Timothy Urban
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. That's mostly because I know Mary Beard from her TV documentaries where she's at her best I think. She get's down in the dust and pokes around, she has that sort of glee and wry sense of humour about things that betrays a grand passion for history.

In print she's far more restrained. She keeps preempting things by saying 'you may have read this theory about Pompeii in other books...but there's little evidence for it.' - If this is the first book y
...more
Patricia Tablado
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Se me ha hecho un poco bola pero porque me he tirado a leerlo en inglés y me ha podido el ansia viva de querer ir a Pompeya a verlo todo por mí misma. Está muy bien contado como todo lo que escribe Mary Beard y me lo llevaré en la maleta cuando ahorre para ir a Nápoles.
Amanda
This is a good, accessible book about Pompeii. It’s a good source of fun facts and I like Mary Beard’s writing style. I wish it skimmed less and dove more into certain topics, but I still learned things I didn’t know. Not something to cite, but good for people learning about Pompeii for fun.
Victoria Williamson
3.5 really. Very interesting! I didn’t realise it was so full of clues about past life. Thought it was more about statues, but obviously there are loads of things...Want to go to Pompeii now...
Tracey
I am a sucker for books on history but inevitably, I find the style to be dry, pitched at the upper levels of academia or aimed at primary school aged children by being overly simplified. Mary Beard does not fall into these categories at all; she has a wonderful, enthusiastic approach to history. With Pompeii, Beard takes you by the hand and guides you through the city streets. You are provided with insights into the daily life of the citizens through their words scrawled on walls and the posses ...more
Leslie
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2011, favourites
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
Ellie
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Radiantflux
8th book of 2017.

Read this in preparation for a trip to Pompeii this year.

I found it to be a slow start, but once immersed in the story of the city enthralling.

Beard brings the city to life, while making clear how there is still to learn.

Strongly recommended.
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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 have led to her being described as "Brita
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“In fact, a marriage was normally contracted, as the Romans put it, ‘by practice’: that is, in our terms, ‘by cohabitation’. If you lived together for a year, you were married. It” 1 likes
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