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The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,336 ratings  ·  287 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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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  2,336 ratings  ·  287 reviews


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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
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 mug
...more
P-eggy
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.
Kalliope


I began to read this book before what was my second visit to Pompeii. Sadly, I did not begin it early enough, so I had only reached about half of the book by the time I got there. When I came back, I started it from the beginning again.

This is not a book to read while being there, for it is thematic. It does not go street by street, house by house, nor treat the temples or theatres or amphitheatre individually. For that one needs a guidebook, plenty of time and most probably a good ‘parasol’. B
...more
Kavita
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. Be
...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
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 w
...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,
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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 79 CE when ...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
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
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.
Andrea
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed
Armchair traveling for history buffs; elegant and entertaining.
Emilia Barnes
Whether you will enjoy this is very much dependent on how much you like history, how fascinated you are by Pompeii, and how much you want to know about Roman daily life. It is a history of the small things: the things we can learn from Pompeii as a source of historical information, about how people in those times lived, what and how they ate, where they drank, how they worshipped, how they treated each other etc. It goes into minute details: how the paint used to decorate walls in the houses was ...more
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
Shelves: history
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.
Czarny Pies
Apr 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Visitors to Pompeii
Recommended to Czarny by: It won the 2008 Wolfson Prize
Shelves: european-history
I am giving this very charming tourist guide a mere three stars in order to express my outrage at it having been awarded the 2008 Wolfson History Prize. "The Fires of Vesuvius" is not in any way a work of historical scholarship which the author recognizes well enough. She provides an itinerary for a visit to the site, tips on how to travel there and suggestions where to stop for snacks.
"The Fires of Vesuvius" would indeed very valuable for the cultured visitor to Pompei. It provides a resume of
...more
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.
...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
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Dec 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rome, ancient-world
Really 4.5 stars. This book was quite thought-provoking.
Simone
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a highly detailed look at everyday life in Pompeii, with a sceptical eye cast on some of the more romantic assumptions and myths about the city. The maps, floor plans and pictures were an enriching addition to the text. At times, I did feel that the level of detail was pedantic, and while the author loves to challenge and debunk the theories of the archeologists and historians that have come before her, she often gives little alternative opinion of her own. While there is obsessive obse ...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
...more
hayls
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-politics
Quite readable considering the tiny font size typical of history books. What I previously knew about Pompeii I learnt in Year 3 when we built one of those exploding volcanos with baking soda and vinegar. So obviously this was a step up 👌🏼
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.
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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” 0 likes
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