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Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,543 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
Destroyed by Vesuvius in A.D. 79, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of what life was like during the reign of the Roman Empire. In this book, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains, painting an exhaustive portrait of an ancient town.
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published January 1st 2008 by Profile Books(GB)
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Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Eggs
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.
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
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
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
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

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
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Humberto Ballesteros
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
David Eppenstein
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
Dec 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Pete daPixie
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Margaret Sankey
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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.
Nov 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good. Accessible history of Pompei, going through the key themes of life in the town, with good photos and illustrations. What you want from a book on Pompei really.

But I kept heading back to university with her overuse of 'as we shall see/have seen' which drove a couple of my (better) tutors nuts. Anyway. given the nonsense that's normally written about her, that's about the only thing I could criticise. Easy to read and with a sense of humour as well.
Charlie Newfell
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Penny Cipolone
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I continue to be impressed by Mary Beard's work. This is a wonderful summary of life in an ancient Roman town based on the evidence found in Pompeii. Beard takes objection to many things that can not be substantiated by concrete proof and bravely admits that there is a still a lot that scholars just don't know for sure. Excellent reading.
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:
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Getting ready to visit Pompeii in a few weeks, and I love anything Mary Beard does (she's kind of my hero). This book was a perfect addition to my "pre-vacation" studies-I will appreciate my visit even more now after having read this.
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.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Really 4.5 stars. This book was quite thought-provoking.
I would rate this work 4.5 rather than 4 if that were possible. Knocking off half a point is largely based on there being few perfect books but there are one or two minor points in the contents that fed into the score.

Overall, this is one terrific work. Absolutely NOT a retelling of the eruption of Vesuvius but rather a very deft attempt to bring the town of Pompeii to life using the evidence quite literally on the ground.

Beard structures the work by examining discrete aspects of what makes a to
Ian Towart
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written and researched. A pleasure to read. If I ever get to Pompeii this book will be my guide. The author has carefully separated the observable facts from the assumptions that have accreted in over 260 years of excavation. The result, an informative and entertaining account of not just the history of this city, but also the lives of it's inhabitants.
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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
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