Synopses & 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 eruptions are only part of the story. In The Fires of Vesuvius, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. She explores what kind of town it was--more like Calcutta or the Costa del Sol?--and what it can tell us about "ordinary" life there. From sex to politics, food to religion, slavery to literacy, Beard offers us the big picture even as she takes us close enough to the past to smell the bad breath and see the intestinal tapeworms of the inhabitants of the lost city. She resurrects the Temple of Isis as a testament to ancient multiculturalism. At the Suburban Baths we go from communal bathing to hygiene to erotica.
Recently, Pompeii has been a focus of pleasure and loss: from Pink Floyd's memorable rock concert to Primo Levi's elegy on the victims. But Pompeii still does not give up its secrets quite as easily as it may seem. This book shows us how much more and less there is to Pompeii than a city frozen in time as it went about its business on 24 August 79.
"In this lively survey, Beard, a classicist at Cambridge, tempers erudition with a skepticism toward interpretive overreach....Beard's caution makes her an excellent guide for nonspecialists, as she explains both what we know and how we know it with equal clarity." The New Yorker
"A leading historian of Roman culture, a prolific essayist and an irrepressible blogger, Beard punctures conventional pieties about history and culture with formidable scholarly authority, always paying keen attention to the layering effects of the passage of time." Joy Connolly, the Nation
(read the entire Nation review
Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence of life in the Roman Empire. Acclaimed historian Beard makes sense of the remains, explores what kind of town it was, and what this reveals about "ordinary" life during ancient times.
Although Pompeii still does not give up its secrets quite as easily as it may seem, Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. From sex to politics, food to religion, slavery to literacy, she offers us the big picture of the inhabitants of the lost city.
A San Francisco Chronicle Top 50 Nonfiction Book of 2008
A New York Times Notable Book of 2009
2008 Wolfson History Prize, Wolfson Foundation
About the Author
Mary Beardhas a Chair of Classics at <>Cambridgeand is a Fellow of Newnham College. She is classics editor of The Times Literary Supplementand author of the blog <>“A Don’s Life”. She is also a winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize.