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Pompeii: The Life of A Roman Town by Mary…
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Pompeii: The Life of A Roman Town (2008)

by Mary Beard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This book was excellent. Beard breathes life into the long dead city of Pompeii. This is definitly a general historical intestest book - but is even better as a tourist book. I think this is a must read before a visit to Pompeii. I've been twice now and Beard's book enhanced my trip more than I can say. ( )
  sscarllet | Jul 1, 2014 |
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 complete lack of prudishness about the town's ubiquitous, licentious artwork—the frontispiece of my Folio Society edition is a detail of a mosaic showing a slave with genitals as big as his forearms—and the way Beard always takes pains, in a graceful way, to explain what we know, what we don't know, and the various ideas about what the truth might be. A lot of the stories the guidebooks tell you are probably wrong. She sets it straight.

The book is written very casually, without footnotes or unnecessary scholarly trappings. Occasionally it has a dashed-off quality that comes from quick writing (the same word repeated too soon, and the like), but that's a quibble. This is like getting a verbal tour of the site from a very smart friend who's lived a few miles away from it for twenty years. However, it's not a tour of the buildings and monuments so much as a peek into what the people were like, what they did for work and fun and what they seemed to care about. If you've visited the site, as I did a long time ago, this will explain a lot about what you saw (did you know that the ruined state of some of the buildings is due not to age but to Allied bombing in World War II?) and if you haven't been there yet, this will certainly make you want to go. ( )
1 vote john.cooper | Mar 19, 2014 |
In this book, Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, takes us on an exploration of Pompeii. She covers all aspects of life in the city, from food and drink to home improvements and entertainment, and explains what we know well about the life of the residents and what cannot really be known. She also provides context by explaining what the first excavators unearthed and the theories they developed. The book is amply illustrated, with two sections of colour plates; this is especially useful when talking about the frescoes on the walls that give the various buildings their names (e.g. the House of the Chaste Lovers). At the back is an extensive "Further Reading" section that should keep Pompeii enthusiasts busy for quite a while. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Sep 28, 2013 |
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 seeing. (And you won't need a tour guide, which considering the urban myths they propagate, is all to the good.) It might even be useful to carry around Pompeii with you to help identify and understand some of what you're seeing -- it's not a guide book, it is a narrative, but if you've read it already, you could flip through to refresh your memory on details.

But reading it after a visit to Pompeii works, too, or even if you don't plan to go to Pompeii at all. Remembering or imagining the hot and dusty streets is easy: Mary Beard is always careful to keep in touch with what Pompeii looks like now (even if that is sometimes disenchanting, for example when she points out that some of the paintings have been totally restored, not always perfectly accurately, by modern work), as well as trying to imagine a time when it was a living town.

Actually, that's the part I find hardest: imagining Pompeii as a living town. Maybe it's partially because my memories of Pompeii are often without context: a random house with tumbled-down walls, grass growing in the remains of an oven, the partial remains of mosaics and paintings. I'm not a visual person anyway, so the images of Pompeii that stay in my head are the ones I saw myself. Pompeii is a hushed town, in my mind, with wind and hot sun and pumice sand in your shoes.

Mary Beard does very well at speculating what it might really have been like, nonetheless, and I definitely recommend this if you have any interest in the site. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
An engaging and detailed look at what we know of Roman era life in Pompeii--things like what people ate, literacy and so forth. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
"Aside from the melodramatic and misleading American title (there’s a minimum of volcanology or disaster drama; in Britain, the title is aptly “Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town”), this is a wonderful book, for the impressive depth of information it comfortably embraces, for its easygoing erudition and, not least, for its chatty, personable style."
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Beardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klynne, AllanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verheij, BoukjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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En las primeras horas del 25 de agosto de 79 d.C., la lluvia de lapilli que caía sobre Pompeya empezó a escampar.
In the early hours of 25 August 79 CE, the rain of pumice falling on Pompeii was easing off.
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This work was published in the UK as Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town and in the US as The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0674029763, Hardcover)

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.

Amazon.com Exclusive: Author Mary Beard on the Ten Reasons Why the Romans Were Great Lovers--and Ten Books to Tell You How


1. Staying power
Roman lovers could keep going all night (at least if we take their word for it). Ovid – the first-century-BC’s man about town – claims that he could perform nine times in a single night. Read all about it in his ‘Love Poems” (Book 3, number 7). Read: Ovid, The Erotic Poems, translated by Peter Green.

2. Sweet talk
Roman men could make you feel so good. Mark Antony and Julius Caesar both talked their way into the heart of feisty Cleopatra. The chat-up lines of Rome’s founding father Aeneas drove Queen Dido senseless. Read: Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles. (Go straight to Book 4)

3. Body beautiful
There was no flab or beer belly on these six-pack hunks. All that gym and exercise kept Greeks and Romans bronzed and trim. Read: Nigel Spivey, The Ancient Olympics.

4. Inventiveness
Sexual positions became (literally) an art-form for the Romans--two-somes, three-somes and more. You’d better stay supple though, or those more testing acrobatics will be beyond you. Read: John Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art.

5. Romantic agony
Roman men could do anguish better than any others. “I hate and I love . . . and it hurts” as the poet Catullus succinctly wrote to his fickle mistress. Don’t expect to escape a Roman affair without tears. Read: Catullus, The Poems, translated by Peter Green.

6. Great pick-up lines
Romans knew they had to work hard at the first impressions. Ovid, in a lover’s manual, gives the beginner plenty of advice on how to break the ice. Stand right next to her at a procession, and when some elaborate display goes past explain to her what it is. It doesn’t matter, says Ovid, if you don’t really know – make it sound plausible, to impress. Read: Ovid, The Art of Love and Other Poems, translated by J. H. Mozley.

7. Open minds
Not many Romans were prudes. Most men were happy to contemplate sex with women, men, or if it came to it, animals – just so long as they were the active, not the passive partner. Read: Apuleius, The Golden Ass, translated by E. J. Kenney.

8. Rough-trade
Roman women went for the rough, tough sporting heroes of the ancient world. Successful gladiators became the heart-throbs of the Roman girls. Read: Catharine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome.

9. In touch with their inner-selves
The anxiety of Roman men was one of their more endearing features. Images of the phallus were everywhere in Roman towns – but so too were images of castration and mutilation. The ancient man never took his prowess for granted. Carlin A. Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans.

10. Not afraid to say 'I love you'

The walls of the buried city of Pompeii are covered with written messages from satisfied (and a few unsatisfied) men. ‘Oh Chloe, I had a wonderful time, twice over in this very spot, I love you. . . .’ 
Read: Antonio Varone, Eroticism in Pompeii. And, in case you are looking for the woman’s point of view, try Marilyn B. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:53 -0400)

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 publisher description.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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