Pompeii Awakened is not quite what I'd expected it to be. Having recently seen the Pompeii exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul, I'd expected a catalogue of finds and their cultural and historical significance, more of an interpretation of the site in terms of its place in the history of the world. Instead what the book presents is an ongoing history of the site as a cultural artifact, one which has/had value to those who were in control of it at any given time. It is also the story of an archaeological oddity that has had a significant and ongoing impact on world culture by virtue of its unique preservation. Roman culture has always had a place in Western civilization, guaranteed by the survival of its language and literature, especially through the agency of the Roman Catholic Church. The words of Ovid, Terrance, Horace, Cicero, and Caesar brought ideas to later generations that inspired the shaping and reshaping of the world, but they were only words, second hand impressions at best. With Pompeii, the lives of the Romans became almost unbearably real. Here later generations could peak into the lives of the ancients as they were in progress, interrupted by the disaster that preserved them.
While not an historian or archaeologist herself, the author, Judith Harris, is a journalist of some distinction and a US expatriate who has lived and worked in Italy most of her life. Her familiarity with Italy and its people has allowed her to present Pompeii as a cultural entity, subject to the whims of the King of Naples among others. She uses the buried city as a proxy for the history of Italy as a whole. In a collection of loosely united city states, the Italian people struggled to achieve a national identity long after other countries had already succeeded in doing so. Pompeii as an "artifact" belonging to Naples helps to illustrate how the divisive interests of various power centers, including the gradually declining Papal authority, prevented a concerted effort toward that unity. It also reveals that various international agendas, most notably France under Napoleon and Great Britain as it attempted to thwart him, also competed for control over the area. Even the activity of Mussolini during World War II becomes more understandable within the framework the author creats. One might almost see WWII as the "growing pains" of national identity in general, just as the present efforts to unify Europe into a more coherent entity are the growing pains of globalization.
The book is well researched with an extensive bibliography and end notes, some of which are in Italian. Most of the journal articles are recent, although some are as far back as 1967. The discussion covers a period from the actual Vesuvian eruption to modern times. The last chapter deals with the issues of the on going exploration of the site, it's preservation, and the ever present danger of reburial by the still active Volcano that destroyed it in the first place.
An interesting book.