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Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town Paperback – 16 Jul 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (16 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861975961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861975966
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (149 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The world's most controversial classicist debunks our movie-style myths about the Roman town with meticulous scholarship and propulsive energy...Scrutinising and animated in equal measure (Laura Silverman Daily Mail 2009-07-17)

A thoroughly worthy winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize, Mary Beard's bedroom-to-boardroom tour of the life of a Roman town is disgracefully enjoyable for such a deeply learned and sceptically debunking book (Boyd Tonkin Independent 2009-07-17)

This marvellous book won the Wolfson History Prize and is a model of subtle but accessible writing about the past (Judith Rice Guardian 2009-07-11)

[A] brilliant portrait...This meticulous, vivid study of life in the town, the winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize, rightly and resolutely focuses on the living city (James McConnachie Sunday Times 2009-07-12)

Classicist Mary Beard has had a great time rooting about that ghostly place and she has brought it quite splendidly back to life (Nicholas Bagnall Sunday Telegraph 2009-07-12)

To the vast field of Pompeiana she brings the human touch...This absorbing, inquisitive and affectionate account of Pompeii is a model of its kind. Beard has caught the quick of what was and, in our lives today, remains the same (Ross Leckie The Times 2009-07-04)

Very readable and excellently researched... Beard's clear-sighted and accessible style makes this a compelling look into history (Alexander Larman The Observer 2009-07-05)

If you want to know what really happened in the last days of the petrified city, Beard's meticulous reconstruction will fill you in, scraping away many of your preconceptions as it goes, while her evocative writing will transport you back (Guardian Best Holiday Books)

Wonderful piece of scholarship worn lightly and wittily (Tom Widger Sunday Tribune 2009-07-05)

Wittily written...evoking in all who read it the insatiable need to see the town for themselves (Georgie Durkheim Catholic Herald 2009-06-26)

A myth-breaking expedition, grandiose in scale, vibrant in its telling (Colin Gardiner Oxford Times)

Engaging and defiantly otherworldly (Business Destinations)

A learned and fascinating book (Guardian)

In this brilliant portrait of the "life in a Roman town", Mary Beard uses the relics buried by the eruption on AD79 to bring everyday Roman culture alive.' (Sunday Times)

Compelling (Independent)

Review

`A myth-breaking expedition, grandiose in scale, vibrant in its telling' - Colin Gardiner, Oxford Times

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 102 people found the following review helpful By P. Mullan on 22 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Professor Beard tells the tale of ancient Pompeii in a highly readable and authoritative way. Drawing from the work of historians and archaeologists present and past she transports the reader back to Pompeii's last days. Along the way assumptions are challenged about the number of brothels, or the date of the volcanic explosion which condemned the town into a memory. Wheel ruts and the rules of the road come alive. I suspect that a visit to Pompeii will never be the same again.
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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By I. G. Lennox on 22 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
There has always been, since the first discovery, conflict over the meaning of the archeological findings. Some texts are more rigid than others, for example the splendidly illustrated 'Complete Pompeii' by Berry. This new volume has a more laid back approach and all, or at least most, of ones long set assumptions are questioned. So, this is not a guide to carry round the site but a superb contemplation of how life in the town might have been, Like the "Triumph', Prof. Beard shakes the established ideas and stimulates. I found it hard to put down.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Jon Chambers TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Harris' best-selling novel 'Pompeii' convincingly put flesh on the bones of the town's inhabitants. Mary Beard's historical survey does the same for the town itself.

Beard is careful to avoid distortion through over-simplification. She takes pains to stress, for example, that the reality of Pompeii's story is not the clichéd one of a town 'frozen in time' but a more complex and fascinating one altogether. First, she explains that many inhabitants upped sticks well before the fateful day in August 79, taking their treasures with them. Secondly, townspeople and looters alike had plenty of opportunity to salvage/steal valuables after the eruption. And thirdly, much of what we see today is, in fact, reconstruction - almost all of the upper levels of Pompeian buildings for a start. All of these things, together with 'aggressive restoration', Allied bombing and erosion mean that what we see today is far from the sealed capsule that time-travellers hope for.

Beard's Pompeii is an up to the minute account drawing upon much fascinating research - on studies of wheel ruts gouged into the town's shiny black-bouldered streets, for example, which indicate complex one-way traffic systems. Or of plaster casts of plant roots which help to identify crops.

Perhaps Beard's greatest gift is a no-nonsense directness that often cuts through academic over-speculation. For instance, following a discussion of what anthropologists call 'zoning' (in which sectors of a town are associated with particular functions or degrees of affluence), she concludes: 'the simple truth is that Pompeii was without the zoning we have come to expect.'

As ever, Beard's style is highly readable and her book is therefore as valuable to the general reader as to the student. Pompeii is exhilarating and unique. It has found the book it deserves.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By bookelephant on 11 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
I don't like Mary Beard's "A don's life" column and I approached this book with reluctance and a degree of negativity. However I was completely wowed by it. I am not sure that I have ever read a book where depth of knowledge has been worn so lightly or communicated so refreshingly as if there was no imbalance between reader and writer. Put it this way, the book reads as if Mary Beard wants to explain to her friends the fascinations and frustrations of trying to work out what Pompeii was like. So we get the most beautiful vignettes of life as deduced from the ruins - and a wonderfully honest explanation of just how much has to be guessed, and how other interpretations could fit the facts. These two points combined are for me the real strengths of the book. I had previously read works where the various houses and their inhabitants are described definitely, as if we could be sure who was where and what they did; and yet at the smae time the houses and the people failed to live. This book brings possible inhabitants and their interrelationships to life - but always honestly reminds you how very little about Pompeii we can know for certain. The result is that one feels that one has had the fullest possible introduction to what is known, and a sparkling picture of a likely Pompeii fixed in one's head. An absolute delight of a book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gordon Eldridge on 31 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mary Beard's smooth, fluent, down to earth writing style makes this book thoroughly readable. Although the material is presented in a very scholarly way, which evaluates mounds of primary evidence and does not shy away from the difficulties surrounding its interpretation, the book is anything but dry. Beard has a way of bringing the town to life. She notes small but significant details which truly allow you to build a picture of what life was like in Pompeii at the time of the eruption. In parts of the book you really do feel like you are walking the streets of ancient Pompeii, but at the same time you have the benefit of Beard's thorough knowledge of ancient Rome to help you contextualize and interpret the experience. This book is simply brilliant. Popular history at its best - scholarly enough to pass muster in the eyes of any academic, but totally accessible to the average reader.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Malcolm Addey on 17 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book arrived just after I had started reading another book on a World War II subject. Being hugely interested in all things Roman Empire I couldn't resist starting "Pompeii" and have not been able to put it down ever since. WWII will have to wait until I have finished it. Having visited Pompeii twice in the last few years and, armed with this newly acquired information from Mary Beard's well written tome, I cannot wait to go there again soon. She dispels a lot of myths with intelligent theories of her own. Highly recommended to fans of all things ancient Rome!
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