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VINE VOICEon 17 March 2013
As a lifelong enthusiast for the history and cultures of Greece and Rome and as a lover of the art of the classical world, I'm an absolute sucker for these large, glossy and lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogues. The Italian museums and their publishing houses like Electa always produce superlative examples as does the British Museum and I've collected many of them in recent years. The BM's latest publication, Life And Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, issued to accompany an exhibition due to run from the 28 March to the 29 September 2013, does not disappoint. Although virtually all of the exhibits are illustrated, it's perhaps wrong to classify it as a catalogue since it doesn't follow the common format of a series of essays followed by extensive descriptions and discussion of each exhibit (although it does contain a concise summary at the end of all of them and where to locate them in the text.) It is perhaps best described as a companion volume intended to give a wide overview of everyday life in the Roman world as it can be reconstructed from the evidence found at Pompeii and Heculaneum.

After briefly summarizing the history of the two cities, the book takes us on a journey through their urban landscapes, taking in their streets, shops, snack bars, commercial premises, public buildings etc and the people who populated them - the freeborn, the slaves, the freedmen, and the nouveau riche who were rapidly elbowing aside the "old money". We then get an extended tour of the Roman Home under the headings Atrium, Cubiculum, Gardens, Living Rooms and Interior Design, Dining, Kitchens, Toilets and Baths, covering diverse topics such as perfumes, hairstyles, erotica, graffiti, food, toilets and sewage, frescoes, marble and mosaic floors, silverware and much more. Finally we come to the Death of the Cities. Exactly how they met their fate has become clearer in recent years, in particular the part played by the series of pyroclastic surges, the gaseous avalanches that overwhelmed the cities and instantly incinerated all those who hadn't made a getaway.

A fascinating journey, then, that enables you to immerse yourself, indeed lose yourself, in the richness and endless fascination that is the Roman world. The book is splendidly illustrated, indeed some of the colour photographs are so vibrant that the objects almost seem to leap off the page and their clarity enables you to see every pore and wart on the face of the banker Lucius Caecilius Jucundus. And, in case you're wondering, yes you do get to see the notorious statue of Pan humping the she-goat and those rather gruesome but deeply affecting plaster casts of the dead bodies. The photographs also reveal, alas, that some of the frescoes left in situ, like the famous ones in the Villa Of The Mysteries, have deteriorated since I first saw them as a kid in the late 60s (Herculaneum has benefited from a major conservation project in recent years and I believe a new conservation project has been announced for Pompeii which has rapidly started to crumble under the combined onslaught of the elements, mismanagement and hordes of tourists.)

Congratulations to curator Paul Roberts and the BM for producing an irresistable book which I gobbled up in a couple of days. The softback version has good strong card covers that should resist creasing so I don't think you need to shell out the extra for the hardback. If you buy the book at the exhibition you will of course have to pay the full whack of £25. I got mine for £16 postage-paid from Amazon, a real bargain in my opinion, although I notice the Amazon price has a mysterious tendency to bob up and down.

Of course no single volume can hope to do justice to every aspect of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Some highly recommendable books I've acquired in recent years include the large and lavishly illustrated tomes Herculaneum by Andrew Wallace Hadrill; Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City edited by Marisa Ranieri Panetta; The Buried Art of Pompeii edited by Filippo Coarelli; and The Complete Pompeii by Joanne Berry. Less lavish but certainly heavyweight in terms of pagination and scholarship are The World of Pompeii edited by John J. Dobbins and Pedar W. Foss (arguably the best single resource book but not one for the casual reader) and the rather more reader-friendly Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard. A handsome and beautifully illustrated paperback book I picked up in Naples a few years ago is Pompeii by Francesco Paolo Mantucci (English edition), which deals primarily with the public buildings and individual houses. And I still have a soft spot for my first Pompeii book: Marcel Brion's Pompeii and Herculaneum - The Glory And The Grief, first published fifty years ago and in its day renowned for the quality of its colour photography. Going even further back in time, there's an excellent 2 volume reprint from the Cambridge University Press of Sir William Gell's 19th century classic Pompeiana, obviously not up-to-date but containing many charming illustrations; and if your Pompeii budget will stretch far enough there's the very beautiful Getty publication Houses and Monuments of Pompeii - The Work of Fausto and Felice Niccolini which comes in a slipcase and features vivid recreations of the frescoes and other artworks by two 19th century painters.
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on 30 March 2013
This is a very well written book - in my opinion, of course. It brings these sites back to life. Very documented, easy to read and very factual. The quality of the book itself is very good, a pleasure to touch and turn the pages. I am always looking forward to the end of the day, when I can cuddle up in comfort with a nice tea and this captivating book. I will definetely invest in a trip to London to see the exhibition (this might sound odd to Londoners, but for us "provinciaux", one day in the capital easily amounts to £100 pp just in travel expenses and exhibition ticket). But I am sure it will be worth it. The other thing coming out of this read, is planning to re-visit these amazing sites. Thank you.
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on 26 March 2013
Once again the British Museum have excelled in creating a great tie-in book for one of their exhibitions.

As usual the book is filled with high quality images and informative text.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who is wanting to see the new exhibition, or for anyone with an interest in the Romans.
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on 4 June 2013
No mere book can make up for a visit to Pompeii or Herculaneum, but this superb tome comes very close. Superbly illustrated. My only gripe is the colour of the type for anyone with poor eyesight it would be difficult to read. Like so many things today a case of style over function. Nevertheless a brilliant book I can heartily recommend.
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on 7 August 2013
This is a wonderful book, probably one of the best possible non-specialist publications on Pompeii and Herculaneum and the life and abrupt demise of these provincial Roman cities. The exhibition at the British Museum was a marvel, and you will want this if you went. But it is also a good alternative if you are not able to get to there, being distinguished in its own right. It is exceptionally and richly illustrated with wonders to the eye. The text is also engrossing and enlightening, making that human connection between our age and 'theirs' of two thousand years ago. Much is familiar, startlingly so at times, even moving. The Amazon hardcopy I bought was almost half the price of the museum bookshop, by the way. Buy with confidence and cherish.
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on 15 August 2013
I had been wanting this book for some time & I wasn't disappointed. It complimented the London exhibition of the same name which I was lucky enough to see as a satellite broadcast in my local cinema. Most enjoyable & informative. Even my husband didn't fall asleep as he usually does !!

The book is a very detailed overview of the exhibition.
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on 19 April 2013
This is a really interesting tome, lavishly illustrated and well written and produced to accompany the British Museum exhibition of the same name. My only issue is that it is so big, I have problems holding it to read! There are many books on this topic and I would place this among one of the best and real value for money. Thoroughly recommend it.
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on 6 April 2013
A wonderful historian with great empathy that brings it all to life. We got so much from the book that we didn't get from our recent visit to Italy. Check out the accompanying exhibition at The British Museum and see how lived in context.
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on 22 August 2013
Such a moving exhibition to visit & this book will be a permanent reminder of the lives of the people of these cities. Lovely pictures of the artefacts, frescoes & mosaics which have been uncovered.
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on 12 August 2013
Super book for anyone interested in this period. Lovely photographs. Good descriptions. - A must whether you go to the exhibition (which we have) or not
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