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93 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time Travel back to 79AD
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...
Published on 22 Sep 2008 by P. Mullan

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars I quite enjoyed this book
I quite enjoyed this book, but perhaps Pompeii has been too much written about and is suffering from overload, I finished it but somewhat of a struggle, could be the author's relentless style which does not give much pause for reflection
Published 8 days ago by antmo


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93 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time Travel back to 79AD, 22 Sep 2008
By 
P. Mullan "Paul Mullan" (Belfast) - See all my reviews
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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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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Changing views of Pompeii, 22 Sep 2008
By 
I. G. Lennox "iglennox" (Hampshire) - See all my reviews
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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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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time-travellers beware, 30 Aug 2009
By 
Jon Chambers (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Paperback)
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb - scholarship and readability combined, 11 Dec 2009
By 
bookelephant (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (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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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town, 17 April 2009
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight, 8 July 2013
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This is a fabulous book. I recently went to the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum and have also visited Pompeii twice. Reading this really takes you behind the scenes and allows you to really imagine life in Pompeii.

Highly recommended
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and easy to read, 15 May 2013
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Well written interesting makes me want to go to Pompeii.
Illustrations do not work well on a Kindle, which is a shame
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable academic "CSI:Pompeii", 4 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Paperback)
Beard opens by challenging the notion that Pompeii was simply a normal city simply 'frozen in time'. Pompeii itself had a long history and was recovering from an earthquake when the eruption in 79 occurred. Most of the city was evacuated during the catastrophe, its contents largely removed by the fleeing inhabitants. Some came back later to retrieve their remaining possessions and a fair bit was robbed subsequent looters. Moreover the early excavations were crude and what was uncovered has since deteriorated. Constructing the history of the town seems therefore like a jigsaw with most of the pieces missing; there is much speculation and controversy over even some of the most basic 'facts'.

Beard therefore manages to give an impression of the historiography of the city, drawing on changing ideas from archaeology and forensics, and circumstantial evidence from the (also fragmentary) contemporary literature. Anyone with an interest in how history works as a discipline will enjoy this 'CSI Pompeii ' approach as Beard builds up the picture of what we know or can reasonably surmise of various aspects of Roman life.

I read this in preparation for a trip to Pompeii this summer and it hugely enhanced my enjoyment of the visit. It is dense but very readable though I felt the detail of the competing claims sometimes interfered with the broader story, leaving me with as many questions as answers. But then that is probably the sign of a good history book.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The greatness of Pompeii, 28 Feb 2009
A very useful introduction for the city of Pompeii. Although specific citations for each bit of information are missing, due to the fact that the book is intended for a wider audience, there is rich bibliography at the end of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly readable, 31 Dec 2013
By 
Gordon Eldridge (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Paperback)
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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Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town
Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard (Paperback - 16 July 2009)
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