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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explosive stuff !, 24 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Vesuvius: A Biography (Hardcover)
Vesuvius is dangerous volcano, though I was not really aware quite how dangerous until reading this book. Most students in exams will recall specifics of the AD 79 eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum (some even using the correct spelling) and, true to form, this book details this eruption, but only as one of the many events that has transformed Naples and the surrounding Province of Campania. For Alwyn Scarth, well known to us for his many books on the subject of volcanoes, has written a biography of Vesuvius from its birth long before mankind first settled in the region, right up to the present, with some worrying speculation about the inevitable future events.

The book was written in 2009 and is currently only published in hardback by Terra Publishing - well known to us to be specialists in producing readable books in the Earth sciences. This book is no exception and consists of 13 chapters chronicling the daily history of each major event, not only of Vesuvius, but also the Campi Flegrei caldera to the west. This is based on the latest geological research, backed up by contemporary historical accounts. Each chapter is well illustrated with black and white satellite images, photos, maps, diagrams and art that give a much needed spatial dimension as the various stories unfold. Most of these are written with the immediacy of an eye witness account and Scarth has graphically detailed the eruptions, sometimes on an hourly basis. The chapters are well referenced with further reading at the end and an extensive bibliography. I particularly like the many aside notes, blocked in a different background colour, which further develop a geological point, some social comment, or simply an interesting piece of historical perspective.

So we read that "Soon after 10.00 a.m. on 17th December (1631), it seemed indeed that the Last Judgement was about to be delivered.... An old women in Granatello described how the flow had emerged completely white, `like a silver baton' and had rolled over the ground at first (as a pyroclastic flow)." Written in this way the science is secondary but implicit in the narrative for those with a geological background. And it makes a great read.

Campania has one of the longest recorded human histories anywhere in the world, and volcanoes have played a dominant role in fashioning the human environment. This is, therefore, not just a biography of a volcano but, also bound up in the pyroclastic deposits, mudflows and lava, is a biography of the changing social, spiritual, intellectual and political development of Campania as it finds its place in the changing world. So in addition to the letters of Pliny the Younger and the aid relief organised by the Roman Emperor Titus following the AD79 eruption, we read about the archaeological work of Giuseppe Fiorelli in excavating the remains at Pompeii, and learn of the work of Sir William Hamilton (of Emma Hamilton and Admiral Nelson fame) in the 1760's as one of the founders of modern volcanology. And there are many more.

In all, this a very readable book for the non specialist as well as those with a little more geological knowledge and a great book to take with you should you be intending to take the equivalent of the eighteenth century "Grand Tour". There are also some great case studies for students taking the WJEC Geology of the Human Environment course at AS. You are promised explosive stuff and this book delivers. And with this view of the volcanic history of the region, the overriding impression is that, inevitably, this is something of which we have not heard the last!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the whizzes and bangs, none of the fear, 8 July 2010
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This review is from: Vesuvius: A Biography (Hardcover)
Thoroughly enjoyed this, as a half-baked, half-qualified, fair-weather geologist. Really brings home the human aspect of being caught in an eruption. And vividly makes real the fact that it would be extremely hard to evacuate everyone in danger from the next eruption too. Beautiful place to visit, I wouldn't want to live there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Vesuvius: A Biography, 1 Jun 2013
This review is from: Vesuvius: A Biography (Hardcover)
Excellent read! I learnt things about Vesuvius I never knew!. The accounts offer a complete history of actual events and more interestingly, how those events were interpreted at the time!.

The accounts from the most famous eruption in 79AD that destroyed Herculaneum and Pompeii were truly fascinating and very moving.

Highly recommend to anyone with even the slightest interest in Volcanoes.
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Vesuvius: A Biography
Vesuvius: A Biography by Alwyn Scarth (Hardcover - 31 Jan 2009)
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