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on 22 September 2008
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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VINE VOICEon 30 August 2009
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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on 22 September 2008
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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on 11 December 2009
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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on 8 February 2016
I'm no scholar, but I'm really enjoying this book. Mary Beard writes very entertainingly & clearly. It's full of interesting facts - and lots of pictures and illustrations. Brings the ordinary people of Pompeii back to life. Thanks Mary!
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on 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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on 31 December 2013
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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on 6 November 2016
Mary Beard comes across here the same way she does in her programmes and lectures – well-spoken (well-written in this case!), lucid, intelligent, knowledgeable – a true authority in her subject. Moreover she’s professional. She’s objective throughout, and thorough in her research, taking the time and care to deconstruct and debunk the untrue myths about Pompeii – including the ones you’ll hear from the tour guides (visitors – beware!). The book starts out by covering the practicalities: the layout of the town, its history before the eruption, even going into such detail as the form and function of the streets. Give us the juicy stuff, you may cry. But even this technical detail in the first few chapters isn’t as dull as you'd think. This whole section is kept lively by any appropriate anecdotes that can be told, and what’s more it enhanced my enjoyment of the rest of the book. Working from that solid basis, when the personal human stories where then told, I could set them in context and understand their environment and background, which really added to my enjoyment in the second part of the book. Mary Beard paints a vivid picture of life in Pompeii in the lead up to the eruption, and truly seems to bring to life the individuals again.
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on 21 November 2016
Mary Beard has a way of writing that is somewhat unique - full of enthusiasm, but with caution in every sentence! Here she gives her take on what we currently know about life in Pompeii in the years leading up to its destruction; and, as usual, it isn't as much as we think.
Pompeii has fascinated us since it's ruins were first uncovered - a task that is still ongoing. But the author makes clear that a lot of what we are told is, at best, 'glammed up'!
She takes us carefully around the town, looking at different aspects of life for the inhabitants, and tries to sift fact from over-active imagination. As someone with more than a passing interest in Roman history, I feel she has been very balanced in her assessments. Whilst she carefully and gently disagrees with many of the more outlandish theories, she is not afraid to propose her own ideas, and is very clear about what is fact, and what is her own musing.
For anyone who has read about Pompeii - or indeed Roman life generally - there may not be a lot here that is new. If you are looking for an introduction to the subject, this would be an excellent starting point.
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on 3 December 2016
Why do we have to find out all the interesting stuff after we leave education? Thankfully Mary Beard and others fill the knowledge gap in the style and language of understanding rather than entertainment. I like the explained thought processes to illustrate why an interpretation is arrived at, and the context into which it can be placed. A good writer makes for a good read and Mary Beard does this for Pompeii.
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