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Publisher's Summary

Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site in the world, visited by more than two million people each year. Yet it is also one of the most puzzling, with an intriguing and sometimes violent history. 

Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. But the eruptions are only part of the story. In The Fires of Vesuvius, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. She explores what kind of town it was - more like Calcutta or the Costa del Sol? - and what it can tell us about "ordinary" life there. From sex to politics, food to religion, slavery to literacy, Beard offers us the big picture even as she takes us close enough to the past to smell the bad breath and see the intestinal tapeworms of the inhabitants of the lost city. She resurrects the Temple of Isis as a testament to ancient multiculturalism. At the Suburban Baths we go from communal bathing to hygiene to erotica.  

Recently, Pompeii has been a focus of pleasure and loss: from Pink Floyd's memorable rock concert to Primo Levi's elegy on the victims. But Pompeii still does not give up its secrets quite as easily as it may seem. This book shows us how much more and less there is to Pompeii than a city frozen in time as it went about its business on 24 August 79 CE.

©2008 Mary Beard (P)2019 Tantor

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What listeners say about The Fires of Vesuvius

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Delightful Description of Life in Ancient Pompeii

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book, and it's clear that Mary Beard enjoyed writing it and Phyllida Nash enjoyed narrating it. The narrator enthusiasm perfectly conveys the author's earthy humor and wry observations. This isn't the pure, white-marble, idealized vision of ancient Roman art and culture. This book is a bawdy and gaudy description of a city whose people lived with gusto!

A few topics include: baths, brothels, banquets, gladiator games, gods and graffiti. The chapter on graffiti was my favorite. I also appreciate that Mary Beard doesn't shy away from often taboo topics like Roman slavery, the filth of ancient sanitation and the penises (some giant!) of Pompeii that are found in art and sculpture all over the city. She combines evocative topics with excellent scholarship and up-to-date archaeological finds.

Surprisingly, this book works well in an audiobook format. I didn't need to search online for photos due to the very descriptive writing. Listening was delightful and I recommend The Fires of Vesuvius even to people who don't (yet) have an interest in Classics or the ancient world.

7 people found this helpful

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Informative on All Aspects of Life in Pomepii

I took a class in Pompeii as an undergraduate, so I was really interested in learning about daily life in Pompeii. And Beard's presentation doesn't disappoint: from gambling to how people navigated without street signs, this book is full of information on a world that still has a lot to teach us. Beard also tries to correct changes in scholarly findings, such as the purpose of lares in Pompeii or if there were true brothels as we imagine them. Whether you're familiar with Pompeii archaeologically or not, this book is a fascinating listen and gives a full and detailed image of Pompeii, its buildings and its people as they once were and as they are now.

2 people found this helpful

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Enchanting

This book was written in such a wonderful manner, facts and insights into the City of Pompeii. excellent narrator.

2 people found this helpful

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A Definitive Work, If a Bit Dry

This work is a double-edged blade of an audiobook. For every detail that illuminated Pompeii, another detailed bored me. For example, I found it interesting how they were able to determine how streets in Pompeii everyday life were crowded and flooded easily, but almost fell asleep as Beard went into extreme detail about the depth of wheel indentions in the ground to determine what directions traffic flow went. This issue was in every chapter except 1 and 7-9.

The eruption of Vesuvius also plays a minor role in this work, which is concerned primarily with everyday life before the eruption. Beard saves the salacious bits about prostitutes and gladiators for the final few chapters, which are the highlights of the work. In hindsight, I wish I would've hit the skip 30 seconds button on a few parts that did not interest me at all to prevent stagnation. The narrator is decent as her voice is clear and sounds close to Mary Beard, but I found it a bit too hypnotic and could only listen for an hour before getting tired.

Ultimately, I'd be hard-pressed to recommend a more thorough work on the everyday life of Pompeii and if that's what you're after, buy this. If you're casually interested in Pompeii, but mostly the eruption, this book is not for you. If you're a Rome addict like myself, the last few chapters are worth a credit or if this goes on sale.

1 person found this helpful

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So interesting

Loved this very informative work. If you have any interest in Roman life and Pompeii in particular this is the book for you. The narrator's reading is an easy listen. It is as if she reads just for you.

1 person found this helpful

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Mary Beard is perfect as always!

One of the better books I’ve read on Roman history. Mary Beard continues to bring Ancient Rome to life with a unique combination of grittiness and intelligence, that is both informative and entertaining.

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Great Listen

I really enjoyed listening to this book. The narrator is excellent. However, it helps to be able to look at illustrations. As it happens, I had a physical copy of the book. This was the perfect way to listen/read it.

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Exceeded expectations

Terrific book with a short review... author questions several assumptions made about archeological findings - was this "typical" or specific to a situation? Moreover, she emphasizes that Pompeii was a place in its own right, not some sort of proxy mini-Rome. Excellent audio narration adds to the experience.

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great book

eye openings and by Mary Beard! a win /win for a commute or an evening

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Mary Beard is always fun and informative!

Like everything she does, Mary Beard's scholarship and storytelling is first rate. Listen to this!