Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pompeii: The Living City

I just finished reading Pompeii: The Living City. It was written by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence. The book is excellent and I enjoyed it very much.

If you think of Pompeii, the image is usually that of the doomed city with people dead or dying. Or, the image of the plaster casts of dead people as the city is excavated in modern times comes to mind. However, the city had a long history. And as the title suggests, the city was vibrant and full of life.

This book covers the last twenty five years of the life of the city. The narrative goes back and forth from fictional accounts of people's lives with the factual details on city life. Politics (both locally and in Rome) are covered and the Emperor Nero features prominently in the text. The great earthquake of 63 and the impact it had on Pompeii is covered as is the final days of the city when it was destroyed in 79.

A Publishers Weekly review was kind to the book. It noted, "The thriving ancient port city of Pompeii was memorably destroyed and its 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants killed in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Archeologists have dug parts of the city out of the rubble, reconstructing its layout and life. Drawing on this evidence and on ancient writings on Pompeii, British popular historians Butterworth and Laurence splendidly recreate the bustling life of this Roman town, as well as the eruption. They tell of Umbricius Scaurus, one of the city's most respected businessmen, who grew wealthy manufacturing the culinary staple garum, a fermented fish sauce. We also read fictionalized accounts of other lives, such as Simulus, a smallholder happy to be farming a plot of rich soil, and Receptus, a slave whose new master made his life miserable. The authors vividly recreate the horrors of the earthquake in A.D. 62 that destroyed much of the town and the terrors of the volcanic eruption. They recount the heroic efforts of one woman to claw her way out of the rubble of the Villa of the Mysteries only to be killed by a new eruption. This is a first-rate and compelling history of an ancient city."

This is a good book and I certainly visualize Pompeii differently now. It is easy to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you like ancient history, you may want to give this book a read.

No comments: