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Vesuvius A.D. 79. The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

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Vesuvius A.D. 79. The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum
By Ernesto De Carolis and Giovanni Patricelli. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2003. 124 Pages, 120 color illustrations.) ISBN: 0-89236-719-9.

Reviewed by Herbert White - December 23, 2003

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, it decimated the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The two cities, and many of their inhabitants, were preserved for prosperity under a layer of ash and volcanic debris. Located in Southern Italy, near the modern day city of Naples, Mount Vesuvius is still alive. Since that dreadful day in A.D. 79 when the two Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried, the volcano has erupted many times, often with deadly results. Studying the ruins that were preserved, due to this ancient eruption, not only provides insights into ancient Roman history and architecture, but is also provides insights into the modern day dangers that the volcano poses to those now living in its shadow.

In Vesuvius A.D. 79. - The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Ernesto De Carolis and Giovanni Patricelli have crafted a highly readable account of this momentous eruption, and its aftermath. Besides describing the historic details known about the eruption, they also detail the available scientific information on the eruption. In writing this book, the authors have included excerpts from many contemporary literary accounts of the eruption, such as the eyewitness account recorded by Pliny the Younger. They have also seamlessly interwoven the available historical, archaeologically, literary, and scientific information on the eruption into an enthralling narrative that will fascinate both the general reader, as well as historians.

This text is packed with a marvelous range of photos and artwork that depict not only the ancient eruptions, but also more recent eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. Other illustrations show the ruins at Pompeii, ancient artwork, geological illustrations, and maps. The text includes details on the geography of the Campanian Plain (the area around Mount Vesuvius), which includes information on the volcanic activity in the region and a detailed explanation of what a volcano is, and what can occur during a volcanic eruption.

The scientific discussion on vulcanism is highly readable and should be easy to follow even if you have had no previous exposure to the study of geology. Building upon this overview of vulcanism, the authors then impart upon an overview of the events that presaged the eruption, the eruption itself, and its aftermath. They also describe the rediscovery of the buried cities, and the discovery of human remains. Besides these historical and scientific details, the authors also provide a survey of Pompeian Stories and Legends, most of which developed after the rediscovery of Pompeii. The text also includes a list of the Principal Eruptions of Vesuvius from 25,000 B.C. to March 18, 1944. It concludes with a glossary of vulcanology terms and a select bibliography.

Vesuvius A.D. 79. - The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum is a fascinating book! It will captivate anyone interested in vulcanism, archeology, or the history of the Pompeii and Herculaneum. The text is well suited for both the general reader and students of all ages. It will make a valued addition to any college course on Roman history. It will also be well received in many lower level geology courses as an associated text. This text will expose the students to a mesmerizing and engrossing discourse on a well-known volcanic eruption and its deadly consequences. The information on vulcanology interwoven throughout the text will effortlessly reinforce the information in their main textbook.

I highly recommended this book - for its readability and for the comprehensive historical and geological overview that it offers on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, and its consequences.

Related Reviews:

Ashen Sky, illustrated by Barry Moser.
The Letters of Pliny the Younger and the Eruption of Vesuvius.

Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, edited by Victoria C. Gardner Coates and Jon L. Seydl.
Thirteen essays that chronicle how our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum have changed over time, and the place these sites hold in popular culture.

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