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'Much of what you think you know about Pompeii may turn out, on reading this eye-opening book, to be wrong. The town was not full of brothels (Beard counts only one), its water engineering, pace the novelist Robert Harris, was pretty substandard (there may have been aqueducts, but there were no sewers) and the site didn't lie undisturbed until the eighteenth century (many townspeople, for instance, came back soon afterwards to dig up their valuables). Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge, always wears her learning lightly, and in this outstanding book she has excelled herself, puncturing preconceptions and exposing a whole layer of myth about the world's best-preserved ancient town. The result is an often gripping piece of detective work that also offers a tantalising window into the reality of daily Roman life.' The Sunday Times History books of the year, Andrew Holgate

About the Author

Mary Beard is a Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her books include The Parthenon and The Colosseum (with Keith Hopkins), and the recent The Roman Triumph. She lives in Cambridge.


The world's most controversial classicist debunks our movie-style myths about the Roman town with meticulous scholarship and propulsive energy...Scrutinising and animated in equal measure -- Laura Silverman * Daily Mail *
A thoroughly worthy winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize, Mary Beard's bedroom-to-boardroom tour of the life of a Roman town is disgracefully enjoyable for such a deeply learned and sceptically debunking book -- Boyd Tonkin * Independent *
This marvellous book won the Wolfson History Prize and is a model of subtle but accessible writing about the past -- Judith Rice * Guardian *
[A] brilliant portrait...This meticulous, vivid study of life in the town, the winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize, rightly and resolutely focuses on the living city -- James McConnachie * Sunday Times *
Classicist Mary Beard has had a great time rooting about that ghostly place and she has brought it quite splendidly back to life -- Nicholas Bagnall * Sunday Telegraph *
To the vast field of Pompeiana she brings the human touch...This absorbing, inquisitive and affectionate account of Pompeii is a model of its kind. Beard has caught the quick of what was and, in our lives today, remains the same -- Ross Leckie * The Times *
Very readable and excellently researched... Beard's clear-sighted and accessible style makes this a compelling look into history -- Alexander Larman * The Observer *
If you want to know what really happened in the last days of the petrified city, Beard's meticulous reconstruction will fill you in, scraping away many of your preconceptions as it goes, while her evocative writing will transport you back * Guardian Best Holiday Books *
Wonderful piece of scholarship worn lightly and wittily -- Tom Widger * Sunday Tribune *
Wittily written...evoking in all who read it the insatiable need to see the town for themselves -- Georgie Durkheim * Catholic Herald *
A myth-breaking expedition, grandiose in scale, vibrant in its telling -- Colin Gardiner * Oxford Times *
Engaging and defiantly otherworldly * Business Destinations *
A learned and fascinating book * Guardian *
In this brilliant portrait of the "life in a Roman town", Mary Beard uses the relics buried by the eruption on AD79 to bring everyday Roman culture alive.' * Sunday Times *
Compelling * Independent *

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