• The Fires of Vesuvius

  • Pompeii Lost and Found
  • By: Mary Beard
  • Narrated by: Phyllida Nash
  • Length: 12 hrs and 36 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (270 ratings)

1 title per month from Audible’s entire catalog of best sellers, and new releases.
Access a growing selection of included Audible Originals, audiobooks and podcasts.
You will get an email reminder before your trial ends.
Your Premium Plus plan is $14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
The Fires of Vesuvius  By  cover art

The Fires of Vesuvius

By: Mary Beard
Narrated by: Phyllida Nash
Try for $0.00

$14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Buy for $20.99

Buy for $20.99

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

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
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about The Fires of Vesuvius

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    181
  • 4 Stars
    57
  • 3 Stars
    26
  • 2 Stars
    6
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    165
  • 4 Stars
    32
  • 3 Stars
    15
  • 2 Stars
    4
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    147
  • 4 Stars
    43
  • 3 Stars
    22
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

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.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Thoroughly engaging view of daily life in Pompeii

Mary Beard gives a fascinating and entirely accessible view of daily life in Pompeii ranging from street life to housing to governance to food, sex and entertainment (e.g., theater and gladiator battles). Beard is careful to qualify her statements, making clear (obviously, in her estimation) what conclusions can be drawn—or not drawn—from the available evidence. For example, although the date of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius has typically been given as 24 August 79 CE, Beard is careful to note that even that date is uncertain—it could have been a date in September or October due to, she notes, “a suspiciously large number of autumnal fruits…in evidence” and the fact that “many of the victims appear to be wearing heavy-duty woolen clothes, hardly suitable clothes for a hot Italian summer, although what people choose to put on as they make their escape through the debris of a volcanic eruption may not be a good indicator of the seasonal weather.” (Notice how she points out an inference but qualifies it.) Incidentally, a charcoal inscription found at the “House with the Garden” a decade after the book’s publication further supports the theory that the eruption took place in October—24 October, in fact—not in August.

So Beard moves carefully from minutiae to broader conclusions—but I would not say too much detail. One other reviewer said he or she “almost fell asleep as Beard went into extreme detail about the depth of wheel indentions [sic] in the ground to determine what directions traffic flow went.” But it’s not like Beard gives us a tedious, overly-exhaustive analysis of the precise measurements, perhaps in millimeters, of the depth of the ruts to ascertain the Pompeiian traffic flow question. She brings up the ruts caused by cart wheels exactly four times in the text (one time twice in the same sentence—so five mentions), once referring to them as “deep” and once as “comparatively shallow.” Here they are:

Page 53
…the deep ruts formed by years of cart traffic (and perilous to twenty-first century ankles…)

Page 66
“Recent work — looking very carefully again at the ruts and stepping stones — has even suggested that we can begin to reconstruct the Pompeian one-way street system.”

Page 67
“Its [the stretch of the Via dell’Abbondanza between the Forum and Via Stabiana] comparatively shallow cart ruts also indicate that it did not carry a large volume of traffic (although one skeptic has argued that the relative absence of ruts is equally well explained by the road having been repaved not long before 79).”

Page 67–68
“…most of the road intersections to the south and some to the north are either completely impassable to carts or steeply ramped but still — as the ruts running over them make clear — accessible.”

However one might describe those passages, I would not characterize Beard’s marshaling of the evidence of the ruts caused by carts in determining the flow of traffic in Pompeii as exhibiting “extreme detail.”

In fact, I found the discussion rather fascinating, both in illustrating how historians work—drawing conclusions about one thing (traffic flow) from observations of another, say, utterly mundane, even easily overlooked, details (in this case, ruts caused by the wheels of carts)—and in shedding light on the specific question of just how traffic flowed in the streets of Pompeii. (While Pompeii had nothing like a modern-day traffic authority—no place in the ancient world did—it did manage to have a system of one-way streets.) The whole book is like that—small details, often necessarily (literally) fragmentary evidence (e.g., graffiti, a campaign “poster” [wall mural], an advertisement for gladiatorial games, labels painted on pottery), and large (e.g., the architecture of the houses or the amphitheater, the layout of the city) called into service to give an illuminating picture of daily life in Pompeii. I found it completely engaging.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing!

As a history teacher who loves to study everything Roman, I've got to say, this is incredible! Mary Beard gives an incredible account of what life was like in the living city of Pompeii and includes a great amount of evidence, interpretation (her own an other historians) and context to help it all make sense. This is a must read for anyone who loves history, Rome, Pompeii, or just good story telling!

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Annoying narration

Narration is flippant, over the top in its pseudo-sophisticated inflection and officious rhythm. Often, some words are difficult to understand.

Content might be good. Not sure.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Travelogue through time

The book is broken up in chapters dealing with different aspects of life in Pompeii. Each topic is a cogent rationale and often debunks ideas of the past about what life was like in Pompeii. The narrator has a wonderful easy to listen to voice which makes this book doubly a pleasure.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

A bit tedious

The subject itself is fascinating but the overall content was a bit tedious at times. Still its worth a listen for anyone interested in the subject