Pompeii: The Living City by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence

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Pompeii the living cityThe only reason I got Pompeii: The Living City by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence is that I know Ray Laurence is one of those lec­tur­ers who can make make even the most tedi­ous sub­jects inter­est­ing. Otherwise I tend not to go for Pompeii books or tele­vi­sion because a lot of it is what Dana Stevens has called dis­aster porn. The fate of the city does over­shadow this book, but the sub­title tells you what is so great about the book. It’s not one long dirge of “Oh my! They’re all GOING TO DIE!!!” The vol­cano plays a strong part in the book, but it shows how the pre­ser­va­tion of the site enables Pompeii schol­ars to be able to piece together every­day life in the city, even to the extent of being able to fol­low pros­ti­tutes around the city. Butterworth and Laurence have to an extent done this by writ­ing a book that com­bines recon­struc­tion with his­tor­ical analysis.

This leads to a nar­rat­ive prob­lem which wouldn’t have occurred to me. The reader knows it’s going to end very badly. This will be in their mind as they read the book, but how can you acknow­ledge that without hav­ing people in the book say that the vol­cano looks dan­ger­ous? It’s a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem because one of the shocks of Pompeii is that the Romans thought Vesuvius was an extinct vol­cano. Fortunately the authors have a very con­vin­cing vil­lain in the form of Nero who was Emperor for a lot of the period prior to the erup­tion.
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