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From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town Hardcover – March 24, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Buried and preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in CE 79, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii is one of the most studied historic sites by archaeologists. Architectural scholar Rowland first became enthusiastic about Pompeii when she visited it in 1961 as a child with her parents and younger brother. The city was subjected to human as well as volcanic destruction in efforts to protect it for archaeologists and display it for tourists, becoming “a strange mix of overly packaged Disneyland and idyllic wilderness walk.” Rowland brings her “personal archaeology” to the task of exploring Pompeii as a scholar and offers a selection of visitors—artists, writers, scientists—whose lives were also changed by visiting Pompeii. Among those pondering the everyday artifacts and erotica she includes the Jesuit Athanasius, who challenged the belief that Mount Vesuvius’ eruptions were God’s wrath on human wickedness; Raphael, who found inspiration in Pompeii’s ancient drawings; and Freud, who discovered therapeutic benefit in his visit. Rowland also recounts visits by Mozart, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Japanese crown prince Hirohito in this engaging look at the allure of an ancient city. --Vanessa Bush


Ingrid D. Rowland's richly learned From Pompeii is a wonderfully well-written, funny, fascinating, and oddly poignant tour through the many afterlives of the ancient city. This is a brilliant book about the pleasures and perils of archaeology, historical preservation, and cultural tourism, stumbling over one another in a quixotic search for the traces of the dead. (Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern)

Original, highly illuminating, and fun—brimming with ideas and observations—and many surprises for those familiar with Pompeii as well as for new visitors to the Bay of Naples. This is classic Rowland! (Kenneth Lapatin, J. Paul Getty Museum)

[Rowland] constructs an overview of Pompeii’s history by collecting the opinions and work of famous figures: artists, writers, musicians, actors, and royalty, including Renoir, Mozart, Ingrid Bergman, and Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan. All of the individuals included experienced Pompeii and its environs firsthand--though some, like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, did not always see them in a positive light. Rowland’s work, replete with lyrical verse and beautiful descriptions of Southern Italy, highlights potential problems with preservation, and…it wistfully captures the atmosphere of a place both beautiful and dangerous. (Publishers Weekly 2014-01-13)

[An] engaging look at the allure of an ancient city. (Vanessa Bush Booklist 2014-03-01)

Visitors to Pompeii have long marveled at the town’s perfectly preserved scenes of Roman life, but interpretations of those scenes have varied widely over the years. Rowland writes about a selection of those visitors, some famous--like Renoir, whose painting style was influenced by the town’s erotic frescoes--others less well known-- like a priest named Father Kircher, who risked the wrath of the Inquisition when he suggested that the eruption of Vesuvius was ‘in response to gigantic cycles within the earth itself rather than God’s pique at individual sinners.’ Each story speaks to the way in which Pompeii reveals the hopes and the desires of the individuals and of societies. (Andrea DenHoed New Yorker 2014-03-04)

This is a book difficult, even impossible, to summarize…Rowland’s enthusiasm for her subject and her knowledge of history are such that many will find interest and pleasure in dipping into it, pulling out a plum here or there. (Allan Massie Literary Review 2014-03-01)

[Rowland’s] book is a personal, indeed highly selective, account of what many researchers, cultivated visitors, archaeologists and even urban reformers have made of the site and the modern town of Pompeii: It reads, all told, like a collection of entertaining essays. She handles her theme with an ease and authority that should please others who are fond of Campania, the Neapolitan region, an area of great beauty and equally great social and environmental problem…Rowland covers a wide range of topics, including the creation of the modern town of Pompeii, the musings of tourists like Dickens and Mark Twain, and diverse aspects of Neapolitan folklore. (Dan Hofstadter Wall Street Journal)

Elegant, witty and beautifully produced…It is less a guide than an overtly aesthetic appreciation of the site and its environs, poetic in its sense of connections over time…It is more the gap between individual drama and universal catastrophe, both inside Pompeii and looking on from outside, that Rowland’s account so powerfully conjures up. (Emily Gowers The Guardian 2014-04-12)

From Pompeii is immensely lively and thought-provoking…The book is crammed with telling details and entertaining snippets. (Chloe Chard Sunday Telegraph 2014-03-30)

Its historical breadth and richness notwithstanding, From Pompeii is a surprisingly intimate book. Rowland begins with her first encounter with Herculaneum as an 8-year-old with a Brownie Starmite camera…From Pompeii is thus a personal, even idiosyncratic, introduction to Pompeii in the mode of, say, the novelist E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and a Guide…If you have any interest in Pompeii, or in entertaining scholarship, or in Italian culture, you’ll want to set aside a few evenings for this deeply engaging work of popular history. (Michael Dirda Washington Post 2014-04-09)

The book is an entertaining canter through two millennia of history, deeply learned without succumbing to stuffiness or superiority… Rowland is a lively writer and her tale of Pompeii’s rediscovery and excavation is engaging. She skillfully brings to light details of the world unearthed at Pompeii--the various styles of painting identified by art historians, the social purpose of the god Priapus--and splices these into her narrative of discovery. In the process she never loses sight of the relationship between this recovery of antiquity’s physical remains and the 18th century’s vibrant neo-classicism. The former clearly nourished the latter, but the story turns out to be more complicated than first thought. (Luke Slattery Sydney Morning Herald 2014-04-05)

[Told] in rich and fascinating detail…When Rowland tells us that a visit to Pompeii can change a person’s life, she is speaking from personal experience. (Tom Holland The Spectator 2014-04-12)

[A] lively book…For Pompeii is not really frozen in time. The achievement of Rowland's book is precisely to show it at the heart of a turbulent, ever-changing region, where the landscape and people are forever caught up in transformation and drama--whether geological, political, technological or cultural. She beautifully evokes the connections between the local, the international, the spiritual and the seismic…For Rowland, Pompeii is the fount from which innumerable rivulets of history flow, and her fluent and engaging writing follows them where it will…This is a vivid and stimulating account of the history of a corner of the earth where there seems too much colorful humanity ever to be adequately captured in a single book. Rowland’s brimming pages show there are plenty more treasures to be excavated from the fertile volcanic soil of its history. (Rebecca Langlands Times Higher Education 2014-05-08)

There’s probably no one more qualified to have a go at this subject than Rowland…She possesses unsurpassed knowledge of whatever she takes up, and this work is no exception…It will delight any reader who likes the serious laced with the macabre and bizarre, the ancient with the modern…We never tire of her deeply knowledgeable entertainment…[A] genial, learned travelogue…It’s one of the pleasures of Rowland’s tour that we get to meet with Pompeii’s visitors over the centuries, as varied a cast of characters as might be dreamed up…While this is in no sense a guidebook to Pompeii and Herculaneum, anyone planning to visit Italy’s southwest coast will gain from taking Rowland’s fast-paced historical tour beforehand…[A] splendid book. (James M. Banner Jr. Weekly Standard 2014-05-26)

The book is an enjoyable read that encompasses an exciting range of topics in political and social history…Recommended for general readers who want to know more about a place that continues to haunt the imagination of nearly everyone who visits it. (Linda Frederiksen Library Journal 2014-06-01)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (March 24, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674047931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674047938
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #517,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Haven't able to put it down I'll admit I'm a slow reader for sure.
If you have read anything else by Rowland, you know that she is very learned.
R. M. Peterson
Much of Rowland’s book has to do with visits to Pompeii by famous people.
Rob Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If one wanted a cicerone for a tour of Pompeii, one could hardly do better than Ingrid Rowland. She has written a handful of other books about matters of Italian history and culture, and as a Professor of Architecture at Notre Dame based in Rome she has led many student field trips to Pompeii. Indeed, it has been a focus of her interest since first visiting it as a girl in 1962.

If you have read anything else by Rowland, you know that she is very learned. And that she shares that vast erudition with her reader. So it is with FROM POMPEII. There is a cornucopia of information and esoterica about Pompeii and its environs, including Naples. She, of course, begins with the explosion of Mount Vesuvius on August 24 of A.D. 79, and she takes us through the history of the place up to today, when damage to the excavated Roman town comes from a changing climate, slashed budgets, bureaucracy, corruption, and "excesses of attention and excesses of neglect". (Still, Mount Vesuvius, thought by many to be primed for another massive explosion with pyroclastic flows, remains an apocalyptic threat.)

Among other things, Rowland recounts the experiences of noted visitors to Pompeii through history, including Father Athanasius Kircher ("the last man who knew everything"), a youthful Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Pierre-August Renoir, and Crown Prince Hirohito. It's not all high-brow: there is a chapter on Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman making the movie "Viaggio in Italia (Journey to Italy)" in 1953, at the same time as in Naples Vittorio di Sica was filming "The Gold of Naples" starring the nineteen-year-old Sophia Loren.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Reid on April 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I've read most of the author's other books and all of her review articles in the New York Review of Books and I've been enjoying her work for years. Having been to Pompeii several times I was eagerly awaiting this book and I was definitely not disappointed. It's beautifully written and not only exhibits her deep erudition but also her flare for making the ancient world come alive. Everyone who visits Pompeii several times comes away with a unique emotional reaction and perspective and I especially enjoyed the way she shared her own personal reaction to the site. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has a taste for learning about the ancient world in a unique and highly accessible way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
We think of Pompeii as frozen in the year 79 A.D., and maybe it was indeed inert until people started digging around the site in the eighteenth century. From then on, the place has inevitably changed, as people dug in it and restored it to their way of thinking, fantasized about it, took parts of it away, and made it fit for the thousands of visitors who came to wander its streets. It is this story that is told in _From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town_ (Belknap/Harvard) by Ingrid D. Rowland. The author is a professor at the University of Notre Dame in Rome, and her chapters are essays on aspects of the city. Some of them are personal, like her memories of being taken to the area when she was a child (there is a picture here of her as an eight-year-old in Herculaneum, with a Brownie camera dangling from her neck) or her experiences in taking commercial tours from Rome to the region where she has conducted more serious academic tours. While the chapters are chronological, Rowland is a digressive and often witty writer, who obviously enjoys relating facts in a more informal way (nonetheless, there are plenty of footnotes). “This book presents a selection of visitors whose lives were forever altered by their experience of Pompeii, as well as a few who reacted less drastically.” While there are plenty of references to the city, its history, and its archaeology, the story of its afterlife proves to be colorful, frustrating, and funny.

Pompeii’s discovery came after Herculaneum was being dug up, and by 1765 tour guides had added Pompeii to their repertoires for people coming to see the region around Naples. Much of Rowland’s book has to do with visits to Pompeii by famous people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Floyd Demmon on June 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've thoroughly enjoyed previous books by Ms. Rowland (Giordano Bruno and The Scarith of Scornello). This is every bit as enjoyable as the other two were. I read most of the book on three trips on the South Shore train to Chicago and back not long ago, and it was like we were talking about Pompeii on the morning trip in or back on the evening train to Michigan City. The writing is friendly and conversational, full of stories about amazing people, some famous, others not so much to those of us not as familiar as she with the history of the times and places she describes, worthy of much more than just an anecdote. This may be a close as most of us get to learning about these people and the times in which they found themselves in such vivid detail and without the pedantry of an academic intent on showing how much they know.

I visited Pompeii with Italian friends on a hot August day in 1973, just three weeks before starting grad school at Bryn Mawr. We took the train from Naples like so many others have done, and I recall it being one of the best days I've had, with many of the same impressions she describes people having had. Having read the book mostly on a train, it felt as if I were back on that train from Naples. I don't know whether there really are five people you should meet on a train, but she would surely be one of them. This book is for the ones that won't be on the train. You can still have that conversation, though, if you read this book.
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