4 out of 4 stars
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Ever since learning about the ancient city of Pompeii in elementary school, I have been intrigued by the city’s history and its fateful destruction. My fascination only grew when I was lucky enough to visit the archaeological site in 2012 and see what a bustling city it once was. So when I noticed Connie Brown’s My Pompeii, detailing her own behind-the-scenes trip to the city, I jumped at the chance to review it.
My Pompeii is a short book, and I was able to read it in one sitting. The book begins with a brief account of how the city was buried when Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24th, 79 AD. Survivors were few, and once the dust settled, rescue attempts were futile. Over time, the city faded into legend and was eventually forgotten until it was rediscovered by an irrigation expansion project in the 1700s. The book includes the true first-hand account of Pliny the Younger about his own experience viewing the destruction from across the bay in Misenum. The testimony also detailed how his uncle and some friends attempted to escape Pompeii itself. The book concludes with an essay from the author about her own experience traveling to Pompeii after managing to secure a spot as an adult helper on a college trip to participate in an archaeological dig.
My favorite thing about this book was the way it was written. Even though it was short, the writing style was enthralling. The descriptions were compelling enough that I could see what the author was seeing and feel what she was feeling. She described an instance where she came across the casts of 13 people who had died in their home during the explosion. She let her imagination take off and picture who they were, what decisions they made in the crisis, and how they finally perished from the poisonous fumes. She took the time to grieve for the lives lost. Her writing really made me stop and think about the humanity of the situation in a way that I normally haven’t when thinking about Pompeii.
I also really liked the inclusion of the first-hand account of a survivor. Although it makes sense that there would be such reports, I had never heard any or thought about the possibility of any before. The man’s description of the falling fire and ash, the earthquakes, and the noxious gases really brought the disaster to life for me. It makes it incredible to realize how even with stories like this, Pompeii was lost in the rubble for centuries.
There was very little to dislike about this book. Its writing and editing were excellent. The only complaint I can think of is that it left me wanting more. I wish the author had given more information about her work there and what she did, as the opportunity sounds like a dream come true for many. At the same time, I realize that the goal of this book was not to focus on her own work but to bring a human element to the archaeological story, which she accomplished beautifully. I am happy to rate My Pompeii 4 out of 4 stars. I would recommend it to anyone who loves history or wants a different perspective on Pompeii.
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