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Vesuvius: A Biography

4 Ratings: 4.0
2009 nonfiction book by Alwyn Scarth

Capricious, vibrant, and volatile, Vesuvius has been and remains one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes. In its rage, it has destroyed whole cities and buried thousands alive. In its calm, its ashes have fertilized the soil, providing for the people … see full wiki

Author: Alwyn Scart
Genre: Earth Sciences, Geology
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Date Published: August 24, 2009
1 review about Vesuvius: A Biography

Still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

  • May 19, 2010
Author Alwyn Scarth knows his subject matter intimately.  Over the past dozen years he has written a total of eight books on the subject of volcanoes.  His latest effort "Vesuvius:  A Biography" presents the incredible history of one of the world's most famous and feared volcanoes in an engaging and completely unique format.  His "biography" of this fabled mountain in Southern Italy reveals the stupendous forces of nature that are released each time this volcano erupts.  Scarth cautions us all not to be fooled by the breathtaking beauty of the mountain that some so-called "experts" have declared to be extinct.  For when Vesuvius rumbles back to life the impact on human life and property will be catastrophic.  Scarth passionately argues that the three million people who reside in the areas surrounding Vesuvius need to learn and understand its destructive history lest they be doomed to repeat it. 

As most students of history know the most famous and destructive eruption of Vesuvius occured in the year 79 A.D. This was the eruption that buried the city of Pompeii and the neighboring town of Herculaneum.  Utilizing the letters from an eyewitness to these events, a man called Pliny the Younger, Scarth recalls in dramatic detail the events of what many consider to be the "granddaddy' of all natural disasters.  I simply cannot imagine how terrified these people must have been as these events were unfolding all around them. The best estimates are that some 16,000 people perished.  Most of these folks simply did not have time to get out of harms way.  Scarth recalls that when the site was finally excavated, it revealed much of what Pompeii looked like in 79 A.D.  The city had been buried under nearly 4 meters of ash.  Incredibly, a bakery oven containing 81 loaves of bread nearly 2000 years old was uncovered!   Meanwhile, Alwyn Scarth also does a workmanlike job of detailing other major eruptions of Vesuvius over the past two millennia. And he manages to do so in language that the average reader with a limited scientific vocabulary can understand. Not an easy task!

Prior to reading "Vesuvius: A Biography" I was largely unaware of the wide array of life-threatening and highly destructive ecological events that can be spurred by a volcanic eruption.  Aside from the obvious effects like molten lava flows and Plinian eruptions (the powerful and deadly explosion of gas, steam, ash and pumice that can last from several minutes to several hours and rise in vertical columns up to 30 km or more) depending on the location volcanoes can generate earthquakes, violent thunderstormsmudslides and even on occasion a tsunami!   In this book you will discover the hopes and fears of the people who live in the shadow of Vesuvius.  You will also learn about how the deep religious traditions in the area play a major role in the way residents view the volcano.

All in all, I found "Vesuvius: A Biography" to be an exceptionally well written book.  In addition, the dozens of photographs and illustrations and the "Glossary of Terms" greatly enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of this book.  Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to author Alwyn Scarth is that I want to learn more about Vesuvius.  I see that The History Channel has produced a couple of documentaries on Vesuvius over the years and I intend to seek them out.  "Vesuvius:  A Biography" proves to be an exceptionally well thought out project.  Very highly recommended! 
Still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

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May 19, 2010
My kind of science book, Paul. Great review. This one is definitely added to my reading list.
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