By Jarrett A. Lobell
In late August A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted with deadly force. Ash, stone, and scorching hot dust rained down on the southern Italian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, completely entombing the cities and their residents, and providing archaeologists with an unparalleled window into everyday life in the first century A.D. Despite a steady stream of publications and documentaries about these sites, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's book Herculaneum Past and Future(Frances Lincoln Limited, $60) and Pompeii the Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius at Discovery Times Square in New York City (through September 5), prove there is still room for more.
After 10 years as director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, there is no archaeologist better suited to raise this city from its relative obscurity than Wallace-Hadrill. His book is filled with hundreds of new and archival photographs, panoramic views, and an invaluable foldout map of the site. The book is arranged in highly readable chapters that focus not only on the history of excavations, ancient city planning, and Herculaneum's vibrant fresco paintings and mosaics, but also succeed in populating those spaces. Wherever possible, Wallace-Hadrill tells the individual stories of slaves, citizens, and the elite, using the enormous wealth of archaeological evidence Herculaneum provides—residents' names, their houses, their furniture and food, and even their skeletons. While its visual appeal may lead readers to believe Herculaneum Past and Future is merely a coffee-table book, the research Wallace-Hadrill presents is comprehensive and of the highest quality. The author has filled a gap in the public's knowledge of Herculaneum—an even better-preserved city than its neighbor, Pompeii, only four miles away.