Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pompeii, From the Ashes . . . Rediscovering Pompeii in Books, Movies, and Games.

UPDATE TO BLOG POST, 06-10-14: This update is just to let you know that for all those interested in purchasing the movie, Pompeii, it is now available on Blu-ray/DVD. As of this day, 06-10-14, average Amazon viewers of the movie, Pompeii, rate it 2.9 stars out of 5. A fairly poor rating. Having read all the books, below, and viewed documentaries, played the video and board games, and studied the maps, I find the movie inaccurate and  fanciful. Although the movie had that artistic, big-screen feel to it, glamorous and beautiful, it just left me dissatisfied. If you are uncertain whether or not to purchase the movie, try renting it before buying. My best to you all.
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Pompeii, the newest movie, about the fateful city by the same name, has garnered so much interest that I felt compelled to do a posting. The movie, however, was not based on a book, but on a screen play. So...I decided to do the post on the topic of Pompeii, including several nonfiction books on Pompeii as a tie-in to the movie. 

     First, as I said, the upcoming release of Pompeii has stirred up interest in all things Pompeii. I'm talking about the the real deal--yes, Pompeii, the city in ruins from the volcanic eruption on August 24/25 AD 79. To that end, I have selected perhaps, not definitive works on Pompeii, but books that I found attractive and interesting and, of course, I hope you do, too.

     But first, let's see the trailer of the movie, Pompeii, from which the almost manic interest about Pompeii has been kindled. The movie debuts 02-21-14. The trailer is short, so please enjoy this beautifully crafted trailer, then read about the books I selected for review, just below the trailer.

     The movie is about a gladiator (Milo, played by Kit Harington) who races to save the woman he loves, Cassia (played by Emily Browning). Milo fights to get out of the arena and races against time as Pompeii is being buried under ash and rock (and in the movie version, lava) to save Cassia. She is engaged to corrupt Roman Senator Corvus, who is played by Kiefer Sutherland; Milo's friend, Atticus, is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The screenplay writers consisted of Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Julian Fellowes, and Michael Robert Johnson; Paul W.S. Anderson, Directed the picture. RELEASE DATE: 02-21-14.
BODIES FROM THE ASH: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii.
     The first book I have for you today, is a fascinating hardcover book, Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii. The book gives detailed information about the lives of Pompeii's citizens, the chronology of the eruption of Vesuvius, and striking analysis of events as they likely took place.  As James M. Deem chronicles the fact-driven book, he utilizes photographs of architecture, art, and plaster (molds of) bodies fallen in the ruins. 
by James M. Deem. Available from in 
hardcover for $12.76, paperback for $14.29, 
USED: in hardcover and paperback from
$1.56 to $14.29. For those who have Amazon
Prime, you get free two day shipping.

     Deem relates things that archaeologists have learned through examining the site and shows just how endangered Pompeii is to both the ravages of the elements and to the potential threat of another eruption of Vesuvius. Breem explains that Vesuvius is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world since over one million people live in its shadow.

     I found many of the photographs very moving. The reader observes--in the mold of the plaster cast of the person's body--the very last moments of that person's life. We see how each person faced death. Then, seeing the architecture and streets where people lived and walked and worked everyday, just made their poignant lives real to me.

     I really, really liked this book. That is why I selected it to lead off today's offerings for you. If you only have time for one of the items I present today, this is it. It is very informative, poignant, and everything is beautifully presented.
This book, Pompeii Reconstructed, by
Maria Antonietta Lozzi, was imported from
Italy, and is in English. The book has
overlays so you can see what Pompeii
looked like before the devastation and what
it looks like now. A DVD, included, gives
you a virtual tour of Pompeii. The book
also contains maps to show you all the
important locations--then and now.
Recommended, if you have plans
to visit Pompeii, or if you have been there.
Pompeii: Reconstructed.
     This hardcover book on Pompeii I chose because it is all about the architecture of the famous city. And boy, is there a lot of architecture to cover. This book is somewhat unique in that some pages have been constructed utilizing cutout overlays so the reader can see what Pompeii looked like before the Vesuvial eruption and what it looks like now.

     As I indicated in the caption beneath the book cover image, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is planning a trip to Pompeii or to someone who has already visited the ancient city. I probably should add, if you are like me and just want to learn more about Pompeii, the book would also fill the bill.

     This book contains tons of information about the architecture. For example, the book explains that some of the buildings that had been damaged in the huge earthquake in AD 62 were still in the process of being restored when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the city. The Eumachia Building is a prime example of partial reconstruction prior to the volcanic eruption. The book also gives important background information about the founding of the city and the influences the various groups had on architecture and painting. Importantly, the Pompeian house floor styles are explained, and shown, so the reader understands when specific terms are used later in the book, for example, peristyles (courtyards surrounded by columns).

     Pompeii Reconstructed also does a wonderful job explaining about the four styles of Pompeian painting used in the buildings as frescoes or as mosaics. It explains that knowing the four styles not only helps the viewer appreciate the beauty of the art and to understand about the lives of Pompeii's citizens, but is an invaluable tool in dating the building, reconstruction and remodeling done in various periods.

     The book has also included information about visiting the excavation, construction materials and building techniques, the gateways into/out of the city, the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, information gleaned from writings (Strabone--who considered the volcano extinct, and Pliny the Younger who chronicled the events of the eruption and sent them to Tacitus.), information about the "New Excavations," and a fold out map of Pompeii then and now. The book covers some 46 specific public and private buildings individually, providing detailed information on each (including a picture, often with overlays to see the before and after). The DVD gives you a short, virtual tour of the city.
The Downfall of Pompeii,
the board game by MayFair Games.
Available from,
starting at: $29.00

    The Downfall of Pompeii. As I was looking for a new book on Pompeii, I spotted this unique-looking board game and, on a whim, ordered it. I played it with my family over the Christmas Holidays. The set up is easy and only took a few minutes. The rules, however, took a little longer to understand. Figuring out the shuffling and dealing instructions for the cards took a few minutes. Once that was done, play was easy and fun.
Both the box and the board are have a beautiful feel because
of the linen finish used. Also in the picture are the cards, real
wood game pieces (yellow, blue, black & red) portraying the
citizens, the cone used to form the volcano (Vesuvius), the
heavy duty square cardboard tiles (blue and red) and the
cloth bag from which they are drawn, and the colorful game
instructions pamphlet. 
     The game goes in stages. First, get as many citizens (your game pieces) onto the board as possible. The number on the card you draw determines where your citizens get placed on the board. Each player continues placing citizens onto the board each turn until the first of two AD 79 cards are drawn.

     Stage Two: If an "Omen Card" is drawn (not shown), the player can choose to remove another player's game piece from the board. Players continue to add pieces to the board on each turn until the second of the two AD 79 cards are drawn.
A real game in process: the turning point in the game comes when the second AD 79 card (Vesuvius erupting) is drawn.  You can no longer put citizens (game pieces) into the city...they all must flee in order to save their lives. The citizens attempt to flee through one of the seven gates...but, they could be blocked or killed by pyroclastic flow before they are able to get out the gate. The winner will be determined by who has saved the most citizens (game pieces). At this point, the cards are set aside and the blue and red square cardboard tiles are brought out (see photo below).  
Porta di Sano gate (center right) is closed off--with a tile of pyroclastic ash
(or lava) in front of it, as is Porta Nocera (right bottom). Citizens dressed in
yellow and blue are still alive and trying to flee through Porta di Nola (top
right), as is one citizen in yellow at the Porta di Stabia gate (bottom center).
     The bag with the blue and red tiles are passed around and on each turn every player takes a tile and places it on the board. If a tile lands on top a citizen (game piece), the citizen is dead and put into the volcano. You move your pieces towards the closest gate to get them out the gate and to safety. In this game, the citizens dressed in red (see bottom left of photo) have been saved and are out of the city.

     I asked each of the players to rate the game. Three gave it a score of 4 stars out of 5 and one gave it a score of 3 stars out of 5. The average turned out to be 3.75 stars out of 5. However, the person who scored it 3 stars later asked me if we could all play the game again this upcoming weekend. Hmmmm.? Everyone said it was a fun game. I especially like that we can play a game in 45 to 60 minutes, unlike Monopoly that can sometimes take hours to play.

From the History Channel,
Ancient Discoveries [Ancient
Civilizations], Pompeii: Buried
Alive (DVD and book set).
Available from

    Another Pompeii-related item, today, is a book with a DVD to accompany it. The book's cover is strikingly beautiful and terrifying at the same time. This book provides a lot of facts in a relatively small space. After you've read the book, take the quiz at the end to see just how much you can recall. Then, put the DVD on and watch fifty minutes of interesting documentary information presented by the History Channel.

    The History Channel put out a fifty-two volume set of different Ancient Discoveries locations. This particular volume, #8, is about Pompeii. I have owned the complete set since 2008. I checked the website for you and discovered that it is no longer for sale. I did, however, find that the book/DVD combo of this title, Pompeii (#8), is still available on Amazon. You might find it elsewhere, with a little looking.
    This informative little book also has provided a few websites that you can visit on your computer. I went to all three web sites and found them fascinating and informative. The photographs on the web sites were striking! So, if you want to learn more about Pompeii, here are the three suggested sites, as listed on page 24 of the book:

(1) The English version of the official site for the National Archaeological Museum of Naples where most of the Pompeii finds are kept; includes images and descriptions of artifacts.
(2) A glimpse of everyday life of the Romans in Pompeii with photo gallery and information on artifacts from Pompeii, including very rare finds such as  food items.
(3) An interesting article on the making and exhibiting of casts of the victims of Pompeii.
     The following documentary is somewhat lengthy, almost an hour. Seeing the facial reconstructions, alone, would be worth your time. I also found the explanation about pyroclastic flow absolutely fascinating. I must say that the thing I most enjoyed from the documentary was the facial reconstruction of two of Vesuvius's victims from the ash--one man, one woman. The process was amazing, and absolutely fascinating. I loved the reconstructions because it brought two people back to life, so to speak.


This screen shot is from the video game, Darkest of Days,
a time travel game where the player goes back in time
to rescue certain individuals from harm or destruction.
Here, Father Time needs to be rescued by the player.
You can see  Mt. Vesuvius erupting in the background.

    I promised you a video game that features Pompeii--well, here it is: Darkest of Days. Two screen shots from within the game. You can see Mt. Vesuvius erupting in the background in the first shot, and people running in the second, with ash falling all around.

     The reason I have this section (about a video game) in my blog today is merely to show that the mythos of Pompeii has invaded almost every corner of our society. For whatever reason, Pompeii has captured the imagination and interest of many, many people. And . . . it has been stirred up again, thanks to the the movie makers putting "The City" in front of us in the form of the new movie, Pompeii, being released on February 21, 2014.

Another screen shot from Darkest of Days, this time you can
see Pompeians running to escape...the time traveler has a
gun in preparation for meeting the bad guys...a gun? Yes, I
know...but remember, this is time travel and the time traveler
is from the distant future. You can also see clumps of
volcanic ash falling from the skies from the eruption.

ABOUT THE GAME: In this computer game the player travels back and forth through time to relive and complete quests involved in that unique time period. The game takes you through such time locations as the Civil War, World War I and II, and what we're focusing on today, Pompeii. 

     The game is a FPS (first person shooter) game, that goes beyond the typical shooting game. In Darkest of Days you have to be careful not to change time, to approach your quest (missions) with strategy and care in not killing the sought-after subject. 

Darkest of Days is available
on PC and Xbox 360 plat-
forms for $6.00, in stock as
of this date. Free two-day
shipping for Amazon Prime
members. Amazon rating is
3.4 stars (27 Reviewers). 
     The game falls within the action genre, and the Developer is 8monkey Labs, the Publisher, Phantom EFX (Release Date: September 2009). The game comes in English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish interfaces. Online forums exist, Community Groups and an Official Game Group. 

The Official Site for the game can be located here: The Rating is: M [ESRB Descriptors: Blood, Strong Language, Violence]. Importantly, the metascore (from is 51/100 (which, in reality, is not that high--I prefer a metascore of 80+). [Note: The metascore is based on the average reviews of 20 critics.] The User Score is 6.0 and is based on the average reviews of 96 separate user ratings. 

     Although I don't use cheat codes in my gaming, for those who do care, Cheat Codes do exist for this game--just follow this link to learn more about cheat codes for the game: Darkest of Days may be purchased at various locations including Amazon and STEAM (Valve network). 

The Last Days of Pompeii.
The 1935 version by Director Merian C.
Cooper. Notable actors include the
following: Preston Foster, Alan Hale,
Basil Rathbone, Dorothy Wilson,
and Director, Ernest B Schoedsack.
     Legendary producer, Merian Cooper and Director, Ernest Schoedsack, teamed up to bring The Last Days of Pompeii to the silver screen. Year: 1935. The movie is loosely based on the Bulwer-Lytton book which I have not reviewed in this posting.

     The story has been created using a Christian/gladiatorial theme, one in which its star, Preston Foster, who was originally a peace-loving blacksmith loses his wife and falls on hard times. Preston goes to the arena to fight and after killing a man in the arena, adopts the man's son and raises him. After a series of (mis)adventures, Preston's son meets Jesus and his life is changed forever; Preston's life is not. Years pass and then the eventful day comes when Mt. Vesuvius erupts.

     If you can get past laughing at the flabby gladiators...well, don't. The movie is slow, and laughing at all that flab will keep you amused until the story reaches the climatic part--the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii. The eruption scenes take about twenty minutes, so, just be patient until you get to them. I think watching this film was worth my time because even though it was slow, compared to today's new movies, we not only get a see how people viewed the destruction of Pompeii in the '30s, but the climatic scenes are wonderful. On Amazon, this movie is rated 4.4 stars out of 5 (23 reviewers) and costs $9.79 (free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime); it comes in a 1-disc DVD version and can be purchased used from $4.70. 

The Pompeii Pop-up by David
Hawcock, Peter Riley,
and Dr. Thorston Opper.

    The final Pompeii-related item today is, yes, you guessed it, a pop-up book. I believe that anything that can stimulate interest in reading is GREAT! This lovely pop-up book does that, and...about one of my favorite topics, Pompeii. I have owned this beautiful book since February 5, 2009 (and my Pompeii: Buried Alive book, above, since 2008), so you see my interest in Pompeii is not new. I have not been to visit Pompeii, yet, but I dearly want to go. Until then, I must find satisfaction in my books.

     As expected, the book is hardcover and may be purchased new for $10.83 or used from $9.39 at Amazon. As you can see, the star of the show, is the largest pop-up in the book (just below), Mt. Vesuvius erupting over the City of Pompeii while the citizens flee. This three-dimensional picture recreates the horror of the disaster that took place on August 24/25 AD 79.

     The six beautiful full-color pop-up spreads, include a pop-up ship on the Mediterranean Sea showing Pompeii's importance in trading goods and a fold-out map of Italy. Two full pages are dedicated to "City Life" (including work, money, amphorae, markets and bakeries, religion and the gods, statuary, almost a full page pop-up Forum, leisure, theater and music, gladiators, and a secondary pop-up amphitheater.). 

     Two more pages show a pop-up Roman villa (with a cutaway so you can see the inside), with a secondary pop-up of the Roman baths, information about water, food, clothing, slaves, and growing up in Pompeii. 

     The third full two page spread shows Mt. Vesuvius erupting (to the right) with text on the left and right (not shown) about the hail of rocks, the pyroclastic flow, avalanches, stages of the eruption, the explosion and cloud shape and the sad story of Pliny the Older (by Pliny the Younger). 

     The fourth two page spread boasts two pop-ups, shown here just below, and is entitled, "End of Days." The first pop-up shows the pumice hailstorms and talks about how the ground shook and the seas raged. It also talks about the death toll and how Pompeii's citizens tried to flee the city carrying their possessions.

     The second pop-up on the "End of Days" page (to the right) talks about how the pumice and ash nearly buried the city and all that could be seen were the very tops of some houses and buildings. And then it talks about the avalanches (pyroclastic flow) that brought the end to any who were left alive.

     The final two page spread contains three mini-pop-ups of The House of the Faun, The Bakery of Modesto, and The Inn of Asellina. Also, a street map of Pompeii is shown with all the famous locations like the mosaic of The Battle of Alexander the Great (House of the Faun) and the "Beware of the Dog" mosaic.  The page also talks about the bodies and skeletons of the deceased citizens and of the mosaics and frescoes that adorned their homes. A pull-out drawer holds a booklet about the City of Herculaneum, a 3-D Gladiator mask, and a 3-D Roman amphitheater.

     I greatly enjoyed perusing the pages of the Pompeii Pop-up book. The information included was amazingly detailed as well as informative. Moreover, the scope of themes in the book were expansive and the writers and paper engineers are to be commended for their excellence in putting the book together for their reading audiences. I give this book a 5.0 stars out of 5 stars rating.

Pompeii: The Last Day
and Colosseum: A
Gladiator's Story
 is a
DVD available on Ama-
zon for $5.49 (free 2-day
sh/h for Prime Members).
     As I was preparing the blog post for Pompeii, I ordered a number of new Pompeii-related items to be shipped to me in the mail. This DVD came just after I finished drafting the above-related information, so I added it, here, at the end. What I have for you is, Pompeii: The Last Day, a well-known 2003 BBC production about Pompeii's last day. The DVD also contains a bonus 50-minute program, Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story (a true-to-life story about a famous Roman gladiator, Verus). 

     In preparing this blog post, I read and reviewed a number of books, documentaries, movies, and games. This DVD may be the best production out there when it comes to helping us understand what it was like to live in Pompeii and what it was like on the last day in Pompeii.

     The DVD is very informative, but perhaps the best thing it does is to bring the residents of Pompeii to reality, to life. Parts of the story are very poignant and made me feel so sad for those poor people. If you want to understand Pompeii better, watch the documentary. I highly recommend this 50 minute show, with the caveat, that sensitive viewers or children, might choose a different program to view. I have found for you the YouTube posting of the program, Pompeii: The Last Day; please enjoy.


A frescoe from the House
of Centenario
   The reason I have included items such as games, movies, documentaries, and pop-up books to this book review is that I've learned that looking at these things can not only excite the imagination, it, most importantly, can stimulate the desire to learn something more of the topic--here, Pompeii. 

     The person then goes to a library, on-line source, e-book, or book to obtain more information about the object of their desire (say, frescoes, like the one on the left, here). That is exactly what happened, to me. I saw the trailer for the movie, and I ran to my books about Pompeii and then ordered more from Amazon; I also did other research into books and websites about Pompeii. The result is what I have brought you today. I hope you have a similar experience. 

Glass from Pompeii.
     I know that I feel enriched by learning even more than I already knew about Pompeii (and volcanos)! I appreciate life more. I appreciate the information age I live in more. So . . . anything that can stimulate a person to read more, I am all for it. Reading doesn't have to be dull and lifeless. If art isn't your thing (like the statuary, frescoes and mosaics of Pompeii), what about fighting and swords (like the gladiators)? or Baking (like the bread baked in the Modesto Bakery, in Pompeii)? Love the ocean? Then what about the ships, trading, ocean life, sea food or recreation in Pompeii? How about archaeology or vulcanology? 

Architecture--a street in Pompeii.
     None of that interests you? What about animals, like dogs (they were a part of the life of Pompeians.). Pompeii had a large and thriving glass blowing industry--do you like hand blown glass? There are so many things, like architecture, politics, fashion, make-up and make-up techniques for women, theater, religion . . . or prostitution, slavery, bath houses, and fast food joints--yes, they had fast food joints in Pompeii! 
The Bulwer-Lytton story
in comic book form--see
Classics Illustrated, #35:
The Last Days of Pompeii
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

     There are so many exciting things about Pompeii, and the world, to read about. Find something. And, if you need a movie, game, documentary, on-line surfing, a Classics Illustrated comic book, or a trip to the theater to see the upcoming movie, Pompeii (opening in theaters on 02-21-14) to stimulate your reading desire--go for it! I give you permission.

     Enough, for now. My sincerest hope is that you pick up a book and read it--hopefully, this week, it is something about Pompeii. Learn something. Enjoy something. Read something! I love my books . . . and what I find inside them--I know you will, too.

Until next time...
White Rose.

...many happy pages of reading.



_______________________________________________________ - Pompeii movie poster banner (2014); - Pompeii (teaser trailer) from YouTube; - Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii (hardcover edition); - Pompeii: Reconstructed; - The Downfall of Pompeii by MayFair Games; -Pompeii: Buried Alive; - Body molded from Pompeii; - Mold of person in death; - Carbonized bread from Pompeii; - YouTube Documentary about Pompeii; - Screenshot from Darkest of Days; - Screenshot #2 from Darkest of Days; - Darkest of Days from Amazon; - The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) in DVD from Amazon; - The Pompeii Pop-up Book; - The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) DVD, Director: Merian C. Cooper; - Pompeii: The Last Day DVD (Amazon); - YouTube video of Pompeii: The Last Day; - Fresco from the House of Centenario; - glass from Pompeii; - Architecture, a street in Pompeii; - Classics Illustrated: The Last Days of Pompeii (Kindle Edition); - White Rose.