The best books on Pompeii

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Pompeii and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Pompeii

By Mary Beard,

Book cover of Pompeii

We all love Mary Beard, and this superb book looks into the daily life of the people who lived in Pompeii before its destruction, revealing plenty of fascinating detail, and excellent explanation and commentary. Definitely one of the best books about daily life in an ordinary Roman town.

Pompeii

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ruins of Pompeii, buried by an explosion of Vesuvius in 79 CE, offer the best evidence we have of everyday life in the Roman empire. This remarkable book rises to the challenge of making sense of those remains, as well as exploding many myths: the very date of the eruption, probably a few months later than usually thought; or the hygiene of the baths which must have been hotbeds of germs; or the legendary number of brothels, most likely only one; or the massive death count, maybe less than ten per cent of the population.

An extraordinary and involving…

Who am I?

I have had a lifelong love of history, especially ancient history, and have spent years studying it for both interest and pleasure. I also love stories, so I decided to put my knowledge of Roman history to good use, providing what I hope is an authentic backdrop to my novels.


I wrote...

In the Shadow of the Wall

By Gordon Anthony,

Book cover of In the Shadow of the Wall

What is my book about?

Brude, A young pictish warrior, leaves his home in the village of Broch Tava to join a raid on the Roman province beyond the wall. Capture after a disastrous battle, only his dreams of home and the childhood sweetheart he left behind allow him to survive life as a slave. Trained as a gladiator, he eventually wins his freedom and returns home after an absence of thirteen years. There he discovers that much has changed and life in Broch Tava is every bit as dangerous as in the arena. And the great Roman wall still casts a long shadow. With the empire preparing a massive invasion, can Brude survive the deadly snares of his former friend and save his people from death or enslavement?

The Complete Pompeii

By Joanne Berry,

Book cover of The Complete Pompeii

Probably the best and most approachable overview of the history and archaeology of Pompeii, good for the armchair enthusiast and student alike. It is clear, concise, and well-illustrated, and unlike many such books that appeal to a more general audience, it is authored by an expert who has been working on site and teaching about Pompeii for most of her career.

The Complete Pompeii

By Joanne Berry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Complete Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This profusely illustrated volume, the latest instalment in Thames & Hudson's bestselling Complete series, is the most up-to-date, comprehensive and authoritative account of the most important archaeological site in the world. Nine chapters cover the rise and fall of Pompeii and all aspects of its life, including reconstructions of the daily lives of the town's inhabitants, the dramatic story of Pompeii's destruction through the words of Roman writers and the spectacular remains of volcanic debris and damage. It is sure to become the standard account for tourist, traveller, student and scholar alike.

Who am I?

I first visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 17. I have a clear memory of standing in the Forum and thinking it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Decades later, that feeling remains, and the sites destroyed by Vesuvius have become the focus of my research on ancient Rome. I have excavated in Pompeii, conducted epigraphic fieldwork in Herculaneum, and taught students at multiple universities around the UK about the cities, the people who lived there, and their destruction. I am fundamentally interested in the people, how they lived their lives, and have published widely on tombs, epigraphy, and politics in Pompeii.


I wrote...

The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

By Virginia Campbell,

Book cover of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

What is my book about?

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the tombs of Pompeii and its immediate environs, examining the funerary culture of the population, delving into the importance of social class and self-representation, and developing a broad understanding of Pompeii’s funerary epigraphy and business. Author Virginia L. Campbell demonstrates that the funerary practices of Pompeii are, in some ways, unique to the population, moving away from the traditional approach to burial based on generalizations and studies of typology.

Including an extensive catalogue of tomb data and images never before assembled or published, this collective approach reveals new insights into ancient commemoration. The Tombs of Pompeii is the first English-language book on Pompeian funerary rituals. It’s also the first in any language to provide a complete survey of the tombs of Pompeii and the first to situate Pompeian differences within a wider Roman burial context.

Book cover of Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii

Imagine re-creating the works of Shakespeare or Milton from the graffiti on the walls of Victorian England – impossible you’d say. But it is possible to find lines of the most famous poets of the Roman world scratched into the walls of Pompeii, and Milnor provides a systematic overview of how and why this literary re-production occurred, what it indicates about literacy and learning, and how differently the ancients viewed writing in public spaces.

Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii

By Kristina Milnor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this volume, Milnor considers how the fragments of textual graffiti which survive on the walls of the Roman city of Pompeii reflect and refract the literary world from which they emerged. Focusing in particular on the writings which either refer to or quote canonical authors directly, Milnor uncovers the influence- in diction, style, or structure-of elite Latin literature as the Pompeian graffiti show significant connections with familiar authors such as Ovid,
Propertius, and Virgil.

While previous scholarship has described these fragments as popular distortions of well-known texts, Milnor argues that they are important cultural products in their own right,…

Who am I?

I first visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 17. I have a clear memory of standing in the Forum and thinking it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Decades later, that feeling remains, and the sites destroyed by Vesuvius have become the focus of my research on ancient Rome. I have excavated in Pompeii, conducted epigraphic fieldwork in Herculaneum, and taught students at multiple universities around the UK about the cities, the people who lived there, and their destruction. I am fundamentally interested in the people, how they lived their lives, and have published widely on tombs, epigraphy, and politics in Pompeii.


I wrote...

The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

By Virginia Campbell,

Book cover of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

What is my book about?

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the tombs of Pompeii and its immediate environs, examining the funerary culture of the population, delving into the importance of social class and self-representation, and developing a broad understanding of Pompeii’s funerary epigraphy and business. Author Virginia L. Campbell demonstrates that the funerary practices of Pompeii are, in some ways, unique to the population, moving away from the traditional approach to burial based on generalizations and studies of typology.

Including an extensive catalogue of tomb data and images never before assembled or published, this collective approach reveals new insights into ancient commemoration. The Tombs of Pompeii is the first English-language book on Pompeian funerary rituals. It’s also the first in any language to provide a complete survey of the tombs of Pompeii and the first to situate Pompeian differences within a wider Roman burial context.

Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii

By Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski,

Book cover of Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii: Memoirs of a Garden Archaeologist

It’s difficult to imagine any discussion of Pompeii (or Roman gardens) without mentioning Jashemski. She quite literally wrote the book(s) on gardens, and her archaeological approach to plant remains revolutionised how botanical evidence is collected. This book, published after her death, is a memoir more than anything, detailing her work, her travels, and her vast experience of working in Pompeii. It is, in many ways, a love letter to the place that somewhat unexpectedly became the focus her life.

Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii

By Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I first visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 17. I have a clear memory of standing in the Forum and thinking it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Decades later, that feeling remains, and the sites destroyed by Vesuvius have become the focus of my research on ancient Rome. I have excavated in Pompeii, conducted epigraphic fieldwork in Herculaneum, and taught students at multiple universities around the UK about the cities, the people who lived there, and their destruction. I am fundamentally interested in the people, how they lived their lives, and have published widely on tombs, epigraphy, and politics in Pompeii.


I wrote...

The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

By Virginia Campbell,

Book cover of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

What is my book about?

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the tombs of Pompeii and its immediate environs, examining the funerary culture of the population, delving into the importance of social class and self-representation, and developing a broad understanding of Pompeii’s funerary epigraphy and business. Author Virginia L. Campbell demonstrates that the funerary practices of Pompeii are, in some ways, unique to the population, moving away from the traditional approach to burial based on generalizations and studies of typology.

Including an extensive catalogue of tomb data and images never before assembled or published, this collective approach reveals new insights into ancient commemoration. The Tombs of Pompeii is the first English-language book on Pompeian funerary rituals. It’s also the first in any language to provide a complete survey of the tombs of Pompeii and the first to situate Pompeian differences within a wider Roman burial context.

Book cover of The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

No city of the Roman world survives more fully than Pompeii in southern Italy. Baths, bars, houses, and temples have been recovered, along with pots and pans, foodstuffs, medical instruments, and skeletons with evidence of an appallingly high rate of disease. For a knowledgeable and witty guide to the city you can’t beat Mary Beard, who helps us see it was not all marble columns and pretty paintings. I especially love her description of the House of the Tragic Poet, in which Edward Bulwer-Lytton set an early scene of his novel The Last Days of Pompeii, a dinner party hosted by the character Glaucus. Beard reveals that just behind this house was a cloth-processing workshop in which the main agent used would have been human urine. “In the background to Glaucus’ elegant dinner party,” writes Beard, “there must have been a distinctly nasty odor.”        

The Fires of Vesuvius

By Mary Beard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fires of Vesuvius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pompeii is the most famous archaeological site in the world, visited by more than two million people each year. Yet it is also one of the most puzzling, with an intriguing and sometimes violent history, from the sixth century BCE to the present day.

Destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 CE, the ruins of Pompeii offer the best evidence we have of life in the Roman Empire. But the eruptions are only part of the story. In The Fires of Vesuvius, acclaimed historian Mary Beard makes sense of the remains. She explores what kind of town it was-more like Calcutta or…


Who am I?

I am a historian of ancient Rome. My interest was sparked in my high school Latin classes. On my first trip to Rome, several years later, I truly fell in love. I could see the famed orator delivering his fierce attacks against Catiline amid the grand temples of the Forum and its surrounding hills. I could imagine myself standing in a crowd, listening. In Washington DC, where I now live and teach at Georgetown University, there are classical buildings all around to keep me inspired. I have written a number of books about Roman political history and have also translated the biographer Suetonius and the historian Sallust.


I wrote...

Rome and the Making of a World State, 150 BCE–20 CE

By Josiah Osgood,

Book cover of Rome and the Making of a World State, 150 BCE–20 CE

What is my book about?

Rome and the Making of a World State offers a clear and lively account of the fall of the Roman Republic. By moving beyond the conventional stopping date of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, this book traces not only political breakdown but also a longer arc of cultural transformation. In the midst of violence and civil war, the Romans reimagined citizenship and extended it widely, developed a more inclusive vision of empire, and turned the city of Rome into an artistic center with a lively literary scene. With rich descriptions of Rome and also Pompeii in southern Italy, Osgood shows how marble temples, lavish baths, and vast sports arenas sprang up among dingy, disease-filled streets in which large numbers of people lived enslaved. 

Pompeii

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Pompeii

I am totally fascinated with many of the ancient worlds. The story of Pompeii is at the top of that list. Robert Harris’ character of Attilius brings that ancient city to life for me. His trials and challenges let readers experience everyday life on the streets of the city. The descriptions of the eruption still resonate long after I finished reading the book. The horror of that single event doesn’t leave your mind.

Pompeii

By Robert Harris,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Since discovering the myths and legends of the world at college, I’ve fallen in love with these and the countries and cities where they originated. Teaching the literature that evolved from this for so many years deepened my fascination with the ancient/medieval worlds. I literally pounce on any books I come across, fiction and non-fiction. All of my novels draw from these worlds and are a thrill to write and read. However, life was extremely hard back then, and I wouldn’t want to have lived back then! I hope you join me in exploring these fascinating reads.


I wrote...

Feathers of the Phoenix: The Atlantean Horse, Book 1

By Cheryl Carpinello,

Book cover of Feathers of the Phoenix: The Atlantean Horse, Book 1

What is my book about?

Ancient Mystery & Prophecy. One epic task!

Steeped in ancient mystery & prophecy. Hunted by 4 Deadly Biblical Horsemen. Rosa & Jerome embark upon a perilous quest and risk all find the 1st of 5 Phoenix Feathers. Do you dare to travel with them?

A Day of Fire

By Ben Kane, Sophie Perinot, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, Stephanie Dray

Book cover of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

A collection of interlinked short stories about the volcanic destruction of Pompeii which works better than I thought it would. A lot better, as this is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, bringing me to tears in places. Six authors, all looking at the doom of quite different characters, from gladiators to senators to a pregnant woman and more, you expect the whole thing to be utterly depressing but, somehow, it isn’t. I must admit I read this when I was in a very fragile state of mind having just suffered a terrible tragedy of my own, so it’s possible that affected my reading of A Day of Fire and how I responded to it, but I know it was extremely well written and I was so glad to have read it. I think you should too.

A Day of Fire

By Ben Kane, Sophie Perinot, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, Stephanie Dray

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Day of Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain's wrath . . . and these are their stories: A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii's flourishing streets. An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire. An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished. A crippled senator welcomes death, until…

Who am I?

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. My first book in the Forest Lord series, Wolf’s Head, was set in medieval England and it’s a fast-paced, violent retelling of the Robin Hood legends. I’ve since sold over 130,000 books in the past few years. As a working class man from a little village in Scotland, I’m honestly amazed at how many people enjoy my writing.


I wrote...

The Druid

By Steven A. McKay,

Book cover of The Druid

What is my book about?

Set in northern Britain in AD430. This explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition, and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter, and song. In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.

Resurrecting Pompeii

By Estelle Lazer,

Book cover of Resurrecting Pompeii

More often than not, people forget that the Vesuvian sites are, as gruesome as it sounds, large mass burials – not just of the cities themselves, but of people. The human remains of Pompeii (and by extension, Herculaneum) have been ignored or treated like some kind of circus attraction for centuries. What Lazar does is open your eyes to just how much information there is to be found from the casts and skeletons, and the potential to learn so much more about people and life in the first century. Her work is groundbreaking.

Resurrecting Pompeii

By Estelle Lazer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Resurrecting Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Resurrecting Pompeii provides an in-depth study of a unique site from antiquity with information about a population who all died from the same known cause within a short period of time.

Pompeii has been continuously excavated and studied since 1748. Early scholars working in Pompeii and other sites associated with the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius were seduced by the wealth of artefacts and wall paintings yielded by the site. This meant that the less visually attractive evidence, such as human skeletal remains, were largely ignored.

Recognizing the important contribution of the human skeletal evidence to the archaeology of…


Who am I?

I first visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 17. I have a clear memory of standing in the Forum and thinking it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Decades later, that feeling remains, and the sites destroyed by Vesuvius have become the focus of my research on ancient Rome. I have excavated in Pompeii, conducted epigraphic fieldwork in Herculaneum, and taught students at multiple universities around the UK about the cities, the people who lived there, and their destruction. I am fundamentally interested in the people, how they lived their lives, and have published widely on tombs, epigraphy, and politics in Pompeii.


I wrote...

The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

By Virginia Campbell,

Book cover of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

What is my book about?

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the tombs of Pompeii and its immediate environs, examining the funerary culture of the population, delving into the importance of social class and self-representation, and developing a broad understanding of Pompeii’s funerary epigraphy and business. Author Virginia L. Campbell demonstrates that the funerary practices of Pompeii are, in some ways, unique to the population, moving away from the traditional approach to burial based on generalizations and studies of typology.

Including an extensive catalogue of tomb data and images never before assembled or published, this collective approach reveals new insights into ancient commemoration. The Tombs of Pompeii is the first English-language book on Pompeian funerary rituals. It’s also the first in any language to provide a complete survey of the tombs of Pompeii and the first to situate Pompeian differences within a wider Roman burial context.

From the Ashes

By Melissa Addey,

Book cover of From the Ashes

For as many fiction novels surrounding the Colosseum as I have read, this was the first one written from the stagehands, if you will, and I devoured it in a single sitting. I almost passed on it because the model on the cover is a stock photo that’s everywhere in the genre covers but I'm so glad I didn’t. Experience Pompeii’s destruction, and the building and inauguration of the Colosseum, like never before. Althea and Marcus will drag you through some of the most well-written world building and seamless research into these two events as you face calamity after calamity with them. This novel is both absolutely a romance, and barely a romance, which will make sense when you’re in the final pages of this unforgettable story.  

From the Ashes

By Melissa Addey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From the Ashes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

When I watched the Ridley Scott film Gladiator for the first time, I knew then my heart belonged in Ancient Rome. Countless books, films, research papers, museums, and shenanigans later, that is still true. I was a master of make-believe by age ten, and when the time was right, both passions fused into my debut novel, also set in Ancient Rome. I don’t want to just read or write a good book. I want to experience Ancient Rome vicariously through powerful characters that linger in my memory long after the last page. If that’s you too, give these a try. 


I wrote...

Unseen Love

By Nancy Kimball,

Book cover of Unseen Love

What is my book about?

In the shadows of pagan Rome, Laelia Ricarri’s recent blindness destroys her hopes of a betrothal to escape her abusive father. For Drusus, his new mistress is more capable, and beautiful, than she knows. She has an uncertain future. He has a hidden past. Can a forbidden romance set them free?

A literary agent told me in a face-to-face conversation this novel would never sell because “if your heroine is blind, there can never be a happy ending.” Full stop. Yeah, I know. I was pissed off too. However, the readers and reviewers of Unseen Love continue to answer for me that not only did this incredible love story deserve a place at the table, but also on the keeper shelf.

Women's Lives, Women's Voices

By Brenda Longfellow (editor), Molly Swetnam-Burland (editor),

Book cover of Women's Lives, Women's Voices: Roman Material Culture and Female Agency in the Bay of Naples

It is an anthology of essays that provide a range of topics and approaches to women who lived and worked in these small towns, now spectacularly preserved despite their sudden destruction by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The lives lived here tend towards the gritty, workaday world with studies of women in business and trade, although elite women, public priestesses, also make an appearance. Two that feature women's names scratched on walls (graffiti) and drawings of women etched in or painted on Pompeian walls (by Erika Zimmermann Damer and Margaret L. Laird) argue for women's (partial) literacy and their greater visibility. These essays do much to make the fascinating archaeological material accessible.

Women's Lives, Women's Voices

By Brenda Longfellow (editor), Molly Swetnam-Burland (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women's Lives, Women's Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literary evidence is often silent about the lives of women in antiquity, particularly those from the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Even when women are considered, they are often seen through the lens of their male counterparts. In this collection, Brenda Longfellow and Molly Swetnam-Burland have gathered an outstanding group of scholars to give voice to both the elite and ordinary women living on the Bay of Naples before the eruption of Vesuvius.

Using visual, architectural, archaeological, and epigraphic evidence, the authors consider how women in the region interacted with their communities through family relationships, businesses, and religious practices,…


Who am I?

I am a professor of ancient art at Vassar College where I teach Roman art and archaeology. I have published widely in the field and traveled extensively in the Mediterranean. My first encounters with Roman art occurred as a child in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where I would stand before Roman portrait heads because their faces seemed stern and grim, yet ordinary and matter-of-fact. I have continued to observe Roman portraits over the years, but admit that I still sometimes find them daunting.


I wrote...

Roman Women

By Eve D'Ambra,

Book cover of Roman Women

What is my book about?

This book examines the daily lives of Roman women by focusing on the mundane and less celebrated aspects of daily life—family and household, work and leisure, worship, and social obligations—of women of different social ranks. Using a variety of sources, including literary texts, letters, inscriptions, coins, tableware, furniture, and the fine arts, from the late Republic to the high Imperial period, Eve D'Ambra shows how these sources serve as objects of social analysis, rather than simply as documents that recreate how life was lived. She also demonstrates how texts and material objects take part in shaping realities and what they can tell us about the texture of lives and social attitudes, if not emotions of women in Roman antiquity.

Or, view all 16 books about Pompeii

New book lists related to Pompeii

All book lists related to Pompeii

Bookshelves related to Pompeii