Monday, December 18, 2023

Volcanic: Vesuvius in the Age of Revolutions (John Brewer)

Mount Vesuvius may be one of the world’s most famous volcanoes, known for its destruction of Pompeii back in AD 79 and other numerous eruptions throughout recorded history. It became a tourist attraction in the 18th and 19th Centuries, partly due to a period of historically high volcanic activity but also the burgeoning of global tourism. John Brewer’s Volcanic: Vesuvius in the Age of Revolutions chronicles how global political change and an active volcano seemingly went hand-in-hand in the late 18th and 19th Centuries

This is a long, detailed book but has many interesting chapters. The story of developing tourism at the volcano site, specifically the visitors book at a hermitage near the volcano, which was signed by thousands of individuals from throughout the world, is particularly intriguing. Some historical trends that are identified in the guest book ring similar to the verses echoed today. The visitors' books and their stories were symbolic of an era of great global political change: fervent nationalism, occasional revolts, and the various European powers all jostling for parts of European control. Some of the stories of the increasing tourist trade are entertaining; others, such as a soldier who hurled himself into a volcanic vent, more tragic.

We know a lot about the Pompeii eruption through the archeological work done in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Brewer covers this as part of the evolution of tourism and travel, as well as to help tell the tale of a volcano that has been a dramatic part of our history for millenia. Given its proximity to the city of Naples, it will quite likely be a part of our story in the future.