Review: In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny by Daisy Dunn #nonfictionnovember

Posted November 24, 2020 by Stephanie in nonfiction november, Reviews / 9 Comments

Title: In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny
Author: Daisy Dunn
Publication: August 20th 2020 by William Collins
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Ancient History
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Books | Kobo
Rating: 5/5★

In a dazzling, lively new literary biography, Daisy Dunn weaves together the lives of two Roman greats: Pliny the Elder, author of the Natural History, and his nephew Pliny the Younger, who inherited his uncle’s notebooks and intellectual legacy. Breathing vivid life back into the Plinys, Dunn tells the story of two extraordinary thinkers and charts their lasting impact on the world.

‘Never less than compelling … She consistently succeeds in bringing what might otherwise seem dusty and remote to vivid life’

‘Starts with an erupting volcano — and then gets more exciting … Wonderfully rich, witty, insightful and wide-ranging’

‘An absolute delight. Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted’

When I picked up this book to read I had of course hoped to at least like it but I couldn’t have predicted that I would be so crazy about it. In fact, I loved it so much that it’s without a doubt in my top three books that I’ve read in 2020. I’m sure it’s going to make a huge appearance in my end of year post in December.

This book is a biography about the lives of Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Elder perished in the catastrophe of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that absolutely ravaged the ancient Roman settlements of Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae. Pliny the Younger, who was at the time 17 years old, survived but had to be devastated to have lost his uncle who was more like a father to him. Luckily enough there are authors like Daisy Dunn bringing Pliny the Elder and the Younger back to life.

I knew a decent amount about Pliny the Elder but not so much about his nephew even though he did achieve great things as well. I can’t imagine how much research the author had to have done to write this book but it must’ve been immense because there was so much detail about both Pliny’s. It was truly impressive to read. And more than that it was a super readable book. I flew through it so fast.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny by Daisy Dunn is officially the most surprising book, in the best way possible, that I have read this year. Not only is it one of my favorite books of 2020 but also definitely one of my favorite nonfiction books ever. Just amazing!

About the author:

Daisy Dunn is an author, classicist, and cultural critic. Her first two books, Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet, and The Poems of Catullus: A New Translation, were published by HarperCollins on both sides of the Atlantic in 2016. The same year, Daisy was named in the Guardian as one of the leading female historians. Daisy has three books due out in 2019, the first of which, In The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny, was published by HarperCollins on 30 May (it will be released by Norton in the US in December). She is represented for books and media by Georgina Capel at Georgina Capel Associates Ltd.

Daisy contributes features, reviews, and comment articles to the Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, History Today, Literary Review, The London Magazine, New Statesman, Newsweek, The Oldie, The Times, Sunday Times, Spectator, Standpoint, TLS, Apollo Magazine, Catholic Herald, and in the US she contributes to The LA Review of Books, New Criterion, and Lit Hub. Representing her former Oxford college St Hilda’s, Daisy played 3 matches of the 2016 University Challenge Christmas Special on BBC 2. Her team, captained by crime writer Val McDermid, won the series. Daisy has contributed to the BBC World Service, recorded two short films for BBC Ideas, and in 2015 her essay ‘An Unlikely Friendship: Oscar Wilde and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’ was longlisted for the international £20,000 Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize.

Daisy is particularly interested in the ancient world and its afterlife from the Renaissance forwards. Her doctorate, which she was awarded at UCL in 2013, spanned eighth-century BC Greece to sixteenth-century Italy. Her expertise lies in the history of the late Roman Republic and early Empire, literature of Greece and Rome, and art of Renaissance Italy.

Daisy read Classics at the University of Oxford, before completing a Master’s in the History of Art at the Courtauld in London, where she was awarded a scholarship for her work on Titian, Venice and Renaissance Europe. In the course of completing her doctorate, Daisy was recipient of the AHRC doctoral award, the Gay Clifford Award for Outstanding Women Scholars, and an Italian Cultural Society scholarship. She has taught Latin at UCL and continues to give talks and lectures in museums, galleries, and at festivals. She was formerly trustee and Executive Officer of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers. She is now Editor of ARGO…, a journal published through the Hellenic Society, founded in 1879.

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