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In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Cultural History of Naples [Hardcover]

Jordan Lancaster
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Book Description

June 16 2005
"To see Naples as we saw it, in the early dawn from far up on the side of Vesuvius, is to see a picture of wonderful beauty."--Mark Twain

"One may write or paint as much as one likes, but this place, the shore, the bay, Vesuvius, the citadels, the villas, everything defies description."--Goethe

This is the first general history of the city of Naples written in English. The city, which inspires love and hate alike, has long attracted visitors, enticed not only by its commercial possibilities but also by the stunning beauty of its natural setting and its many cultural delights. From the ruins of Pompeii to glittering performances at the San Carlo opera house, Naples has much to offer visitors, but it also has high crime and a controversial past and present. The city was ruled by the French, Spanish, Hungarians and Austrians before becoming part of unified Italy in 1860. The social and economic changes after Unification resulted in thousands of Neapolitans seeking a new life abroad. These emigrants took their customs, cuisine and music with them and stamped a Neapolitan impression on the international image of Italy forever. From the time of the Grand Tour, the city has attracted travelers, from Goethe to Mark Twain, all eager to experience its legendary and seductive charms. Jordan Lancaster's sparkling guide will serve as an ideal companion for visitors and as a valuable cultural resource for all those who seek to expand their knowledge of the city or proudly trace their roots to Naples.

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From Publishers Weekly

With this engaging history, Lancaster, a professor of Italian, seeks to restore honor to Naples, which many Italians and prospective visitors see as a city of little more than pickpockets and pizza. As she stresses, for most of its history, Naples was a preeminent European city, a thriving home for music, philosophy, painting and science. Her book is organized into sections by epochs and ruling governments; at times, the compression of such a long history into this short space makes it hard to digest, but Lancaster stops often to recount captivating legends and anecdotes. She seems to have a quote from every writer or thinker who ever visited Naples or its surroundings (especially the nearby ruins of Pompeii), but her own expertise and love for the city holds the book together. She is extremely articulate about the city's musical history, which she credits as one of the traditions that kept Neapolitan culture alive over the years, from the popular tarantella to opera buffa (comedic opera) to modern singers like Pino Daniele. She also seamlessly incorporates many women's stories, whether they be queens, saints, activists or consorts. The years after Italian unification were brutal for Naples, which lost much of its prestige as well as thousands of people who emigrated north or to America. Though honest in describing these trials, Lancaster is hopeful about recent signs of recovery, and her vibrant portrait of the city's past will make readers join her in that optimism. Photos and maps.
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"This is a study not onlyof Pompeii but of the whole Golfo di Napoli, which Jordan Lancaster feels to be her spiritual home.  She takes us from Hercules and Odysseus to Virgil and Spike Milligan . . . take Lancaster as a handbook." --Spectator
"Rich with well known events and tasty anecdotes.  A delight for the soul" --Il Mattino
"This is a fascinating history of an enchanting city.  Jordan Lancaster takes us on an entertaining journey that brings history to life.  An ideal guide for anyone visiting Naples." --Italy Magazine
"Despite the huge scope of the subject matter, Lancaster keeps things lively, ensuing the pace never sags." --Italian Magazine
"If you are planning to travel to south Italy, then reading Jordan Lancaster's In the Shadow of Vesuvius will stand you in good stead." --The Lady

"Eschewing the extensive references of a scholarly monograph and aiming instead at a general reader, the author uses a varied palatte – art, music, literature, cuisine, popular cultural and cinema – to color the narrative of three thousand years… Lancaster evokes the drama of the city shadowed by Vesuvius, capturing sentiments long dear to foreigners and locals alike."  – Sean Coco, Trinity College

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5.0 out of 5 stars In the Shadow of Vesuvius July 19 2005
By A Customer
Congratulations to the author (Jordan Lancaster) who has filled an important gap with her cultural history of Naples! Books about Rome, Venice and Florence are legion but Naples, until now, has been sadly under-represented. This well-researched yet slender volume is a must-have for Italophiles everywhere. The fascinating story of this city of great contrasts will draw you in to a world of mythical and historical figures each playing a part against the magnificent backdrop of a menacing volcano.
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5.0 out of 5 stars In the Shadow of Vesuvius July 19 2005
By A Customer
Long fascinated by the story of Pompeii and curious about the nearby city of Naples, I have finally found a book that is both informative and delightful to read. The author of the well-researched "In the Shadow of Vesuvius" takes us in a most engaging way through the history of Naples and the surrounding area from the classical myths to the present day. A must have for Italophiles!
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful little book... Sept. 13 2005
By Margaret Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Lancaster has written a wonderful overview of the complex history of Naples. This book is particularly useful for anyone traveling to that incredible city as I did for the first time last year. It is neither a heavy historical work nor a too-light travel guide. Instead the book gives the reader both a historical background and an understanding of how Naples got to be the way it is today. Dr. Lancaster takes the reader from the days of the ancient Romans to the present time and keeps her narrative consistently interesting with quotes, asides and witty observations. She makes history vibrant and makes clear to the reader that the spell of Naples has fallen upon her as well. Again, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Italy's history. Reading it, one begins to understand both the splenor of Naples and its many problems and sorrows. I particularly recommend the book to anyone planning a trip there -- your experience will be greatly enriched by reading In the Shadow of Vesuvius.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and enjoyable book May 15 2006
By Caroline - Published on Amazon.com
This is a beautifully written biography of Naples. I found myself drawn into this book and could hardly put it down. Not only is it an enjoyable read, this book is well-suited for a wide audience -- from armchair travelers to academics. Despite its rich and fascinating story, Naples has long been overlooked as a subject in the English-speaking world. Having read numerous histories of Florence, Rome and Venice, I was excited to finally find a history of Naples. Kudos to Dr. Lancaster for so wonderfully bringing the story of Naples to life!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant June 25 2007
By Carlacara - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is not a travel guide or a book for light reading; it is a wonderfully in-depth historical view of Naples, Italy, from its inception as a Greek colony to modern times. There is no other book like it. The author has done a masterful job of bringing insight and understanding to a potentially dense topic, mixing humor and wit with explanations of each of the many dynasties and powers that controlled Naples and made it a royal center comparable to Paris and London. If one is interested in knowing more about the history of Southern Italy, this book makes an excellent companion to a book by Tommaso Astarita: Between Salt Water And Holy Water: A History Of Southern Italy
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars Sept. 21 2014
By juelanne dalzell - Published on Amazon.com
What a good guide and an entertaining read.
4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Turgid Writing April 27 2006
By Charlie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While the subject is fascinating, the writing puts me to sleep. Phrases like "self taught enthusiast" make me want to stop reading, and the prose just doesn't flow. Finishing this book, if I do, will be a chore. I'd rather have my twenty bucks back; save yours. If I get to like this book better as I read, I'll revise my review.
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