Any biography of Vesuvius is bound to be an open-ended affair. The story of this shifting, threatening mountain, rising so blithe and sublime above the Bay of Naples, is a long one of which we know very little. The earliest descriptive evidence is frustratingly epigrammatic, depending on the scant remarks of classical poets, historians and geographers and only amplified with Pliny the Younger’s two famous letters, looking back in memory but with crystalline clarity on the events of AD 79 after a thirty-year interval.
Alwyn Scarth is an academic geologist who has written extensively on volcanoes, and this ‘biography’ is a careful, textbook record of Vesuvius, taking its chronology of the major recorded eruptions largely from eyewitness accounts. Scarth devotes a great deal of space to the 1631 eruption, which took place