The appeal of the City Secrets series is truly novel. Instead of the customary (and often rather bland) comments on the points of interest and topography of Rome, this fascinating volume presents sharply observed views from some of the world's most important artists, archaeologists, architects and writers, with historians adding their own layer of expertise. The Sistine Chapel, for instance, is covered in fascinating paragraphs by a rare bookseller, a historical specialist, the architect Richard Meier, and others. Each gives individual insights into the subject. The watering holes garner an equally lively mix of opinions: the bar Sant'Eustachio is described as serving a really great granita di caffi
(coffee-flavoured ice) and is fun to hang around in to watch carabinieri and parliamentarians, while another writer informs us that this is the place to buy the world's best cappuccino--and why buying a cup to display on the shelf at home is, to the hardcore, the ultimate status symbol! Time and again, this iconoclastic approach throws up the sharpest of insights: architect Robert Livesey, for instance, describes a Bernini stoup for holy water as demonstrating a voluptuous use of marble, while the antique shops of the Via Giulia are recommended by historian Jayne Merkel as the most enticing collection of shops she has ever seen, en masse, anywhere.
The thinking behind this pocket-sized series is clear: City Secrets: Rome will be a highly attractive adjunct to whatever guidebooks you may take to Rome. The pick-and-mix approach is appealing: if you're not tempted by one voice, simply move on to the next. Few will notice that the maps on double pages lose detail in the middle, or the preponderance of American voices. The high production standards and variety of views available make City Secrets: Rome a highly cherishable little book. --Barry Forshaw