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The Dark Heart of Italy: Travels Through Time and Space Across Italy [Hardcover]

Tobias Jones
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Jan 2003
Why is Italy still riven with internal conflict? Why does one man - Silvio Berlusconi - appear to own everything from Padre Nostro to Cosa Nostra? Tobias Jones sets out to answer these and many other questions during his three-year voyage across the Italian peninsula. What emerges is not a book about the tourist concerns of climate, cuisine and art, but one about the much livelier and stranger side of the "Bel Paese": the language, football, Catholicism, cinema, television and terrorism - and the grip exercised by Berlusconi through his vast media empire and Presidency of the Ministerial Council. The Italy Tobias Jones discovers is a country which is proudly "visual" rather than "verbal", and where crime is hardly ever followed by punishment. It is a place of incredible illusionism, where it is impossible to distinguish fantasy from reality, fact from fiction.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (20 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571205828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571205820
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 364,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tobias Jones is an author, journalist, broadcaster and woodsman. An authority on all aspects of contemporary Italy, he has published both travel books and novels set in the country. He's written and presented documentaries for the BBC and, in Italy, for RAI. He's been a columnist for the Observer and Internazionale and is currently the warden of Windsor Hill Wood, a woodland shelter for people going through a period of crisis in their lives. He writes extensively about communal living and new monasticism, and is known to be passionate about Fabrizio De Andre, Ross MacDonald, carpentry, bee-keeping and pig-rearing. His ambition is to produce his own woodland ham to rival Parma ham.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Tobias Jones' remarkable book essential reading for Italy enthusiasts: The Dark Heart of Italy (subtitled Travels Through Time and Space across Italy) is unlike any book on the country you may have read before. It is not a guide to Italy's art, or her geographical splendours. Nor is it a guide to her amazing cuisine. And it is not an examination of the Italian character. It does, however, contain elements of all of these and much more. When the author emigrated to Italy in 1999, he expected the customary ravishing of the senses that Italy usually provides. But, looking beneath the surface, Jones was astonished to encounter surprising undercurrents, among them national paranoia and the crippling fear inspired by terrorists (the Italian parliament, it seems, has a 'Slaughter Commission').

This is, of course, the country of Silvio Berlusconi, the tycoon whose controversial election via his stranglehold on the media was (to British eyes at least) something that should not be countenanced in a non-totalitarian country. While always taking on board the glories of Italy, Jones' picture of the country is both fascinating and disturbing: this is a land torn apart by civil wars and endemic corruption, the still influential Cosa Nostra and unbending Catholicism exert considerable sway.

Italy remains utterly unlike any of its European neighbours. Jones sees links between the powerful creativity of the Italian soul and the 'dark heart' that he refers to in his title. What is most remarkable about the book is the fact that no one who loves Italy will be at all disenchanted to encounter the truths that Jones presents to us. If anything, the complex and contradictory nation that emerges will hold an even greater fascination for both the serious student and the casual visitor. --Barry Forshaw


(An) excellent first book. -- Andrew Marr, Daily Telegraph, 15 January 2003

He is an affectionate, occasionally appalled observer, an inside-outsider. He is unmistakably not a tourist. -- Independent, 18 January 2003

His brilliant and sometimes polemical essay. -- Financial Times, 11 January 2003

Incisive and intelligent, this is the book to take on your Italian holiday. -- Conde Nast Traveller, 1 January 2003

Jones can be recommended as an informed, entertaining and admirably opinionated guide to the evolving situation. -- Sunday Times, 12 January 2003

Jones strikes just the right balance between history, anecdote and facts ... a brilliant, though bleak, book. -- New Statesman, 20 January 2003

The Dark Heart will ensure that Italy remains an object of our fascination. -- Observer, 19 January 2003

Tobias Jones' brilliant and funny account of a country now under the control of one all-powerful ruler. -- Guardian, 11 January 2003

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
I arrived in Parma knowing only a few Italian words culled from classical music and from menus (adagio, allegro, prosciutto, and so on), and I found myself in the infantile position of trying to understand my surroundings at the same time as I learnt how to describe them. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant! 4 Dec 2004
This book must be revealing to the British, but it is an absolute eye-opener for an Italian living in the United Kingdom, like me. It gives a description of Italy free of the prejudices we Italians have on ourselves, it does not take anything for granted, and manages to make fun of some of our most ingrained habits. It made me laugh out loud for most of the first chapter, then it made me think, then it got me depressed and angry. The attitudes he describes, towards bureaucracy, towards political power, towards dishonesty, are exactly what compelled me to leave the country (finally) 5 years ago. A must-read for those who want to understand modern Italy, and for expatriate Italians as well - as a vaccine against excessive homesickness
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Heart of Italy 2 Aug 2004
Absolutely fantastic.
I could not put this book down.
After all the boredom of university books on modern Italy, it was nice to finally read something realistic and witty. I must have sat mouth open through most of this book.
Having been at one time 'betrothed' to someone in Milan - all of what they told me made sense and it was like someone had finally switched the light on.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Italy.
An excellent read.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a great to book to read for those resident in Italy over the last thirty years - I relived it all. The bomb in Piazza Fontana when I could hear the roar of the sirens from my office, the young recruits with their rifles outside the Leonardo De Vinci Lyceum, Corso XXII Marzo where Zibecchi was crushed to death by an armoured police van etc., etc., events which happened close to my home. All the bewilderment of the new arrival at the Italian way of doing things, of their art to "arrangiarsi", the scandalous verdicts, the never ending trials and the hopes that some day things will change and now the Berlusconi catastrophe are sensations which Jones experienced 30 years on...Nothing has changed and his conclusion is identical. The last chapter moved me to tears because despite everything I couldn't choose a better place to live in: Italy and the Italians have cast their spell...
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72 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am an Italian 11 Mar 2003
I am an Italian and I live in London with my English husband.
When people find out I am Italian they tell me of how wonderful my country is and how strange I want to live in gray England. I always say Italy is beautiful, but I wouldn't live there as it's full of Italians. It is hard to quickly explain to people why I think this, so it's very helpful for me to read and recommend books like Tobias Jones' and Tim Parks'. These authors have a first hand experience of Italy and offer detachment and perspective in their reports and analysis.
All Italians will tell you Italy is a mess (un casino). They will not tell you why - as they'd have to explain 2000 years of history first - so they will divert the conversation to all the "unquestionably" beautiful things of the country: food, art, scenery, sun etc... Most Italian have no encompassing grasp of the last 30 years' history. Tobias Jones helpfully summarizes all the connections between terrorism, politics, Communists, Fascists, Berlusconi - the protagonists of Italy after WW II, and family, church and language - the pillars of Italian culture.
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49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It is an ancient mariner...... 5 July 2004
By A Customer
When I first came to live in Italy, five years ago, I was trapped at a dinner party by a man who told me that all Italian postmen were thieves. "Never order anything through the post, because it will automatically be stolen", he warned me. The reason, he explained in a hoarse whisper, was that all Italian postmen were Communists, and that they stole things from the mail as a mute expression of class warfare. I was horrified, but went on ordering books and CDs through the post. Five years and over a hundred mail-order deliveries later, I can happily say that I have never once experienced any serious problem with the Italian postal system. Everything that I have ordered has been delivered, often with amazing speed. The man I met at the party belonged to a particular type of Italian - male, deeply pessimistic, and convinced that modern Italy is a forum for the working out of intricate and baleful conspiracies. Italians such as this have been around since the Renaissance and the rise of the Italian city states. One soon learns to spot them and to avoid them - unless, that is, one actually likes being regaled by Ancient Mariner figures with a sinister tale to tell.
Mr Jones' problem is that he has never really escaped from the clutches of the Italian Ancient Mariners. He has an unfortunate weakness for listening to their tales and, worst of all, he tends to give the tales a credence that they don't always deserve. And my goodness how tedious his versions of some of the stories can be.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well padded out vacation book 16 Feb 2005
I was given this book by a colleague after spending a week in Italy with him on business so that I could better understand a lot of what I had failed to understand over that week!
That Tobias Jones is an amusing and entertaining writer is clear as one works through the chapters and this is in part due to many chapters being originally magazine articles and so have a self contained conciseness. The book is thus a great "toe dipper" in that one can read each chapter alone and overall get a good feel for modern Italy across a great variety of topics including Italian language, the Catholic Church, Football, the schism between Left and Right and the experience of Berloscuni's second rise to power and the subsequent "benevolent dictatorship" model that ensued. As a future or recent visitor to Italy this all makes for great background reading.
However, this is not a great book in being insightful or incisive as to why Italy is as it is, especially today under Berloscuni and so soon after the "Clean Hands" uprising that led to the quick and unforeseen collapse of the Second Republic. Many chapters are padded out with a synopsis type history of Italy that in a magazine article may work but in chapter after chapter in a book do not. The most extreme example is the chapter on the Sofri case which at 23 pages has only just over three pages on actually meeting with Sofri in prison which is the reason for the story.
Also one supects that Jones as one clearly in love with Italy may be too close and so lose some objectivity, as evidenced in his closing chapter on the Italian fascination with Death where the role of the Catholic Church in perpetuating (Jackie Kennedy's famous quote that the one thing the Catholic Church really understood was how to use death)is never mentioned.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very nice. No problems with the transaction.
Published 7 days ago by E. Radford
4.0 out of 5 stars History, politics and culture
Although I have followed some of the politics in recent months, this book gets under the skin of Italy, its culture and politics. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Time for a new edition
This is the most illuminating book on contemporary Italy that I have read. What shines through is Jones's amazement that such a potentially wonderful place should have got bogged... Read more
Published 15 months ago by KropotkinZin
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
My mother is Italian and I was fortunate enough to spend most of my school holidays ( six weeks annually) in Pesaro. Read more
Published 16 months ago by ALEX GARNET
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than your average travel book
I came to The Dark Heart of Italy quite late. Having purchased it in 2012, I was rather disappointed to note on the inside cover that it was published in 2003 (there is a more... Read more
Published 21 months ago by J. J. Ward
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel - Dark Heart of Italy
Excellent Read. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and times of this lovely country. A1.
Published 22 months ago by Mick Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Italy Explained
In the past I have visited Italy several times and loved the people and the country so took the decision to learn the language. Read more
Published on 17 July 2012 by N. Warnham
2.0 out of 5 stars OK in parts.
I do not think the author has lived long enough in Italy to qualify as an arbiter of what is good and not in Italy.

A lot of what he says is true about corruption, etc. Read more
Published on 28 April 2012 by Mrs. Judith Lugg
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting even if it is a little biased
Fact is stranger than fiction or at least it felt that way when reading this book. Some of this I knew but found that I only knew the tip of the iceberg and finding out the whole... Read more
Published on 19 April 2012 by Charlie&Molly
1.0 out of 5 stars Uninformed, superficial, exuding prejudice and smugness, politically...
This must be the worst book on Italy I have ever read. The author displays phenomenal ignorance and his judgement is superficial almost to the point of being funny! Read more
Published on 21 Sep 2011 by Carno Polo
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