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The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples Paperback – 5 Apr 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; First Paperback Edition edition (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141043415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141043418
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.3 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

David Gilmour's elegantly written book is full of impressive insights and can be recommended without hesitation as a stimulating, up-to-date and reliable guide to modern Italian history for the general reader. Gilmour's book displays deep knowledge of Italy and is scholarly but never dense. (Tony Barber Financial Times)

A highly idiosyncratic meander through the peninsula's history led by a witty guide with an elegant prose style and a mind delightfully furnished with anecdotes and dictums, sensual impressions and conversations. This is a clever and erudite book. (Lucy Hughes-Hallett Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

David Gilmour is one of Britain's most admired and accomplished historical writers and biographers. His previous books include The Last Leopard : A Life of Giuseppe di Lampedusa (winner of the Marsh Biography Award) Curzon (Duff Cooper Prize) and Long Recessional:The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography).

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Italy," complained Napoleon,"is too long." It is hard not to warm to a book that begins in this vein. I think that Gilmour's aim is to show not only how Italy came into existence as a single nation state, but why it has proved so difficult both to achieve and sustain unification. Even now, the economic and social divide between north and south remains far stronger and more bitter than that of England.

The author uses his obvious knowledge and enthusiasm for Italy to create a popular history in which each chapter is like a self-contained essay, drawing not only on key events but also on the diverse geography, different regions, peoples and cultures of Italy. For instance, after World War 2, five peripheral regions had to be given special status, including a good deal of autonomy to stem strong separatist demands based on physical separation, as for Sicily and Sardinia, or different languages, as in northern areas speaking mainly French, Italian or Slovene. There are some useful maps to help identify the various regions.

I appreciate why Gilmour felt that a full analysis required him to go back in time to the Bronze Age traders travelling through Alpine passes. After an initial chapter to spell out the physical and social diversity of Italy, he moves systematically forward in time, with a unifying theme for each chapter e.g. the various empires which dominated Italy, starting with the Romans; the growth of city states from the Middle Ages or the period from C15 when Italy was a battleground for foreign warring armies.

Some chapters e.g. 5 on "Disputed Italies" proved hard to follow without a level of background knowledge which would have made it unnecessary to read the book in the first place!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sandro on 9 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback
As the born and bred Italian that I am, I did my schooling in the Bel Paese and I was fed its history of a 'glorious' past, heroes and villains, some victories and some defeats, but overall a proud people united by the desire of living in one country as one nation with one language. But in the back of my mind there was always this thought that something was not quite right about what I now clearly see, thanks to David Gilmour, as an attempt at creating a sense of unity and belonging that wasn't and still isn't there among my fellow nationals. 'Campanilismo' is a reality, allegiance to your town or local football team, love for your family and affection for your neighbours are much stronger feelings than the sense of belonging to a wider nation contained within the borders of the country.

Reading The Pursuit of Italy was like reading thoughts and ideas that I had never been really able to articulate. It has dismantled certain myths that I was made to accept as gospel by a benign form of propaganda aimed at drawing people together to try and weave the fabric of a nation. I don't blame the founding fathers of modern Italy for trying and mostly failing, well meaning though they may have been.

The book is well written, informative and compelling. I admit that on a personal level I felt more shame than pride, but my final thought when I turned the last page was 'yes, that's the way it is'.

What I found hilarious was that the chapter on Berlusconi is written in the past tense, as if he was finally out of the picture. Little did we know...
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sandro on 26 Dec. 2011
Format: Hardcover
A one volume history of Italy which is immensely readable and full of fascinating insights into Italian culture, politics and mores. Essential reading for anyone who is interested in this wonderful and diverse country.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Keith M TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 April 2013
Format: Paperback
This single volume (400 page) of the history of Italy (the nation and its peoples) is a compellingly written account during which author David Gilmour peppers his no doubt thoroughly researched historical facts with a good deal of entertaining and, at times, controversial opinion. The central premise of Gilmour's book is that the 'nation' of Italy is nothing more than a collection of separate regional states, whose underlying differences far outweigh any forces for unification, and having spent time working in Italy and knowing how Italians value their own regional histories and identities (particularly cuisine!), I can certainly detect (at least superficially) elements of truth in Gilmour's contention.

I must admit that whilst Gilmour has written even the drier, fact-based historical sections of the book (which, to be fair, make up the majority of the content) in an interesting and compelling manner, I was most interested in his take on how modern Italians (including famous Italian authors and commentators) come to regard their nation. To this end, I found the later section on 20th century political history (Mussolini and the 2nd World War) particularly engaging - the period in effect being a microcosm of the many centuries that had preceded it i.e. typified by Italian leaders whose ambitions outweighed their (political and/or military) abilities. Gilmour then posits the interesting concluding paradox as to why Italians ever felt the need to attempt to attain such international prestige and/or recognition, given that many individual Italian 'states' have contributed more in terms of cultural and civic importance than many other European countries.

Of the earlier, more (straight) historical sections of the book, I found the passages on Venice, and its far-sighted approach to political democracy, and those on Italy's major political figures of the Risorgimento (Garibaldi, Cavour and Victor Emanuel II) to be particularly compelling.
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