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Travels with Epicurus: Meditations from a Greek Island on the Pleasures of Old Age
Travels with Epicurus: Meditations from a Greek Island on the Pleasures of Old Age
by Daniel Klein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life affirming book for the over-70s, 13 Oct 2014
This well crafted book contains meditations on old age by an American author who knows Greece well. It draws upon a range of texts from the ancient to the modern world. The favourite source is Epicurus who outlined the importance of jettisoning the career mindset so as to free one's mind to enjoy newer and broader interests. Old age should be accepted rather than resisted by joining the search for eternal youth.

This is an amusing and thought provoking book, written in a clear and simple style. Rather than offer solutions, the author suggests alternatives for living an enjoyable old age. It contains considerable wisdom.

Ideal to be read on holiday, preferably in the Mediterranean.


Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers (Literary Guides for Travellers)
Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers (Literary Guides for Travellers)
by Andrew Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class introduction to books on Sicily, 17 Jun 2014
Sicily is of outstanding interest for her history, geography and culture and has fascinated visitors since ancient times. Visitors from Cicero onwards have left accounts of their journeys to the island, describing the ancient cities, the temples and the spectacular coastline. A strong literary tradition developed among Sicilians and the island has produced more writers at international level, including Pirandello, Lampedusa and Sciascia, than any other region of comparable size in Italy.

This book, part of a series from I.B. Tauris, provides a summary of the literature on Sicily, from the ancient writers to modern novelists. It is presented in the form of a tour, so that each province is covered in turn, linking writers to specific parts of the island. This approach, highlighting the literary connections, adds another perspective to a visit. Profiles of the authors discussed are included.

This book is a good read in its own right, providing many insights on the island. The first to summarise the writers on Sicily, it offers a valuable service.


Sicily: A Cultural History (Landscapes of the Imagination)
Sicily: A Cultural History (Landscapes of the Imagination)
by Joseph Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Sicily, 2 July 2013
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Sicily is a complex island, geographically, historically and culturally. In his book Professor Farrell has produced an excellent introduction to all three aspects. In the first six chapters different themes are examined such as Sicily's troubled history, the Sicilian writers, the connections with Britain and America and the mafia. Later chapters cover the island's main cities (including a good section on Palermo) and tourist attractions, with descriptions of the monuments and works of art. Farrell is particularly strong on the writers and their views on Sicily. Visitors to the island who left accounts of their travels are also covered. The book is filled with quotes and anecdotes from these sources which enliven the text.

This is among the best current books on Sicily; entertaining, informative and a good read.


Mafia Republic: Italy's Criminal Curse. Cosa Nostra, 'ndrangheta and Camorra from 1946 to the Present
Mafia Republic: Italy's Criminal Curse. Cosa Nostra, 'ndrangheta and Camorra from 1946 to the Present
by John Dickie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Role of organised crime in Italy unmasked, 22 May 2013
This is an important book which sheds light upon the shadowy world of organised crime in Italy, the profits of which are estimated at 7% of the country's GDP. It describes the background and development since 1946 of the three main mafias (Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Campania and the 'ndrangheta in Calabria) and how they went on to affect the rest of Italy. It is a tortuous and complex subject which is presented outstandingly well, in clear, concise terms. Much of it reads like a thriller, as the stories unfold of a whole range of villainous characters and their heroic opponents, the antimafia judges and policemen. But it is only too real.

The book goes beyond being a history of crime when it analyses the "grey zone" between the mafia and legitimate society. This is the crux of the mafia problem; the inter-weaving of criminal, political and business interests.
The problem is not only the military wing of the mafia but the much larger white collar element. By penetrating the country's institutions the mafia influences much of public life to the detriment of the economy and democracy. It is a cancer that needs fighting with determination and consistency. Fortunately, the good news is that a small number of dedicated magistrates, policemen and politicians are making considerable progress. But to much of Italy, including in Rome, the concept of fighting the "grey zone" remains unpopular.

Professor Dickie has done a great job in putting all this together. The result is required reading on modern Italy: highly recommended.


Van Dyck in Sicily 1624-1625: Painting and the Plague
Van Dyck in Sicily 1624-1625: Painting and the Plague
by Xavier F. Salomon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterly review of Van Dyck's work in Sicily, 27 Mar 2013
From 1624 to 1626, Palermo, the capital of Sicily, suffered from an epidemic of plague which killed around a quarter of her population of 130,000. In 1624 the bones of Santa Rosalia, one of the saints of the city, were found in a cave in the nearby Monte Pellegrino. The bones were used to raise morale in the city and by the spring of 1626, when the plague was declared to be over, Santa Rosalia had become Palermo's patron saint with huge popular support. Van Dyck, who came to Palermo to paint the portrait of the Spanish viceroy, Filiberto, survived the plague and produced some of the first paintings of Santa Rosalia, establishing a style that would be followed thereafter.
This book, published to coincide with an exhibition of Van Dyck's paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2012, contains well researched articles on Van Dyck, his journey to Palermo and his time in the city. It also contains fine reproductions of the paintings and a detailed analysis of each one. It is required reading for a key period in the history of Palermo and also on Van Dyck's life. It is very well produced - a collector's item.


The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples
The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples
by David Gilmour
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.98

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting detail - disappointing analysis of Italy's problems, 27 May 2011
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David Gilmour knows Italy well and has written interestingly on subjects such as the Sicilian writer Lampedusa. I was really looking forward to his general book on Italy. I found it full of interest, the overview of history, the descriptions of geography,the regional stories,the portraits of the many characters, the delight in Italian arts and food. The central theme, however, seems to me to be weak. Basically it is saying that Italy's destiny is to fail as a state due to the diversity of its regions, from Lombardy and Piemonte in the north, to Calabria and Sicily in the south. I take issue with this conclusion on several counts.

Italy is not the only country with diverse regions. What about Germany? Like Italy,created in the nineteenth century and run by coalition governments, but in an effective way, with diverse regions. What about India? You can't get more diverse than that and look at their economy today. Travelling around India you come across government posters saying "unity in diversity". Some people see diversity as a plus. What about the USA? You could write a similar book about the diversity of the American states but with a different conclusion.

The book does not look equally at the different problems facing Italy. It goes into great detail on diversity and then concludes that this is why the state does not work. Diversity is certainly a feature of Italy but is it really the main problem? Diversity in fact played an important role in the development of the modern state. Immigrants from the south provided the cheap labour upon which the Italian Miracle was built in the 1950s and 60s. Enterprising workers stayed on and integrated into communities in the north. Without the contribution of the southern workers it is difficult to see how the modern Italian economy could have developed so quickly.

I would argue that the lack of strong, effective central government has been from the beginning, and still is, Italy's main problem. Diversity could be handled if this were in place.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2013 8:58 AM GMT


Brazzaville Charms: Magic and Rebellion in the Republic of Congo
Brazzaville Charms: Magic and Rebellion in the Republic of Congo
by Cassie Knight
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colourful account of life with an NGO in Congo Brazzaville, 8 May 2011
The Republic of Congo is a small country overshadowed by its larger neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was originally colonised by the French and is still dominated by French interests in the local oil industry. As a country it has long been exploited and its people subjected to all kinds of hardship. Cassie Knight, who knows the country well, presents her personal saga in Congo Brazzaville against the background of the broader events in the country in an original and compelling way. She has travelled widely in the country and reports on the dedication of people working to help those in the war zones, of the influence of primitive beliefs in the villages, of conditions witnessed that are akin to slavery and of the unfettered exploitation by big business. The courage and charm of the local people come through strongly. This is a fascinating account of a little known country in Africa, hardly touched by the world's media. Students of Africa, people working in NGOs or institutions in Africa, politicians concerned with the region - as well as visitors - should all benefit from this well written book.


Choice of Murder
Choice of Murder
by Peter Vansittart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.72

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hero of ancient Greek Syracuse brilliantly brought to life, 7 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Choice of Murder (Paperback)
This is the story of Timoleon, the Corinthian, who in 344 BC at the age of 60, led an expedition of 1000 men to Syracuse in Sicily. His brief was to remove the tyrant Dionysius II and to protect the city from invaders, including the Carthaginians whose ships were cruising around the Sicilian coast. He succeeded brilliantly, defeating the Carthaginians and removing the tyrants from Syracuse and the nearby cities. He re-established democracy and re-generated Syracuse and the cities of eastern Sicily, retiring to Syracuse in honour with his family. When a young man Timoleon was supposed to have killed (or had killed) his brother who had illegally taken control of Corinth. This is the murder in the story. The source is Plutarch.

The author takes the outline of Plutarch's plot and brilliantly creates a biography of Timoleon, called Timo in the book. Vansittart is steeped in the culture of ancient Greece and the setting is entirely believable. Timo's motivation, from the murder to the subsequent expedition, rings true psychologically, with his moral dilemmas skilfully explored. His lieutenants are authentically drawn. Clearly Timo could not have achieved all this on his own, and the members of his team are considerable characters in their own right.

The descriptions of place, atmosphere, and action are all totally convincing. The famous Battle of Crimisus, where Timo routs a much larger Carthaginian army, is a tour de force. The writing is concise and direct, with a strong narrative drive. It is also very imaginative.

For anyone interested in the character of an ancient Greek hero, the realities of life in the 4th century BC and a dramatic episode in the story of ancient Syracuse, this is a book for you, an outstanding historical novel.


The Walled Orchard
The Walled Orchard
by Tom Holt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comic masterpiece and excellent portrayal of ancient Greece, 22 Aug 2010
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This review is from: The Walled Orchard (Paperback)
"The Walled Orchard" is the story of Eupolis, a little known comic playwright who lived in Athens at the peak of her power in ancient times. It is an extraordinary feat which manages to be funny, exciting and informative all at the same time. (George Macdonald Fraser in his Flashman series pulled off a similar trick.) Descriptions of leading Athenian figures such as Pericles are sharply drawn while the on-going relationship with Aristophanes, the most famous comic playwright of the time, is hilarious. This book tells you more about what life must have been like in ancient Athens than many a more serious study. It also highlights the hubris and over confidence behind the Sicilian expedition and the Athenians' attempt to capture Syracuse that led to disaster for Athens. The author is steeped in his subject and his book is beautifully written. Highly recommended for anyone interested in ancient Athens, the comic playwrights and the Sicilian expedition to Syracuse.


Calatafimi: Behind the Stone Walls of a Sicilian Town
Calatafimi: Behind the Stone Walls of a Sicilian Town
by Angus Campbell
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Real life in a Sicilian town, 15 July 2010
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If you want to know more about the real Sicily, away from the usual tourist routes, this is a book for you. The author is resident in a small town not far from Palermo, Calatafimi, which he presents in depth. It is best known as the site of Garibaldi's first battle with the Bourbon troops after his landing in Sicily in May 1860. It is also close to the ancient site of Segesta, famous for its Greek temple and theatre. Segesta was a trouble maker in ancient Greek times which encouraged the Athenians to attack Syracuse and the Carthaginians to attack Selinus. Segesta itself was later sacked by the Syracusan tyrant, Agathocles. Both these subjects are dealt with in detail, together with the various international travellers who visited Calatafimi. The author is good on some of the less well known episodes, such as the writing of "The Authoress of the Odyssey", claiming that Homer must have been a woman, by Samuel Butler in 1897. Literary sources have been well researched, from the ancient writers to the 19th century travellers and modern Sicilians. The result is a very readable and informative book telling us a lot about rural Sicily and a pleasant change from the usual "tour of Sicily" provided by so many travel writers on the island.


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