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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did Garibaldi do Italy a Great Disservice?
"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...
Published on 4 Sep 2011 by Antenna

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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting detail - disappointing analysis of Italy's problems
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,...
Published on 27 May 2011 by Jeremy Dummett


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4.0 out of 5 stars Cavour was not the great unifier as Italians have been led to believe, 8 Aug 2014
Informed and informative - a history of the bits of what is now Italy up to and from unification. Gilmore is brave enough to say what most people only think - except perhaps Metternich. Italy is not a country, but a collection of places which share television channels. Even then Gilmore writes from a decidedly north of Rome perspective. Cavour was not the great unifier as Italians have been led to believe, and would have happily done without the south in his vision of 'Italy' which translates as a big Piedmont. That aside, I found it easy to read with enough new facts to keep me turning the pages.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Breezy, 4 April 2011
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J. Chaney (Cincinnati) - See all my reviews
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I'm only halfway through the book; it's definitely readable, but overall "The Pursuit of Italy" disappointing. I had high expectations based on the review in The Economist, but the book has two main faults: first, it is written in a facile, breezy manner, which is what one expects from ghost-written celebrity bios, but not histories. Second, the author clearly has an axe to grind, in that he seeks to de-bunk the glorification of the Italian risorgimento; however, he fails to balance this view by giving any time or weight to any possibility of an opinion or conclusion that differs from his own. Consequently, a reader cannot be comfortable giving much credibility to the author's narrative. Overall, this is one more reason to mourn the loss of Tony Judt, a man who could be thoughtful, objective, and a good read all at the same time.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear. I'll be generous and give it a two., 26 Jan 2012
Whilst David Gilmour is right that the old liberal Trevelyanview of Italian unification as an inevitability does not bear investigation and he is also arguably correct in his analysis that unification was a mistake in the form in which it happened, his analysis of the reasons is so very confused and frustrating.
I note that he admits that it is not an academic history book, but he has taken the freedom to play fast and loose with logic too far. In the first seven chapters in reading this on my Kindle I had made 80 notes commenting on inconsistencies and tautology in his arguments, too many to itemise here.
However, I must make some observations:
If the argument that no-one wanted unification because the Austrians and King of Naples etc were really such good rulers is correct, why did the Austrians have to go to the support of the various rulers on a number of occasions (e.g 1820/1 and 1830. Why during the sulphur crisis with Great Britain could Austria not lend King Ferdinand practical support because they dare not send their troops south, leaving their northern territories undefended? Why were there so many political prisoners in the various penitentiaries in and off Naples, the conditions in which prompted Gladstone's comment about the Kingdom being the negation of God? Why was it sufficient to have a beard to be placed in one of them (after all they were not the style police). Also why did so many vote with their feet and emigrate to the Americas, north and south, a practice which predated unification by a long time.
Italy had to be united for its own protection so as not to be continually fought over, its towns repeatedly attacked and provisons confiscated by foreign armies every time the French and Austrians fell out. Northern Italy was their battleground and for Austria a great source of tax revenue, bleeding the north dry.
The book reads as if our own United Kingdom had existed from time immemorial and not merely cobbled together in 1707.
It also reads as if there were no suggested alternatives to the aggrandisement of Piedmont and the argument seems to be that because it was inevitably the wrong method of unification then unification must be wrong. the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Germany all seem to have made a good fist of unification despite their varying degrees of diversity. Read Cattaneo, Pisacane and you will see they both told the nation what a failure unification would be if it was an imposition by Piedmont. The failure is because freedom and independence was not won by the Italians it was given. see Pisacane's 'La Rivoluzione'
Gilmour claims that the Italians are so different so unification was a nonsense. He gives examples of the portrayal by Bobbio (and others) of the 'typical' Piedmontese etc. as if that were something special. Do we not talk of typical scousers, typical yorkshireman, typical Glaswegians etc etc?
A good indication of the standard of his argumentation is the following:
"...if the great trio had been born in Sicily, the island's dialect would have been adopted as Italian, which foreigners would have had great difficulty in understanding." I think foreigners have difficulty in understanding any foreign language unless they learn it and nothing would prevent them from learning it. It would surely have been no more difficult for a foreigner to learn than any other language. It merely requires exposure to it.
Italy was "inhabited by Sabines, Albans and Etruscans..." All those different races he argues were not designed to be united. Really, how many nationalities make up the USA, Australia, Canada - even Britain.
Despite the differences, throughout the author is happy to describe the pre-unification people as 'Italians' -e.g. they "used theatres as Englishmen used clubs" (not sure what happened to the Scots, Welsh and Irish here!)
The chapter on Operatic Italy is also very pecualiar and in places contradictory. I guess he would argue that Shakespeare really was writing about the Merchant Of Venice, That Brecht was really writing about the Good Woman of Szezuan and Ionesco really was writing about a Rhinoceros. I do not know enough about opera to know Gilmour is wrong but I do know that there have always been instances of drama being used for political purposes and allegorical in nature to avoid a direct challenge to the censors. As for inconsistencies you need to reread the chapter with an enquiring mind and you will soon spot them rather than be swept along on the tide It is a very frustrating book and my hope is that rather than taking the book on face value readers interested in modern Italy will seek further thinking on the pre-unification years.
I agree with the author that the unification as it happened was neither inevitable nor particularly helpful to Italy, but his analysis of the reasons for failure are too simplistic and avoid the real questions and answers which were so clearly argued by Pisacane. If the reader wants a proper analysis, please read Mack Smith, Ginsborg, Riall, Hearder even Gramsci.

Well written and interesting - yes, hence the two stars. Well-argued - no. Frustrating-very.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gilmour's Pursuit of Italy is the Italians Pursuit of Gilmour, 1 May 2011
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Every ten or fifteen years a general history of Italy appears in English by an eminent British academic or by a new arrival to the peninsular with journalistic skills. If readers wish any original historical work from the former group choose anything by the 90 year old Oxford scholar, Denis Mack SmithModern Italy: A Political History, an eminent, erudite character who David Gilmour holds great respect, and who is acknowledged as among one of the countless names who have helped in the moulding and development of the author's second Italian book following his pleasing biography of Giuseppe di LampedusaThe Last Leopard.

The present book will appear in airports departure lounges among the travel guides; it is particularly aimed at the general British reader interested in modern and contemporary history, at students taking A Level History or Italian, as well as those entering university; it may be appropriate to Italians, too, wishing to know how a fly on the wall foreigner sees their country, their history, political heads, their culture and people, though unless they throw off their inherent nationalist pride, become a little open-minded, and be less thin-skinned, they will not be amused or impressed by his content or comments even if behind closed doors they might admit that what is outlined - even on the day and night games of the present Premier and TV magnate Silvio Berlusconi - is far from the ravings of an unlearned idiot. The author reminds me of the journalist Beppe Severgnini Italian in Britain. Ediz. inglese (An)from Crema who loves Britain and its people, but will say what he sees and feels.

To see the seeds of who are and what makes the Italians Gilmour has gone back to the Romans. The result leads to potential stereotypes analysed over time. Which creates useful benchmarks in the analysis. In the year of the nation's 150 anniversary of its unification in 1861, most of its history is fundamentally full of myths. Only one of the three forefathers, Garibaldi, gets the thumbs up, and then he is despised by many contemporary Northern Italians as little more than a bandit who brought the idle South as part of Europe. For unification, for the South, read a Piedmontese colonialisation, and an attempt to clone the rest of the country as the Turin and Milan, when each pre-unification Italian state had its own strengths, its unique tried workable methods, but set against the victorious, dominant Piedmont of King Victor Emmanuel II and Premier Cavour, these territories looked and behaved differently, and thus were deemed backward. The state's policing methods of imposing law and order in turn has become the stick which Italians North, but in particular in the South, have reacted against the "foreign" state in Rome over the next 150 years, by sticking two fingers back. Today, for instance, few Italians at home look up at the nation with pride. It only happens when Italy wins medals at the Olympics or a World Cup, and that is why in the past Italians at home and abroad felt good during Fascism because for the first time Fascism, meaning Italy, had struck gold.

Gilmour is unafraid to list the methods first used in the unification during the "Risorgimento" were later reused by leading Italians wanting their imperial place in the sun: from Premier Crispi during the 1880s and 90s right up to Mussolini African Empire and the Second World War (giving the impression that these leaders were "proto" Fascists prior to Fascism), and of incompetent pompous strutting generals wearing dozens of campaign medals of wars awarded for battles which were not even fought or merely concluded with heavy casualties and defeat. It leads to the very unpolitically correct past joke of the big book of Italian heroes, the size of a postage stamp. Gilmour does not mention, as neither do Italian historians in the schoolbooks, that whenever Italian soldiers were trained and commanded by British Army officers, as during 1918 on the Asiago front after the defeat at Caporetto, and throughout 1944-45 against Nazi Germany in Italy, they all showed their bravery and a will to fight to the end. This too marks a further reflection of the distinct class divisions between Italian leaders and led, and their inability to communicate to or command respect of their men after their purposeless, vindictive manner of punishing countless of defeated stragglers with immediate death by firing due to their own thoughtless asinine orders, or their inhumane order to withhold the delivery of food and clothing sent by families to their men as POWs.

Mussolini too had his myths, and neither escapes Gilmour scorn. Among these he did not as is repeatedly claimed to have succeeded in stamping out the Mafia by Prefect Mori (both Fascist and Anti-fascist supporters have for years said it was brought back by the liberating US Army in 1943); in reality it simply went underground, and operated covertly in more subtle, hidden ways. Nor is it true that Anti-fascist writers, such as Moravia and Pavese, had their works banned during the regime, and had to leave the country.

Gilmour has also gone some way in portraying the traditional image of the Italian soldier, "Gino", in a new different light. Unlike their blood thirsty Second World War allies, the Germans, after 1945, the Anti-fascist establishment presented their soldiers in books and films as coming from good, honest, down to earth Catholic stock, or "brava gente"; Gilmour instead first underlined that as many massacres were carried out by the Italians against locals in the Balkans, in North Africa, and in Russia as by any other nations in wartime. He then pointed out that even the leading Italian military authority, Angelo del Boca, faced prosecution for "vilifying the Italian soldier": simply for making such brutal facts and figures public. What is more, to illustrate this falsehood he added that the film The Lion of the Desert (1981)The Lion Of The Desert [DVD] on the life of the Libyan freedom fighter Omar al-Mukhtar, which depicted the cruelty in Fascist concentration camps, was for years banned in Italy, only being broadcast on Italian TV after a further 30 years. As Mussolini's Italian Empire had been presented as something humane, progressive, a source of good which respected local values and cultures, in contrast to the greedy "British imperialists", whereas such new images did not distinguish anything uniquely Fascist from something Italian, they had to be silenced and withheld from the people's eyes.

And if Berlusconi is thought as a new wild animal with or without his clothes on, Gilmour turns the floodlights brightly on him and depicts him historically in the same vein as past politicians. From Giolitti at the start of the last century through to the seven time Premier Andreotti until 1990 to succeed in achieving or being seen to achieve anything in the South he sends his own business hirelings like past emissaries to make deals with rich families or clans who behave as Mafiosi. Furthermore, on the international front, and in particular with regards the EU, he is turning Italy's former pro European stand on its head, and moving towards a more nationalist trend of earlier days, and insisting that nationalism, for long the unmentionable "n" term equivalent to Fascism, should be a source of pride to aspire and work towards. The cult of the great bronze faced and smiling Silvio is rising.

Just after this book was published in January 2011 this new trend was highlighted in one feature which did not receive much publicity in the country now controlled by Berlusconi's own media empire. With the passing of the new Education Gelmini law, up to 1,000 non-Italian lecturers, mostly British, involved in court cases against their universities learnt (contrary to the strong worded advice of Sig. Napolitano, President of the Republic, and of many judges) that their cases would henceforth be extinguished. Such a decision went beyond any Fascist law of the past as the state never interfered in the justice system. Berlusconi, therefore, is no longer to be treated simply as an aged playboy buffoon as certain journalists describe him; he is completely in line with past characteristics, and together with his power through his media industry he is to be totally feared.

David Gilmour has covered a long road in pursuit of his search of the real Italy, and its people. He has presented much information concisely and clearly. It is certain that some Italians or their heavies will want to go in search of him. A handful may be surprised, and feel it is all part of light British humour, which is their coded way of saying that this foreigner still doesn't understand the Italians; many will be shocked, offended, and may even refuse to accept even the more obvious comments. For the British public it should also be an eye-opener that Italy is not just a country of sunny beaches, of pizza and spaghetti, Sofia Loren, opera, and gifted footballers. It is a very good read, and merits good sales.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Italy, 14 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples (Paperback)
A fascinating read about a fascinating country. Well written, couldn't put it down until I had read it. Recommended reading for Italy historians.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Annexation rather than a popular national movement, 10 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples (Paperback)
David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy is an elegantly written and highly informative one-volume history of the peninsular. He explains effectively how diverse ancient peoples and geographical factors have combined with successive conquests and colonisations to form regions differing in culture, economy and polity. Even by the mid-nineteenth century at a time when other major European nation-states were long established (France, Britain) or on the road to unification (Germany), Italy remained deeply divided. The driving forces of this movement were military defence/aggression, economic competition between states and, correspondingly, the need to strengthen internal economies by establishing larger tariff-free markets with improved rail, road and port infrastructure. These state projects were promoted among the populations of the territories concerned as developing an imagined community, the “nation”. Multi-national states were splitting apart (Turkey, Austria) and those peoples who did not succeed in establishing sufficiently large nation-states seemed doomed to economic and political backwardness and dependence (e.g. Croats, Serbs, Czechs, Albanians). The political leaders of Italian unification of all stripes sought to avoid that fate by the creation of Italy as a “great power”; this was not simply a romantic ideal as Gilmour seems to argue but some form of unification was necessary to resolve the material predicament of the diverse regions of the peninsula.
The major polities of the peninsula - each of which were internally culturally and economically varied - were Bourbon Sicily and Naples, the Papal states, Austrian Venetia and Lombardy and Sardinia-Savoy-Piedmont-Liguria. There were also the duchies of Tuscany, Modena and Parma – more or less under Austrian aegis. Indeed, Gilmour’s argument is that “Italy” did not exist, that there was no Italian nation. However, the economic and political driving forces mentioned above operated in Northern and Central Italy, such that their realization entailed and required the creation of an Italian nation-state, although of course the composition of the territory and form of state institutions were not pre-determined.
Indeed, the tragedy of Italian unification is the way it happened and the form of state thereby established, basically annexation to Piedmont. Cavour was profoundly opposed to anything that smacked of the 1848 “springtime of the peoples” and was only pushed into action in the South by fear that Garibaldi would be too successful. However, Garibaldi was far from a red revolutionary, leading a rather small middle class movement with only passive support from the peasants and dispossessed; he tried to avoid the hostility of Sicilian landowners by feeble proposals for land reform, he accepted the prospect of rule by the Piedmont monarchy and he was fairly readily outmanoeuvred by Cavour.
Gilmour’s argument that it would have been better for all if unification had not happened is advanced by some rather impressionistic assertions, for example that the Neapolitan Ferdinand was “on the whole humane and well-meaning” (p. 141) or that the Emperor Francis, “Having no desire to revive the Ancien Regime, he presided distantly over a stable and generally peaceful state served by an efficient bureaucracy and an uncorrupted police force.”(p. 144) He hypothesises that little in the subsequent history of the Italian state “indicates that the Neapolitans would have been unhappier if they had been left to govern themselves.” (p. 143) Indeed, on this point there was plenty of popular discontent in the years after unification. This is hardly surprising given the dubious benefit of swapping a pope, Hapsburg, Bourbon or duchy for Victor Emanuel, especially as the latter’s forces were notoriously insensitive in creating new governmental organisations in the annexed regions. The hopelessly corrupt mismanagement of Sardinia was hardly a good advertisement for Piedmont government.
In short, as against Gilmour, it is not that unification was a mere artifice and undesirable but rather that it was achieved through military annexation by a reactionary regime rather than the outcome of a popular social movement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 9 Jan 2014
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This is a brilliant book, and it's amazing how high the variety of topics that are included in the novel are!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The intriguing origins of Italy, 19 Sep 2013
By 
Mary Pearson (Durham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples (Paperback)
A well-written, well-researched history of the evolution of Italy as we know it to-day. It will appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the origins and development of this fascinating country. A must for all students of Italian studies.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative if you want to know about italy., 20 July 2013
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This review is from: The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples (Paperback)
Insightful read well written and provocative even the opening paragraphs have you hooked and offer a great insight into thinking anew about Italy avoiding the usual cliches.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Pursuit of Italy, 10 Jun 2013
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J. Hughes - See all my reviews
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Have read the opening chapter and am gripped by it already. Bought it for reading on holiday in a couple of weeks, but will keep going now.
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