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on 26 August 2013
Although I have followed some of the politics in recent months, this book gets under the skin of Italy, its culture and politics. Berlasconi (plus a couple of other players) IS Italy. To be a successful and prominent politician you have to own football clubs, newspapers, TV networks, publishing empires - the electorate expect it... fascinating insights on how history has formed the psyche of a modern nation.
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on 4 December 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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on 13 September 2005
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 April 2016
Tobias Jones’ 2003 'open-heart surgery’ on one of the world’s most fascinating countries paints the 'bel paese’ as a mine of walking contradictions (that’s more than enough mixed metaphors, I feel). On the one hand, Jones charts the 'mess’ that is the country’s political heritage – polarised between left and right and shot through with patrimony, nepotism, corruption and short-term populism (many nefarious practices, sadly, filtering down into the country’s tortuous social bureaucracy) – whilst, on the other hand, painting the rightly positive image associated with the welcoming, generous attitude of Italians generally, together with the country’s rich cultural heritage (arts, inventions, cuisine, artisan trades, sports, etc). It’s the sort of book whose content I couldn’t help feeling I had read elsewhere (which as a big fan of that other 'adopted Italian’, author Tim Parks, I probably had), but nevertheless provides a sometimes enlightening, always highly engaging, read.

Thus, we are given a whole series of near-unbelievable (or should that simply be Italian!) anecdotes – on football, the fact that a club chairman sent Serie A referees a Rolex watch each for Xmas, or on politics, that Berlusconi’s 'anti-corruption plea’ to the electorate was simply that he was so wealthy that he was uncorruptible! In the end, it is perhaps the quote taken by Jones from Visconti’s film The Leopard that is most applicable, 'If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change’ – the lip service paid (over the years) to change is simply that, great for the country’s art, food, football, etc, but not so great for the country’s economy or politics.
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on 19 April 2012
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 story was a revelation of the kind that made me offer snippets from this book to whoever would listen. The author himself who has added a chapter to the end, admits that he might have been biased but he reported truthfully and to the best of his knowledge did nothing to dampen down my incredulousness at some of the tales. Perhaps my tongue should have been firmly in my cheek and I would recommend it to others with this in mind.
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on 5 July 2004
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. Read his chapter on the bombing in Piazza Fontana in Milan in 1969 (much of it written in italics, for some unexplained reason), and you will find yourself as though trapped in the corner of a smoke-filled bar late at night, looking longingly at the exit while an Italian Ancient Mariner grips your arm and regales you a long and complicated rigmarole of political mystery and intrigue - a story, alas, that has long since lost its relevance to the everyday lives of people in the real world outside.
Mr Jones' dark heart of Italy is an alarming place of Dantean ghastliness. It is the Italy of corruption, pompous bureaucrats, bent magistrates, conniving policemen, self-serving politicians and, of course, Mr Berlusconi and his dreadful government. Much of what he says about these things is true. But there is another Italy, that lies beyond these horrors. This is the Italy of, for want of a better term, the common men and women - the millions of Italians who have to make their day-to-day lives through hard work, self-sacrifice and intelligent and tolerant compromise with their fellow human beings. Perhaps these people have the strongest claim to represent the real heart of Italy. They certainly deserve more mention and acknowledgement than they receive in this book.
This is not a bad book, but it's not a very good one, either. Anyone seeking a readable introduction to life in Italy would be far better advised to read the earlier books of Tim Parks. Those wanting a good historical background with political detail should look at Modern Italy by Denis Mack Smith and Italy and its Discontents, by Paul Ginsborg. One day, perhaps, someone will write a book called The Dark Heart of Britain. This might explain, amongst other things, why so many British people have chosen to make their permanent home in Italy, while so few Italians have elected to go in the opposite direction.
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on 2 August 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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on 15 August 2015
I picked this up in a charity shop quite a few years ago and did not get around to reading until now. Despite the now 12 year gap since it was first published, the book is insightful for anyone who is interested in Italian politics, history and culture. Jones is also an excellent writer, which helps as he weaves between the personal and the historic.

Saying all this, I would love to read an updated version, as Berlusconi has fallen, risen, and fallen again, and the media and political landscape has to have changed in recent times.
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on 19 January 2015
Brilliant and honest account of Italy as a young journalist mixing with the people and giving an honest account of what the Berlusconi days. Not quite what he had imagined in his youthful and idealistic days and he says it as he felt at the time. Very funny at times - just get his take on football - what's that about ballet? And being fed up with reporting on the corrupt political situation he considers football would be less - how shall we put this - dishonest!? You have to read it to find out and he tells it against himself - Toby is a joy and a really honest guy. I love his take at the time and in context. A must read - like all Toby's books - I've no idea how the negative comments from a few misguided reviewers came about. Were they reading the same book - or did they come with an agenda? Read the Dark Heart of Italy if you haven't and see what a dedicated man he is at getting at the truth. A natural journalist of great talent with a sharp eye. Oh, and you'll see just how amazing he is when reading Utopian Dreams - follow up due in May. aka Michael Brightman author Mystery Factor ebook. P.S. And of corruption try looking deeply into our institutions as well - my goodness, love GB as I do, we have a Dark Side too - so let's not get too uppity about it eh?
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on 27 June 2009
This is a must read for anyone seeking to understand what's going on in Italy today. It provides a wealth of information about Italy's recent history, which helps enlighten the dumbstruck among us. The message, which is more like "they-have-always-been-corrupt", and "no-crime-will-ever-go-punished", fits perfectly with the state of current affairs, and shows that the present, rather than being an aberration, is but a logical conclusion to the past. Unlike the "grandmama's-pasta-is-fantastic" books, this one shows the flip side of the coin, which anyone seriously interested in Italy would like to comprehend.
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