Booktopia Guru Recommends : Barzini has a written a wise book, a book which begins by making a close examination of the Italian people and ends having examined the Italians, ethics, love, art, culture, philosophy, human nature, the universe, the meaning of life, the entire history of mankind... all while keeping the reader glued to the page. In short, Barzini's The Italians is mesmerising.
The 'fatal charm of Italy' has held Lord Byron - and millions of tourists ever since - in its spell. Yet, beneath 'the brilliant and vivacious surface', what are the realities of Italian life?
Few writers have ever painted a portrait of their compatriots as crisp, frank and fearless as Luigi Barzini's. Cutting through the familiar clichés, he instructs us with a cascade of anecdotes and provides a marvellous guided tour through centuries of history. He examines Machiavelli and Mussolini, popes, pilgrims and prostitutes, cliques and conspiracies, Casanova and the crippling power of the Church.
Yet alongside the Baroque exuberance and spectacular display, the love of life and the life of love, he also shows us a divided nation, injustice, ignorance, poverty and fear. All this is Italy, a country of dazzling achievement and an uncanny aptitude for getting round problems; both its virtues and its vices are celebrated in this sparkling book.
??tendhal, Shelley, Goethe, Heine, Douglas, Peggy Guggenheim- it goes on and on, the list of foreigners who have found Italy fantastico. Why? And the roll call of artists, poets, novelists, statesmen, saints, sinners, composers and currently Gilmmakers which Italy has produced is equally lengthy. Again why? Luigi Barzini's ??tour of the bootshaped wonderland attempts the answers, but though clearly under her ??aturnalian spell, he is also sharply detached and beneath the dazzle senses despair: The Italian way of life cannot be considered a success except by temporary visitors. ?? solves no problems. It makes them worse." Thus the book's double-edged nature: ??ort of 19th century langurousness amidst a coolly condemning scholarly review. It is a measure of Barzini's achievement that these contradictory stances are resolved-??tylistically anyway- in as smooth and satisfying a fashion as Soave wine. Barzini's knowledgeableness is immense: rather like having at hand a batch of IBM cards, ??anging through all cultural, historical and psychological aspects, from which he ??istills a last-word commentary. Past and present mingle without strain and the discussion touches everything: climate, family, love, Mafia, Church, industry, government, antiquity (Cola di Rienzo), power (Machiavelli), realism (Guicciardini), illusion (Cagliostro), showmanship (Mussolini) and so forth. According to Barzini, ??taly developed the Baroque spirit in order to lull regimentation and boredom (the ??win evils facing contemporary man). Alas, her lotus-eating appeal (towards which ??nnumerable tourists stream to be taught, to be tempted) results in inept laws and institutions, a half-way civilization. A book for debate in the academy and delight ?? ships and planes for many a moon. (Kirkus Reviews)