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La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind Paperback – Jun 12 2007

1 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (June 12 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767914406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767914406
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #123,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Severgnini—Italian newspaper columnist and author of the pesce-out-of-water memoir Ciao, America!—must have wanted to emulate Luigi Barzini, author of the 1960s classic The Italians, in this somewhat tepid sociological look at his countrymen. Severgnini writes pleasantly enough (and Giles Watson's translation is smooth, for the most part), but his observations are anything but sharp. He organizes this overview as a kind of geographical "tour," with a chapter about car sex in Naples and another on the Italian countryside in Tuscany. Sweeping statements, such as "Italians have the same relationship with food that some Amazonian people have with the clouds in the sky—one glance and we know what to expect," abound, and they have the ring of truth, but they're rarely backed up by supporting anecdotes. In today's shrunken world, jokes about how Italians love to see half-naked women on television ("The new Italian icon is the Semi-Undressed Signorina") and abuse their cellphone privileges simply aren't new. The collection ends with the hoariest of devices: a letter from an imaginary American friend who has taken Severgnini's tour and reminisces about the beautiful "girls" in a Milan disco. Barzini, too, often wrote in generalities, but he had the advantage of coming first. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Severgnini attempts to plumb beneath the mask (the title's bella figura) that Italians present to the world, especially to tourists, to reveal the truth about modern Italian minds and hearts. He begins with the Italian "apartment," the place most Italians call home. For him, this is a cramped, well-guarded portion of real estate where one has little room for oneself and where one is constantly vigilant against neighbors' predations. He rails against Italian men's sexism and women's lack of serious opposition to discrimination in the workplace. Severgnini's Italians prefer bank tellers to impersonal ATMs. His Italians delight in talking about other people's money while maintaining secrecy about their own finances. He longs for equivalent reticence when Italians travel by trains, where, thanks to the cell phone, they share their most intimate secrets with their compartment mates. Severgnini holds -American-inspired Italian shopping malls in special contempt for his fellow countrymen's manic shouting at one another across their walkways, confusing modern mercantile halls with their ancient piazzas. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was disappointed with this. I expected much more. Being Italian "la Bella figura" is always a must in my family. Doesn't matter how bad things might be, you should always show the world you are better than what you are. The author could have written so many funny things. I know it's always a hilarious time when I tell my friends of things that happen to me where my mother has always pushed for us to show "la Bella figura". Perhaps I will write a book......too bad the title is taken.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa9f802dc) out of 5 stars 60 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9f80a44) out of 5 stars Divertente, ma un po noioso.... Dec 7 2006
By Jamie Thome - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I read this book after I heard Beppe Severgnini speak about it in Chicago; while reading, I realized that he'd already mentioned the best things in the book during his talk. The book was interesting, and funny, and I wish that I had read it prior to a trip to Italy, but I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't more to it. He's a very funny man, however, and if you're at all familiar with (or interested in) the ways of the Italians, you'll get a kick out of it.
71 of 86 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xaa0506cc) out of 5 stars This was great in Italian - Don't miss it in English March 28 2006
By Hank n Tennessee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I read the Italian language version (La Testa Degli Italiani)before my family's trip to Italy last summer (my family is Italo-American). Severgnini was European Journalist of the Year last year, writes a wonderful daily letters column in Corriere della Sera entitled "Italians" which is available on- line at [...] and has written other delightful books about his travels in America, England and Germany. There is no better person to explain, with sharp insight and great good humor, the marvelous complexities and contradictions of this amazing country. With its shining successes, its glaring faults, and its self critical population, few countries are so delightful and so maddening at the same time. Read and enjoy. Then go to Italy and see for yourself! You'll never regret the journey.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xaa14e540) out of 5 stars Awkward format but an incisive and comprehensive dissection of Italians Sept. 5 2006
By Andy Orrock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
While dining in a favorite restaurant recently, I congratulated the Italian proprietor on his country's recent well-deserved World Cup triumph. "Yeah," he replied, shaking his head, "it was just too easy...I'm really not sure what they can do in 2010 because it's just too easy for us now." I scanned his face for any hint of his pulling my leg (are we talking about the same tournament here?). There was none.

That's the type of Italian bravado and confidence that Beppe Severgnini conveys to his readers in "La Bella Figura." [Typical passage: "We are the consummate professionals of culinary consumption...The French know what they're talking about, but they're sliding into affectation...Note that I'm talking about all Italians...There is a spontaneous gustatory proficiency that cuts across social classes, age groups, income brackets, education and geographical boundaries."]

Now, there are some good things in here, as the other reviewers here can readily attest to. My lukewarm review stems from the fact that the book's awkward format never grabbed me. Severgnini's schtick here is that he's taking us (figuratively) on a ten-day tour so we get lines like "that's the ocean there in front of you...that sand you see was the city council's idea.' Cute idea, but it got old and grating very quickly.

However, if you can get past the clunky presentation, the Italophile in you will be rewarded with an incisive and comprehensive dissection of the national character.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9d79a14) out of 5 stars I normally don't bother... Nov. 25 2009
By B. Barclift - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I normally don't take the time to write reviews, but I felt I needed to do so this one time. My wife and I have made several visits to Italy. We rent a car and travel on our own. What great experiences we have had. I do not hold myself out as an expert on the subject of Italy, but I am enthusiastic. After reading Bepe Severgninni's musing on the Italian character, I thought it would make a perfect gift for a like minded friend. Upon seeing a number of negative reviews on this website, I thought I would post my five stars and write this comment. This book is not a travel log, it is not a reference book. But, if you have a fascination with Italy and its complexities and contradictions La Bella Figura makes for a most pleasant read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9d79a74) out of 5 stars take life lighter April 15 2011
By Travelguru - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read some of the reviews of this book and thought I might not like it. Wrong! As a tour director who works in Italy, I found this book to be hilarious, occasionally redundant (as we all are sometimes) but very informative and helpful for an insight into why things are the way they are in Italy. Interspersed are facts and figures I found very helpful. In short, I loved it, and used lots of it in my commentary. I suppose everything is subjective as to what we look for in books, but this one provided what I was looking for in a light vein that didn't take itself too seriously.