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The Italians [Audio Cassette]

Luigi Barzini
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1995
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 cliches, he instructs us with a cascade of anecdotes and provides a marvelous 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.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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The New Yorker Searching into every corner of Italian life and scrutinizing every cliché concerning it, from the charm of the people (an illusion, he maintains) to the consolations of la dolce vita (another one), Mr. Barzini has written an invaluable and astringent guidebook to his country. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Luigi Barzini, was born in Milan, Italy, in 1908. After completing his studies in Italy and at Columbia University, he worked for two New York newspapers. He returned to Italy in 1930 to become a correspondent for Corriere della Sera. In 1940 he was confined by the Fascists. With the Allied liberation he returned to publishing and founded Il Globo. Subsequently he served as the chief editor of several newspapers and magazines. His books include Americans Are Alone in the World (1958), From Caesar to the Mafia (1971), and Peking to Paris (1973). He died in 1984. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dated work...needs updating. July 18 2002
As other reviewers have said, the work is a bit dated, and I wish there was something comparable that I know of, and could read. I also wish I read this book after my trip to Italy, rather than as a means of preparation for it. One needs to experience Italy first, and experience it deeply before one can really get all that Barzini has to offer. The book could have been more tightly written, each chapter takes off in a different direction, and I would opt for a definite objective for the book with more streamlining. I would have hoped that, by 1964, Calabria would have been more spoken about. My mother's parents came from there, as did many "mezzogiorno" who did not benefit from the "risorgimento". I don't think this was dealt with sufficiently in the chapter on the "Mezzogiorno Problem". Who was Barzini's audience?
On the other hand much of the information is enlightening. And some of it is entertaining. His conclusions are worth reading. But go experience the country for the summer first, and then come back and read this work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an intelligent book on Italy! Aug. 20 2001
The world is full of books on Italy. Unfortunately, a lot of these are written by foreigners whose well-meaning observations are usually pretty mundane and often the product of some Summer holiday spent in Tuscany. Discussing the national character is not common in Italy (except of course when it's done with the ritual pessimism).
Given the small number of books on the subject, Barzini's book has much to recommend it. For starters, it was written by an actual Italian and concentrates on what makes Italians "tick" rather than on the more traveloguey aspects of the matter. Other writers have tried this, notably Tim Parks but Barzini attempts to explain Italy rather then merely observing it.
Although this could be a reasonably dry subject, the book is written in a fun, somewhat raffish style which never really drags. The author spent a lot of his time in the USA and many of his observations are interesting from an typically anglo saxon point of view.
To be fair, I DO have some reservations about this book. The main problem is that, having been written in 1964 the text is somewhat dated. The Italy described by Barzini is one of poverty and illiteracy and these days that world has (thankfully) faded pretty much from the picture. You can see a bit of Barzini's Italy in 1950s/60s Hollywood films such as "The Roman Holidays" and "It Happened in Naples". As another reviewer has pointed out, customs have also changed. Divorce, which Barzini found unthinkable, has been legal in italy for quite a long time.
On the other hand, a lot of his observations remain true and accurate. It takes a good long time for national character to change and a lot of what Barzini described still peeps out from behind modern day Italy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Failure Aug. 5 2000
I began reading this book expecting not much more than a decent, informative summer read. What I found was an always passionate, but not always on-target study of the Italian people by one of their own. While not all books on national character on worth reading, this one has merit.
Instead of looking at THE ITALIANS as a cohesive book, which it is not, I suggest you take it as a series of chapters -- some brilliant and right on the mark, others overstating a simple truism. In the former category, we have the two brilliant chapters at the end on Italian history after the defeat at Fornovo in 1495, and how foreign intervention led to the development of the Baroque in art, music, and life. Less effective are the chapters on Italian family life and how to succeed in Italy without half trying.
Barzini was dumbfounded at how the world was (and apparently still is) beating a path to Italy without understanding what every Italian knows. He asks, "Why did Italy, a land notoriously teeming with vigorous, wide-awake and intelligent people always behave so feebly? Why was she invaded, ravaged, sacked, humiliated in every century, and yet failed to do the simple things necessary to defend herself?"
THE ITALIANS does not answer these questions; but the fact that it posits them and comes close to answering them makes it a remarkable failure. I believe this book has been more or less continuously in print for 36 years, and with good reason.
Italy may seem at times like the animated, gaily-bedizened clown from the commedia dell'arte; but in reality, she is more like the tragic clown Pagliacci from Leoncavallo's opera, who, cruelly traduced, forces himself to laugh through his tears.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This book explained so much! Feb. 10 2001
This book explained so much! I highly recommend this book to anyone who has spent time in Italy and come away with questions. This book is not for armchair travel. It will not transport you. What it will do is identify what one Italian writer sees as "Italian traits" and then, in a somewhat academic way, pose some interesting ideas by way of explanation.
As an American living all over Italy I have been a student, a working woman, a guest, and yes, a tourist. Long before I ever even heard of this book I was full of questions and confusing experiences. Usually I'm pretty sceptical when people set out to EXPLAIN a "national character". But here Barzini addresses the very issues I've been puzzling over. I found myself saying "YES!" and underlining passages with big exclamation points in the margins.
There are two reasons I don't give this book 5 stars. Barzini's florid writing style just doesn't appeal to me. Also, while a lot of this book spoke to my own experience, I wondered how much of the rest is dated. I give it four stars but I think it's possible to pick and choose chapters according to your interests.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A classics
It`s a classic book - and you can hardly add anything to it. Though it`s a little dated, it`s still worth reading.
Published on April 23 2002 by Darya Terekhova
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegantly written yet dated
First, I would compliment Jim Paris' intelligent review. Mr. Paris leaves me little to add. What Mr. Read more
Published on Sept. 16 2000 by Derek Leaberry
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining, informative, and opinionated portrait
Barzini states in the first sentence of his preface that this book is not a scientific study of Italy and the Italians. Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2000 by Todd Vance
2.0 out of 5 stars If you like books about unicorns, read this
I'll put my opinion first, so there won't be any doubt in your mind. I don't believe that you can write useful books about national character. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2000 by Bob Newman
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written book about the Italian people
I enjoyed the book, The Italians. Eventhough Barzini was a newspaper journalist, it seems he was in the business of writing about the social sciences. Read more
Published on March 1 1999 by Darren Rushing (rushing@tstar.net)
2.0 out of 5 stars An anecdotal view of Italy
A book about Italians or about one's prejudices about Italians? In the tradition of Victorian visitors to Italy, whose books say more about the authors' prejudices than about the... Read more
Published on Dec 8 1998
2.0 out of 5 stars A book about Italians or about one's prejudices about Italy?
In the tradition of Victorian visitors to Italy, whose books say more about the authors' prejudices than about the topics at hand, Barzini's account tells us about his own, middle... Read more
Published on Nov. 25 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarship and humor enhance our understanding of Italians
Barzini combines scholarship and humor to enhance our understanding of the ethnic/cultural group that has produced some of the world's great writers, thinkers, industrialists,... Read more
Published on May 21 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars An historical witty approach
Much has been written on Italians, but nobody to the best of my knowledge has ever taken an historical scholar examination of the process combined with a very good sense of humor. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 1998 by koonga@tin.it
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