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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an intelligent book on Italy!
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...
Published on Aug. 20 2001 by Vince Cabrera

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dated work...needs updating.
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...
Published on July 18 2002 by David Lupo


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an intelligent book on Italy!, Aug. 20 2001
By 
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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. I think that the best way to read this book is not so much with a grain of salt, but rather with a large glass of water in order to dilute the author's conclusions a little.
The *substance* of the book is still accurate, it's just a little faded with time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Failure, Aug. 5 2000
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This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dated work...needs updating., July 18 2002
By 
David Lupo "David Lupo" (Fairhaven, MA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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 This book explained so much!, Feb. 10 2001
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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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2.0 out of 5 stars If you like books about unicorns, read this, Jan. 19 2000
By 
Bob Newman "Bob Newman" (Marblehead, Massachusetts USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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. Is there really such a thing as "national character"? People are just too different, too unpredictable. How well can you predict the behavior of the people closest to you ? How well can you predict what people in your own country will do ? Would every Italian, if they could write well, have written the same book as Mr. Barzini ? I seriously doubt it. So what we have in THE ITALIANS is one man's views on the conglomerate nature of 50 million Italians. After reading it, I felt even more strongly that such books, though possibly entertaining, are a waste of time. An informative book about unicorns--but do they exist ? Anthropologists have been concerned, for many years, in getting the "inside view"--the view of a culture as seen by the person within it. While Barzini is indisputable Italian, he tries to visualize Italians as seen by foreign visitors, then explain to those of us not lucky enough to travel there, why they are as visitors see them, or why they are not as foreigners may think. This is not a successful gambit. Cultures are based on many general factors--like history, socio-economic patterns, religion, family, etc.---but the specific results are just that, specific. Barzini covers many topics--the importance of spectacle and giving an illusion of something rather than actually having that quality; the family vs. the state; Italian modes of achieving success; the north-south split; Sicily and the Mafia; and last, the tragedy of Italy's long domination by foreigners. But nothing really connects. There are only superficial, scattered impressions, nothing very concrete to grasp. The reader is left with a handful of stereotypes. Barzini is at his best when describing the lives and modus operandi of particular characters in Italian history. These sections were well-written and interesting. But his portrayal of Italian "character" is fuzzy, contradictory, and ultimately, unconvincing. Finally, if you are a lover of lists, you will thrill to this book, because there is a list on nearly every single page. Myself, I got pretty tired of those lists. If you want to know something useful about Italy, read another book. If you just want entertainment, which might support any stereotypes you have about Italians, then this book could be for you.
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2.0 out of 5 stars An anecdotal view of Italy, Dec 8 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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 topics at hand, Barzini's account tells us about his own, middle class Italian, prejudices toward the rest of the country. He has more information available, of course, than a foreigner can ever have, but his account is basically anecdotal at best, and often forces the facts he does report to fit his preconceived points of view. When he writes about the southern problem, for instance, he has to disregard many of the facts he himself includes (and the many more he doesn't include, of course) to conclude, appallingly, that it is all a 'mentality' problem. In conclusion, it can be an interesting reading for people already very familiar with Italy and Italians, as they will be able to spot the many inconsistencies, while at the same time enjoying the anecdotes, some of them pretty entertaining. If you know nothing about Italy, this is a very misleading, personal, and somewhat prejudiced view of Italy on the whole, which will not help you to know better nor Italy nor her people.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A book about Italians or about one's prejudices about Italy?, Nov. 25 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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 class Italian, prejudices toward the rest of the country. He has more information available, of course, than a foreigner can ever have had, but his account is basically anecdotical at best, and often forces the facts he does report to fit his preconceived points of view. When he writes about the southern problem, for instance, he has to disregard many of the facts he himself includes (and the many more he doesn't include, of course) to conclude, appallingly, that it is all a 'mentality' problem. In conclusion, it can be an interesting reading for people already very familiar with Italy and Italians, as they will be able to spot the many inconsistencies, while at the same time enjoying the anectodes, some of them pretty entertaining. If you know nothing about Italy, this is a very misleading, personal, and somewhat prejudiced view of Italy on the whole, which will not help you to know better nor Italy nor her people.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written book about the Italian people, March 1 1999
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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. While reading this book, it dawned on me that many of Barzini's theories and precepts are nothing more than ideas. Of course, Barzini was Italian and I am sure many of his conclusions are accurate. However, some of this book has to be taken with a "grain of salt". Barzini, educated at Columbia University, has a witty and thorough style of writing. He makes this book very easy to read and enjoyable. I recommend this book to anyone looking to understand the makeup of the Italian people. It's important to keep one thing in mind before reading this book, it was not written by a sociologist - but by a journalist.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Elegantly written yet dated, Sept. 16 2000
By 
Derek Leaberry (Bennett Point, MD) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
First, I would compliment Jim Paris' intelligent review. Mr. Paris leaves me little to add. What Mr. Barzini did not foresee was the radical changes the last forty years would have on Italian culture. Divorce would never be acceptable to the Italian people, writes Barzini confidentally. Yet only a few years after this book came out, divorce was legalized in Italy. Mr. Barzini must have really be perplexed when the next level of cultural degeneration was achieved- abortion rights. Writing in the Italy of circa-1960, Mr. Barzini must not have thought the concept of abortion would ever be a part of Italian life. Yet abortion became commonplace in Italy within Mr. Barzini's lifetime. He must of felt a foreigner in his own land that he so much loved.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarship and humor enhance our understanding of Italians, May 21 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Italians (Paperback)
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, scientists and artists, aka the saints and sinners. His subject matter is matched only by his writing in terms of complexity and style. Barzini is both mirror and artist, he provides images that are both as accurate as one can hope to experience and distorted by his love of his subject. In the end, I was greatly entertained and educated. An immensely enjoyable read.
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Italians
Italians by Luigi Barzini (Paperback - July 3 1996)
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