The Italians Hardcover – 1964
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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 DT
First, I would compliment Jim Paris' intelligent review. Mr. Paris leaves me little to add. What Mr. Read morePublished on Sept. 16 2000 by Derek Leaberry
Barzini states in the first sentence of his preface that this book is not a scientific study of Italy and the Italians. Read morePublished on Aug. 2 2000 by Todd Vance
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 morePublished on Jan. 19 2000 by Bob Newman
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 morePublished on March 1 1999 by Darren Rushing (email@example.com)
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 morePublished on Dec 8 1998
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 morePublished on Nov. 25 1998