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Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy Paperback – January 3, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"One goes on reading page after page like eating cherries."

About the Author

Norman Lewis, who died last year, was England's greatest travel writer of the last century. He wrote a dozen travel books, including such masterpieces as Naples 44, The Honoured Society and A Dragon Apparent, and thirteen novels.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (January 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786714387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786714384
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rich Piellisch on January 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is quite possibly the best book about World War II AND the best book about Italy you're likely to find... Full of striking telling detail from the opening confusion of the Allied invasion on the beaches of Salerno (the author, a young British intelligence officer posted to Italy behind his knowledge of Spanish, finds himself under fire in a wilderness of typewriters and other randomly strewn office equipment) to the improbable eruption of Vesuvius (and the Neapolitans' belief, amply demonstrated by historical prededent, that otherwise inexorable flows of lava could be stopped by the relics of Catholic saints)... Lewis is a master observer of the particular and this book, written after a mid-1950s perusal of his old wartime notebooks following publication of half a dozen other volumes, shows off his unmatched gift for quiet understatement. The residents of Naples were reduced to medieval conditions of famine and hygiene and were heartily sick of the war in 1944, prostitution was rampant with young girls often the only employables in a family, electric lines and even manholes were plundered for their scrap value. A clandestine mail service between Naples and still-Nazi-occupied Rome was a particular vexation to Lewis and his intelligence collegues, especially as some of Naples' most prominent citizens (including a midget gynecologist who was able to use both hands for non-incision internal surgery, and who specialized in restoration of virginity), were among the amateur postmen. The doings of Lucky Luciano and other characters on the late-WWII scene in Italy, and the incredible bungling and callousness of the occupation authorities are ably chronicled. Don't miss this one.
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This is not a book for the sqeamish, nor is it a book for those seeking a Tom Brokaw-ish golden memory of WWII. It is, however, a wonderfully written, and easy-to-read war diary. Every page is fascinating in it's detail of human behavior. If you are seeking information about the movements of great armies and generals,or a recap of military hardware or uniforms, this isn't it. This is a good look at what war does to the people who have to live in the middle of it, and how occupying armies deal with people and customs they barely understand. We have very deep ties with Italy and the Italians, so it makes one wonder whether it's possible for Iraq to make a post-invasion recovery. There is a critical difference, we and the Germans mostly disarmed the Italian populace.They didn't wander the streets with AK-47s and RPGs, though weapons were hidden for a possible civil war. I also recommend reading "The War in Val D'Orcia" by Iris Origo for a look at WWII Italian life farther north in the Apennine mountains of Italy.
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This is a real gem of a memoir-cum-diary of World War II in Naples and its environs. I have just 'discovered' Mr. Lewis, and am knocked out by his eye for detail and the transparency of his writing. The book really gives you a sense sense of the tragi-comedy of a city recently liberated from the Germans; more than that, you cannot help but be impressed with the creativeness of Neapolitans' dealings with the incredible difficulties they faced after the Germans retreated North. You will also, sadly, get a sense that the United States Army was not completely comprised of "Band of Brothers" soldiers. Nor, for that matter, was the British. Read this book.
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When I was younger I knew an Italian-American veteran who spent time in Naples at roughly the time covered by this book. His stories while entertaining always seemed a bit exagerated to me. Now, after reading Norman Lewis' account of those days I owe my long departed friend an apology for having doubted him.
This is a remarkable account from a gifted observer. Lewis as a British intelligence officer assigned to the Area occupied by American forces immediately following the expulsion of the Germans was in a unique position to observe many aspects of the struggles and adaptations of the locals under these extraordianry conditions. The ingenuity and superstition of the Italian people is displayed from a point of view that is neutral in it's judgements while sparing the reader nothing of the darker side of the stuggle to survive at the same time.
As somone who has read extensively about WWII I was surprised this one got by me for so long. I stumbled on it while browsing Amazon and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the War ,Italy or just a good entertaining read.
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Format: Paperback
Before becoming one of the finest travel writers in English (Graham Greene called him "one of the best writers, not of any particular decade, but of our century"), Norman Lewis served in British intelligence during WWII. From September 1943 to October 1944, he was in southern Italy. He landed with the U.S. Fifth Army near Salerno and then spent the next year with the occupying forces in and around Naples. NAPLES '44 is his marvelous account of that year.

In addition to being superbly written, NAPLES '44 stands out on two scores. First, it belongs on the top shelf of WWII books, not as a report of combat (though Lewis had a few experiences of front line danger which he describes in the book) but as an account of the chaos, bureaucratic claptrap, and occasional callousness of the Occupation. Just one of far too many examples from the book: A 10-year-old boy was brought into the hospital with three fingers chopped off and wrapped in newspaper; he had been part of a gang that specialized in jumping onto the backs of moving army lorries and then tossing out to confederates whatever might have value, but he became a victim of a British campaign to stop such theft by hiding soldiers in the backs of supply-trucks with bayonets and orders to chop down on the hands of any boys who grabbed the tailboards as a preliminary to hauling themselves in.

Second, NAPLES '44 is an indelible portrayal of Naples, "that anthill of humanity", and its countryside neighbors, including the wretched poverty and Dark Ages living conditions and the proclivity of many for banditry, lechery, and superstition. In the Cathedral there was an ampulla of the congealed blood of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples.
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