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The Italians Paperback – July 3, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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.

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (July 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684825007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684825007
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Vince Cabrera on August 20, 2001
Format: 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.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Pat Rocchi on August 10, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I heard of this book 40 years ago when a TV version won an Emmy award. I was inspired to read it after my most recent trip to Italy. Growing up as an Italian-American, I wondered why my people acted the way they do, and this book provides valuable insight. Barzini graduated from Columbia U., and it shows in his command of the English language. This book is a classic, but like most classics, it's old, so while much of it is timeless, other parts are out of date, both culturally and politically. However, if one wants to gain a grounding in the Italian culture, this book is a very good place to start.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David Lupo on July 18, 2002
Format: 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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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By nancecandance on February 10, 2001
Format: 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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Maura Greca on May 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
Luigi Barzini has a unique style and presents his theories on the Italian psyche in an entertaining collection of anecdotes. Keep in mind that the view of Italians that the journalist Barzini presents here is his view, and in the beginning of the book he states that it is not a scientific study, simply an entertainment. With that in mind, the book delivers on the author's purpose.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By SUPPORT THE ASPCA. on August 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
This elegant, but dated book appears to fit Mr. Barzini's pessimistic generation. Which after living through two world wars & the great depression is understandable. However, as he stated in the preface this is not a scholarly or scientific analysis. The reader should take his observations with a "block of salt." It is safe to say that the vast majority of books on national character are usually oversimplifications.

But, at times the author hits the target of the elusive Italian national character. I would read the forward & conclusion first, & than the book in its entirety. The heart of the book for me is on pages 331-4. As for the chapters, I will critique each in order, & give the most informative pages. Ch1, Visit Italy & you will find out for yourself. Ch2, history entices visitors. The main pages are 25-7. Ch3, This is very subjective, & all individuals must find out on his/her own, main pages of interest are 54-7. Ch4, This was repetitive, spectacle an ancient habit, main pages 68-70. Ch5, There is some truth for sure, pages 80-1, 92-3 & 100 are very intruiging. the latter page was even funny. Ch6, About the economics of the country as a whole. This was very dated even when the author wrote it. Ch7, hero or Benito lite? You will find this one very deep indeed.

Ch8, it is true enough that double delusions can increase chaos in ones society. Ch9, comfort with the status quo? Ch10, the Italians never truly adopted the farce of feudalism. Ch11, The refuge & torment of family. Pages 190-2 are very good. His analysis about the vast commonalities between Italian, Jewish, & Chinese families was truly striking. The economist Thomas Sowell noted the same traits in his 1981 book, Ethnic America.
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