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The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples Hardcover – October 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Amazingly compendious . . . The best one-volume history of Italy now available . . . [The Pursuit of Italy] has the same tonic, exhilarating impact as the thigh-slapping overture to a Verdi opera. (Jonathan Keates, The Literary Review)

[The Pursuit of Italy has] a freshness and readability often lacking in more laborious histories, an attractiveness reinforced by the quality of the writing, which is versatile and vivid and frequently witty, able to encompass both densely factual material and complicated narrative without loss of clarity or elegance . . . Compelling to read and highly informative . . . Brilliantly accomplished. (Barry Unsworth, The Spectator)

Lucid and elegant, clever and provocative . . . Tracing Italy's history from Romulus and Remus to the misdemeanours of Silvio Berlusconi, Gilmour develops his thesis with wit, style, and a great deal of learning. (Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times (London))

[A] well-researched and engaging canter through the peninsula's history. (Peter Popham, The Independent)

Gilmour's elegantly written book . . . is full of impressive insights . . . A stimulating, up-to-date and reliable guide to modern Italian history. (Tony Barber, Financial Times)

In this superb history of Italy and the Italian people, Gilmour celebrates a nation of bewilderingly mixed bloods and ethnicities . . . The Pursuit of Italy offers an enduring tribute to a various and wonderful people. (Ian Thomson, Evening Standard)

About the Author

Sir David Gilmour is one of Britain's most admired and accomplished historical writers and biographers. His previous books include The Last Leopard, The Long Recessional (FSG, 2002), and, most recently, The Ruling Caste (FSG, 2006).

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374283168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374283162
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gilmour's pursuit is ambitious both in scope and intent, covering Italy's land, regions and people from Ancient Rome to the Berlusconi administrations in a tightly written 400 pages. He cautions that since this is not an academic work (although 376 source books are cited in the text), he has allowed himself "to be quirkily subjective in (his) selection of topics."

The author begins with a discussion of Italy's defining geographic features: too long; easily invaded; divided from north to south and from east to west; lacking in timber, fish, fishermen, sailors and navigable rivers; malaria prone and multi-racial. Gimour proceeds to review almost every important era of the peninsula's history from Imperial Rome through the Risorgimento and ending with a review of today's economic, social and political challenges. His approach is to analyze the country's centrifugal tendencies, arguing that more traditional histories "had been written from a centripetal view, as if Italian unity had been pre-ordained." Questioning whether unification had been either necessary or inevitable, Gilmour asks: "Were there not just too many Italies for a successful unity?"

Early portions of the text can be a bit challenging as the author weaves together the varied and complex historical threads of the Holy Roman Empire. The book takes off, however, in an extended and lucid description of the Risorgimento. Gilmour sees the latter resulting from a war of expansion conducted by the Piedmontese. "Annexation (of the Papal States and the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies) plainly meant 'piedmontization', the imposition of northern laws, customs and institutions on distant regions with no experience of their workings.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the formal proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. I have long had a fascination with Italy, which was only whetted by my two too-short trips there. Art, architecture, history, food, wine, warmly hospitable people, and (often) glorious weather and landscapes. But at the same time Italy is such a dysfunctional country - crime, corruption, bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, Berlusconi, and a burgeoning debt crisis. (I realize, of course, that the same problems - minus "Berlusconi" - loom large in the United States.) In THE PURSUIT OF ITALY, David Gilmour does a good job of explaining why in its 150 years Italy, the nation, has had such a star-crossed existence and why it still has an uncertain future.

In Gilmour's view, geography and the vicissitudes of history over millennia have worked against a unified Italian nation. For centuries, the peoples of the peninsula existed -- even thrived, at least in comparison to many others in Europe -- in various city-states (such as Venice, Genoa, Savoy, Florence, Siena, and Naples). Even today, "the city-states remain embedded in Italy's psyche, the crucial component of its people's identity and of their social and cultural inheritance." When the tide of 19th-Century nationalism swept over Italy, there were no inherent ties or associations that predisposed those city-states to unite in a peninsular nation, and the founding fathers - Cavour, Garibaldi, Mazzini, and Victor Emanuel - who brought about that nation-state did so without the support or approval of the majority of the citizenry. Italy as a nation was flawed in conception, and the nation-building since has been badly flawed in execution.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By MT57 on December 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am not as well read as others in Italian history but this book certainly struck me as a very efficient history of Italy. It begins at the beginning, before Romulus and Remus and goes right up to Berlusconi. It is definitely a history that is filtered through the author's perspective. As the title implies, he sees "Italy" as at best a work in progress which has never achieved the degree of commonality and nationhood that other European states have. And he is skeptical it ever will. His perspective comes through in every chapter.

He has a very strong voice; for example, many times he labels an action or decision "insane" or "lunatic". I found this to enhance my experience as a reader, in contrast with a blander, less judgmental voice.

I thought I would quote one paragraph to illustrate both the efficiency of the presentation and the distinctive voice (p.185)

"The Habsburg government made a more honourable blunder by waiting three days for its ultimatum to expire and thus missing the chance to capture Turin before the French army arrived. The outcome of the campaign was decided by two battles in Lombardy in June, which ended in victories for France but in which its Italian allies played undistinguishable parts. One, Magenta, was so sanguinary that it gave its name to the artists' colour, magenta, but little Piedmontese blood helped inspire the name since the army did not arrive at the battlefield until nightfall, after the struggle was over. At the other, Solferino, the sight of wounded soldiers left to die was so horrifying to one Swiss witness that he went home and founded the International Red Cross."

At times that voice can be a little too monotonously disparaging.
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