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The Story of San Michele Paperback – March 10, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Munthe was a true Renaissance man a scientist and doctor as well as a poet who was a friend of Henry James, Somerset Maugham, and others. In this 1929 volume, he offers an account of San Michele, a house he built on the site of Roman emperor Tiberius's villa on the Isle of Capri off Italy's southern coast. His weaving of the story of the house with Italian history, mythology, and culture is reminiscent of 18th- and 19th-century travelogs. This book was a smash in several languages for many years.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


One of the most fascinating of books, wise in its appraisal of men, overflowing with humour and edged with irony, sharper than a surgeon's knife. There are chapters which are veritable de Maupassant plots in their concise and dramatic realism. New York Herald Tribune Told with a power and an honesty which makes this a very remarkable document. TLS The Story of San Michele has style, wit, humour, great knowledge of the world, mixed with that strange simplicity of mind that is often the attribute of genius. Observer Romantic, realistic, pitiful and enchanting, this is the record of a citadel of the soul ... all fantasy does it seem? Impossible? Absurd? But San Michele stands there on the hill for witness. A miracle? Well, every work of art is a miracle, and every beautiful thing the shrine of a realized dream. Daily Telegraph A most interesting and lovable revelation, enchantingly described. Punch I have found Dr Munthe's reminiscences intensely interesting and enjoyable, and it is hard to convey their charm of mingled pathos and humour or their multiplicity of appeal. Illustrated London News It is an amazing book: wonderfully beautiful at times, appallingly horrible at others. For horrors he rivals Poe, recounting his gruesome experiences with a quiet simplicity which is strikingly effective. Western Mail 'A beautifully written series of episodes from Paris to Capri, ...recounting the author's struggle to discover what he desires from life.' - Matthew Linnecar Geographical There is enough material here to furnish the writers of sensational short stories with plots for the rest of their lives. Daily News --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 2 edition (March 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786710179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786710171
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,702,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Eighty or ninety years ago, Axel Munthe was a famous doctor.
He left behind a few modest and charming reminiscences, of which "The story of the San Michele" is, in my opinion, the most interesting.
The writer deliberately leaves outsides large zones of his existence; he only highlights those pertaining to his work.
The unity of this book in which memories mingle according to his fancy, is achieved through the presence of two underlying motifs: his love for the nature of the south and the battle against death.
A cholera epedemic in Naples, an earthquake in Messina, anywhere a doctor is needed, Munthe is present.
Even in his passion for archeology, gathering ancient statues and coins, building in Capri a new home from the fragments of an illustrious past - with the architecture inspired by dreams rather than mathematics - his spirit finds a new way of celebrating the beauty of life.
The book is filled with vivid and unforgettable portraits (don Antonio the priest; Maria Porta-Lettere the messenger; Rozalia, the caretaker; Mamsell Agata, the housekeeper with the putrid smile of Lazarus; Norstrom, his friend; Madame Requin, the delinquent midwife; Arcangelo Fusco, the sweeper; the Countess and the Viscount Maurice; John, the child who never laughed - and a lot many others.
But the most interesting character is the doctor himself - because of the special quality of his humanity.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on September 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I came to this strange and wonderful book without the slightest inkling of what it was about -- simply because it was in the recommended reading for many guidebooks about Italy. First and foremost, it is an autobiography of a great physician and animal lover who just happened to spend some years of his life on Capri.
Autobiographies can make for strange reading, especially when there are obvious omissions. Although Axel Munthe frequently accuses himself of being a ladies' man, there is no mention of any love interest by name or even generic description. (That reminds me of film director Josef von Sternberg's FUN IN A CHINESE LAUNDRY, where we learn in passing that the author was married because of a cryptic mention in a subordinate clause 300 pages into the book.) Also missing is any mention of Munthe's childhood, although I understand there is at least one other autobiography written by him (MEMORIES AND VAGARIES), which I have not read.
There is, however, one section that does not appear in any autobiography that I have ever seen: An anticipation of Munthe's Last Judgment in Heaven following his death, with St. Peter, Moses, Athanasius, and St. Francis joining in the discussion.
STORY OF SAN MICHELE ranges from Paris to Lapland, Rome, Naples, Calabria, and Capri. We see duels, medical cases of wealthy women with imaginary diseases, demonic housekeepers, quacks, midwives, prostitutes, victims of cholera and earthquakes, brigands, shamans, and even an alcoholic ape. Munthe is a magnificent raconteur, and his book is a joy to read and reread.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 1, 1997
Format: Paperback
One of my favorite books, I re-read it almost once a year. It is not for everyone, it is for those who love to dream, who can be whisked away to a fantasy world by a skilled storyteller . . . for those who can be enchanted by goblins who give good advice, raven's blood in a child's milk, owls who prevent adultery, and housemaids who resemble vampires. It is for those who love animals and have their doubts about humans.

Munthe apologizes in one of his prefaces for his egotism, and certainly I can see why he would be embarrassed: he has put his dreams into print, and rarely does he himself come off badly. But only a sourpuss would object to his distortions, for his imagination has formed a work of tremendous beauty.

Munthe himself was a fascinating man, youngest doctor in the history of France, society doctor to European royalty, creator of one of the world's most beautiful houses, one of the 5 men who opened King Tut's tomb.

I love his stories about Guy de Maupassant and the opera singer who died for love of him; I love his dogs who can anticipate death; I love his dream of the dispute between the saints over his salvation ("He was a doctor" -- "Heaven is full of his patients, and hell too" -- "He loved children" -- "He loved their mothers too"), and the appearance of St Francis to save him can still make me cry.

But enough! If you will like this book, you should know it by now!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Stephen F. Davids on December 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How gratifying to read the other reviews, and to learn that others have also experienced and loved this book at different times in their lives. The remarkable thing about it is how Dr. Munthe speaks to us in different ways at different ages. As a teenager, I was impressed by the passions, even though a lot of the details were above my head. In my late twenties, the way he tried to balance career and his love for San Michele was very meaningful. As a 44-year-old, I was impressed (and saddened) with the loneliness of Dr. Munthe's struggle, with really only his animals for company. While he speaks of friends, he shares little about them. And nothing about a lasting romantic involvement.
We all have our San Micheles. They may not be homes, but they are ideals toward which we strive. But for me, it exists only in my mind. Dr. Munthe was in some ways very lucky, yet also cursed, to be able to bring it to life.
The only frustrating aspect of "San Michele" is that it is, as its author notes, a fragment. I am interested to learn more of this fascinating man. Does anyone know if any biographies are in print, or in English? Thank you.
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