28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2004
In Italy, I have often cast a pitying eye on the uninspired faces of people in large tour groups. You have, no doubt, seen them yourself, as they mindlessly follow a leader who is holding some ridiculous object aloft on a stick and frequently supplying dubious anecdotal information selected to entertain rather than enlighten. Anyone in such a group with an earnest zeal to know more about the scenic, historical, architectural, and artistic miracle that the world calls Italy would do well to obtain a copy of one of Morton's books on Italy. But bring along a copy of a traditional guide as well, since Morton's books will not direct you to the best hotels, restaurants, and places to shop; rather, they tend to be journals of his travel experiences into which he incorporates his extensive research of the places he visits.
"A Traveller in Italy" is not about ALL of Italy. It covers Lombardy (Milan, the lake district, etc.), Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Rimini, Ravenna, etc.), Veneto (Venice, Padua, Verona), and Tuscany (requires no introduction). (Morton also wrote "A Traveller in Southern Italy," but, alas, the two books together do not cover the entire country.) "A Traveller in Italy," like "A Traveller in Southern Italy" and "A Traveller in Rome" (but unlike his ethereal and out-of-print "Fountains of Rome") follows Morton's peregrinations and glows with his rich narrative of historical background, personal experiences, and musings. If you are an "off the beaten track" sort, you will particularly enjoy this book, since Morton is at his best when, say, locating the villa of Pliny the Elder, with its peculiar spring, in a remote corner of Lake Como, or discovering that an elixir, the recipe of which dates back to the time of Herodotus, is still being sold in Venice (at least in 1964, when the book was published).
What must be experienced first-hand in this book is that Morton was such an eminently likable fellow. This, along with his lively curiosity, his sense of humor, his well-researched and fascinating historical narratives, and his brilliant command of the English language make the book so highly readable. But there's no need to wait for a trip to northern Italy to read this book - I frequently pull it off the shelf and read it for pure pleasure.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2003
My introduction to Morton's travel writings was through this book, "A Traveller in Italy"; by now I've read at least a dozen. As in all his many travel books, Morton charmingly mixes a deep appreciation and knowledge of the art, culture and the history of a place with his own keen observations of the contemporary countryside and the people. Morton's stories and observations are as engaging as the landscape and people he writes about. Don't sentences such as "The rain descends with the enthusiasm of someone breaking bad news." make you feel that you are there?
Henry Vollam Morton was born on 26 July 1892 near Manchester. He began his career on the Birmingham Express at 17, and became assistant editor after only two years. A year later he came to London to edit a magazine. After World War I he found his vocation as a descriptive travel writer. His success in reporting the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb led to him being given the chance to write a series of vignettes about London life for the Daily Express. These later appeared in book form in the 1920s [as "The Heart of London" and "The Spell of London"]. He died in South Africa in 1979, aged 86. Many have called him the best travel writer ever, and I concur. Most of his books are titled "In Search of ...", "In the Steps of ..." or "A Stranger in ...", "A Traveller in ..."". But even the armchair traveler doesn't feel a stranger after delving into Morton's charm.
These are NOT guidebooks, with lists of things to cover with only 2 days in Rome, etc.; you will find no information on opening times, entrance fees, etc. But you will find a wealth of information and a sense of "being there". Morton's books are perfect for pre-trip planning and dreaming, to get a sense of the place; perfect for post-trip nostalgia, to relive the sights and sounds and aromas and people; perfect for the armchair traveler, who can't get there but would still like to experience a locale, not just read about it.
His books have recently been reprinted, in handsome paper editions, this one with an introduction by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison [author of "Italian Days"]. I highly recommend "A Traveller in Italy" - actually, I highly recommend any of Morton's books you can get your hands on.
Others to look for, to read, and to love: "A Traveller in Italy"; "A Traveller in Rome"; "A Traveller in Southern Italy"; "In Search of England"; "In Search of Ireland"; "In Search of Scotland"; "In Search of Wales"; "In Search of the Holy Land"; "A Stranger in Spain"; "In the Steps of St. Paul"; "In the Steps of the Master".
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2007
Words fail me, as indeed they do not fail Mr. Morton, in describing the immense beauty of this book. Morton portrays his experiences in Italy in a fashion which evokes the wonder that perhaps is lost in our generation which tends to overlook the beauty he feels viscerally and intellectually as he moves through this most beautiful country. The personal observations are excellent literature in their own right. I especially was awed by his remembrances of Umbria. His deeply felt observations on the life of St. Francis are simly beautiful. Going to Lombardy, his depiction of the fall of Mussolini is extraordinary drama. He never fails to give you his own feelings and emotions on a subject that moves him. In reading this most inspiring work, I am reminded of the adage "...the shudder of awe is man's greatest emotion." Read this book. You will not forget it.
on May 13, 2015
Morton' s book follows his other traveller books' formulae. He travels from town to town in an orderly progression - here, essentially north to south - and visits the sights, embellishing them with historical background and interesting side stories. He is learned, but not pedantic, and adds a touch of humor. He also speaks with locals, and gives a feel for the contemporary sense of place. This book should be more aptly titled A Traveller In Northern Italy because it ends when he reaches Rome. Moreover he subsequently pens A Traveller In Rome, and A Traveller In a Southern Italy. Morton is the perfect traveling companion. If you go to Italy, by all means buy the standard guides - be they Michelin, Frommers, or Rick Steve's. But remember these books are merely shallow surface scratchers. Do yourself a favor and dip into Morton to enrich your travel. The only reason I do not give this book a five-star rating, is that it is silent as to food and wine. Cuisine is culture. The book contains some photo inserts, but by using Google you can visit the same sites.