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Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay Hardcover – May 10, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Splendid.”  - Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life 

There is no more witty, worldly, cultivated or amiably candid observer imaginable than Benjamin Taylor.  This book belongs on the shelf of the very best literary travel guides.

- Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan

Erudite and charming, Naples Declared is remarkable book; it's about place and history and survival; it's fresh, it's wise, and it's not to be missed. 

-Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

“From novelist/essayist/editor Taylor, an idiosyncratic, atmospheric portrait of ‘the great open-air theater of Europe.’ The author wears his formidable erudition lightly as he cites classical authors and 20th-century travel writers with equal zest and acuity. Yet some of his most enjoyable pages are present-day encounters with a fervently communist doctor, with a chain-smoking student of Faulkner, and with novelist Shirley Hazzard, one of Naples many devoted longtime, part-time residents. Packed with elegant apercus and vibrant with the author’s rueful understanding that ‘Naples the glorious and Naples the ghastly have always been one place,” [in his] highly personal book the Neapolitan spirit is palpable.”—Kirkus starred review

“Taylor’s book, like his subject, Naples, is a lot of things at once; there are lengthy discussions of history, philosophy, religion, art, culture, literature, customs.  The book meanders between past and present, wanders in stream-of-thought fashion through the Naples streets, delves deeply into the city’s stories, lives, and lore, and drops in for conversations with locals; it is an accurate representation of what travel is and what it means.  Scholarly and insightful and balanced with wit and levity, [Naples Declared] is written with an effortless poeticism.”—Library Journal

"Superb . . . What Chatwin did for Australia and Mathiessen for the Himalayas, Taylor now does for the storied city of Naples.  I will steal a line from Leon Wieseltier's review of Taylor's previous book, "Saul Bellow: Letters" to describe his newest one:  "an elegantissimo book."  [In Naples Declared,] Taylor deftly sums up more than 3,000 years of history, ranging from the establishment of a Mycenaean entrepôt in 1800 B.C.E. to the signal event of 2011: “Renewed garbage crisis.” Like all great travel memoirs, however, “Naples Declared” owes some of its best moments to the firsthand experiences of the author in the place he writes about. He is a watchful traveler and a charming raconteur, and so we are treated to accounts of his successful effort to cure the hiccups of an aristocratic Englishwoman known to the hotel staff as “Lady So-and-So,” his inventory of the cast-off items and the poignant graffiti that he spots in an ancient aqueduct used as a bomb-shelter during World War II . . . Taylor’s book offers a full measure of history and reportage. “My modus operandi,” he explains, “has been to walk a knowledge of Naples into my bloodstream.” But the book is also a reverie. “In this place, my dream said, trust to the promise of renewable wonder,” he concludes, “every lover’s hope and prayer.” There is no better way to sum up what Taylor has captured in “Naples Declared,” a wholly delightful example of what the literary travel memoir can achieve."--Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com

About the Author

Benjamin Taylor is the author of two acclaimed novels—The Book of Getting Even and Tales Out of School—and the editor of Saul Bellow: Letters, called by The New York Times Book Review  “an elegantissimo book. Our literature’s debt to Taylor is considerable.”


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Marian Wood Books/Putnam; First Edition edition (May 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399159177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399159176
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #751,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First of all, this is not your typical "travel book." It is chock-full of historical insight, but is never dry. Whether the subject is Pompeii, the catacombs of San Gennaro, or the paintings of Caravaggio, these pages overflow with warmth, profundity, and humor. It is rare to find a book that can do so much so well. But Taylor's Naples Declared is just such a book. His enthusiasm for his subject is contagious and with him as your guide you cannot help but feel drawn to this "titanic" city that has both suffered and prospered greatly. In the moving final pages, Taylor warns us against the trappings of nostalgia, leaving me with the feeling that he is not only writing about the city of Naples, but about all cities we come to love or hate (or sometimes both). This is a must read for all lovers of art, travel, and history.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Naples Declared must rate among the top travel journals ever written. The author gives the reader a nice tour of the more interesting sites in Naples, so for that reason alone the book can be read by anyone thinking of traveling there. However, you also get a get some well-informed and sometimes philosophical observations about the city, its inhabitants, and all that city has to offer.

You cannot understand Naples without having some vague idea of its history. Italian politics are complicated and convoluted generally, only more so in the case of Naples. Only Sicily can compete with it on that score. The politics of Italy right before and just after the renaissance is daunting to learn, but Italian history, particularly in the south, began long before that efflorescence. If you are not already familiar with the history of southern Italy, you will be surprised to learn who ruled its various parts in the past. The first were the Greeks, who had established ports and cities by the eighth century BCE (some say as early as the second millineum BCE). Greek culture, we are reminded by the book, persisted for a long time after Greek hegemony ended.
Naples and its culture, art and architecture, were influenced to some extent, sometimes more, sometimes less, by all who came from afar to dominate it at any point in time: Romans, Saracens, French, Spanish, Germans, Papal, Sicilians and other Italic intruders, etc., as Prof. Taylor will inform us. He deftly weaves the history of Naples and its various cultures into his narrative.
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Format: Paperback
The best literary travel writing mixes travel with history, culture, and compassion, and is presented in engaging, literate prose. People like Norman Lewis, H.V. Morton, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Colin Thubron come to mind. But the heyday of literary travel writing was, seemingly, decades ago (the only one of the aforementioned writers still alive is Colin Thubron, and he is nearly seventy-five). NAPLES DECLARED, however, proves that the genre is not extinct and, furthermore, that it is not the exclusive province of Brits. The book was published in 2012, and its author Benjamin Taylor is an American.

Taylor has had a long-standing love affair with Naples. He visited there eleven times over sixteen years. As he explains in an afterword of sorts, he took only sketchy notes of his stays and, instead, over the years, "let the interesting, sometimes funny or poignant things learned from near-strangers settle down in me, and only now have I made the inventory." The result is a very engaging and wide-ranging book about Naples and its environs through history. On display from cover to cover are its author's erudition, his fertile imagination, and his limpid prose. No one should go to Naples without first reading NAPLES DECLARED; yet it surely is almost as compelling for those who have never been and never will go there.

The book does not follow an ordered itinerary through time and space, although in a very general way it does proceed from the ancient Greeks (Mycenaean Greek traders established a settlement near Naples around 1600 B.C.) to World War II, and from the island of Ischia around the concave shoreline of the Gulf of Naples to its other end, the island of Capri.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is no denying Benjamin Taylor's passion is in everything pertaining to Naples. He blends Greek mythology, history, religion, art, fact & legend, and myth, mixed with a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts and personal musings. Occasionally, the view of a local person who is invited to diner or coffee is added to the mix. "Naples Declared" attempts to be all these things in 180 pages -- a daunting task, given the scale of history in Naples. As a result of this, I found that the book lacked flow and was confusing at times, given the scale of places, names and events that are churned out by the author. One almost needed to read this book with Wikipedia close at hand.

Sometimes, Taylor's own beliefs predominate, as when he states "Christianity is, in all its versions, an untragic view of life, and I fear it not just because I'm a Jew, whose ansestors suffered dreadful things under the heel of its triumphs, and dislike it not just because I'm an unbeliever; I fear and dislike it because it sets the flesh against the mind and denies the brevity of our expectations..." (p.59)

I personally have spent a lot of time in Naples. I ususally seek to travel the road less travelled, and as Taylor, seek the diamond in the rough in places. With this in mind, Naples has a great deal to offer the visitor, but it is rough, ill-maintained, and daunting at times, so traveller beware.

With this in mind, polish up on your ancient history, Italian history, Greak mythology and knowledge of Italian art and you will find that "Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay" is a refreshing read.
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