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Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World Paperback – October 2, 2001
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"Everyone knows the difficulty of things that are exquisite and well done," the Renaissance philosopher Baldassare Castiglione once remarked. "So to have facility in such things gives rise to the greatest wonder." Italians call that artful facility sprezzatura, a term, Peter d'Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish maintain, that well describes the nation's genius.
They have reason to celebrate: Italy, after all, has exerted an influence in world affairs and culture all out of proportion to its size and population, and has done so for hundreds of years. Among the authors' subjects are the navigators Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Giovanni Verrazano, whose transoceanic voyages changed the course of world history; Andrea Palladio, the architect whose theories have guided designers and builders to the present day; Claudio Monteverdi, whom the authors call "the father of modern music," who gave the world not only fine operas but also the modern orchestra; Enzo Ferrari, the great automaker; Roberto Rossellini, the often overlooked pioneer of New Wave cinema; and the anonymous Roman engineers who built aqueducts, sewers, and roads that still stand today.
Though short on interpretation (d'Epiro and Pinkowish offer little insight into why Italy should have produced such an abundance of inventive, often daring men--and women, though only a few figure in their pages), this anecdotal collection of biographical sketches is a pleasing entertainment for admirers of all things Italian. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In the early 16th century, Count Baldassare Castiglione penned his famous Book of the Courtier, synthesizing the ideals of the medieval courtly gentleman with the new "Renaissance man." Above all, the courtier should exhibit the qualities of grace and sprezzatura, which D'Epiro and Pinkowish accurately describe as "an assumed air of doing difficult things with an effortless mastery and an air of nonchalance." In 50 bite-sized chapters that are as delicious as they are short, D'Epiro and Pinkowish (What Are the Seven Wonders of the World?) take readers through a whirlwind tour of 25 centuries of culture and history on the Italian peninsula. From the calendar and Roman law to the Montessori method and Enrico Fermi, readers can delight in the defeats and accomplishments of a most varied group of men and women. Most books extolling the Italians conveniently delete the dark side of Italian history; this one honestly leaves in many of the more brutal details. The writing is engaging, and the authors' lively and descriptive style almost compensates for a lack of illustrations. One of the book's great merits is that it will surely stimulate readers to return to their Ovid, Livy, Dante and Boccaccio; in addition, one can gain greater appreciation for such masterpieces as Rossellini's Rome, Open City and Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's The Leopard. Although the authors only hint at it, sprezzatura is anything but effortless: mastery of any skill requires more perspiration than inspiration. Or, as D'Epiro and Pinkowish point out, the "social mask," or the "disjunction between appearance and reality," is "the very patina of civilization."
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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The term 'sprezzatura' was widely used by and about musicians in the late Renaissance and Baroque eras. It was applied to singers and players who could toss off virtuosic passages without calling attention to their difficulty. On the other hand, a composer whose works were obviously highly theoretical and 'studied' was often depreciated as "crabbed" and dry. Telemann had sprezzatura while JS Bach had none, and therein lies the tale of the reversal of their reputations in later centuries. Romantic anguish displaced aristocratic disdain shortly after the French Revolution.
Authors D'Epiro and Pinkowish are as thoroughly lacking in sprezzatura as any pen-pushers can be. To title this book "Sprezzatura" is oxymoronic. The writing is not particularly graceful or masterful; in fact, it's rather prosaic. The book is essentially 50 chapters of boasting about how the "Italian Genius Shaped the World". Boasting -- calling attention to one's accomplishments -- is the polar opposite of sprezzatura. Nevertheless, many of the 50 brief essays about Italian artists, inventors, and charismatic leaders are quite interesting if you read them selectively, one at a time. This is definitely not a book to 'enjoy' cover to cover. It's a book to keep by your exercycle or commode, or to carry on short flights, whereon you might willingly learn about Andrea Palladino on one occasion and Roberto Rossellini on another.
facts , no embellishment.
I am very proud of my background maybe a bit opinionated .
The 50 essays are well chosen and cover the whole gamut of Italian genius - in art, in music, in science, in politics, in fashion...you name it. It's an excellent overview of Italy's contributions to world civilization that touches all the main bases. At the same time, it's a collection of self-contained essays, each a pleasure to read and each chock full of unexpected facts and anecdotes - the texture of history, or what I believe Ezra Pound called the "luminous detail."
Bottom line: Sprezzatura is learned and well-written - never dull or pedantic. Sure, the essays aren't all of the same quality. Some are merely very good, while most are superb. For anyone who knows Italy - its people and its history - Sprezzatura is a must. I've lived there, I've studied there, and I love this book. For anyone who doesn't know Italy but wants to, Sprezzatura is a must too. I can think of no better introduction.
As you can see, I have a great love for the land of my ancestors. I am passionately interested in the history of Italy as well as the culture. I have read multiple Italian histories. What I enjoyed about this book is that it provided a good survey of both.
The book is a good starting point for anyone interested in history. Each of the 50 chapters is a concise discussion of important contribution Italy has made to the world. It gives the reader a taste of interesting topics that they can then go on to research in more detail.
If there is any criticism that I could make of the book is that it is a summation. So, when the author describes the Roman contribution to architecture, he discusses architecture in general. This, however, is a minor criticism of the book. If one were to discuss all the contributions Italians have made to architecture, it would fill a book in and of itself. The same is true for each of the chapters. There are just too many contributions made by Italy to be discussed in detail by any one book.