Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Italian Story by Geoffrey Trease

The author of this summary of Italian history writes that he made this book out of love and frustration. His love of Italy was constantly coming up against the huge wall of history, the history of western civilization and even earlier, that eluded him. Every Italophile knows what he means!

Remnants of that history sit side by side, eras next to and on top of other eras, throughout Italy. Every tourist to Italy has felt at a certain point that dizziness that hits when the brain struggles to grasp all the eye sees. This book aims to help Italophiles have a better background understanding of Italy's long history.

Despite the claim that this is a simple, non-academic book, there are references to other ancient peoples and to literature and events that assume a basis of knowledge that not all readers will have. The author's prose is lovely, and his vocabulary rich, which might send some readers to their dictionaries. And a map of Italy would be a good accompaniment to the book.

I enjoyed how the author showed the continuity of history. Readers will also surely note a continuity with the present: class struggles, economic rivalries and alliances, barbarous warfare, power struggles and the rule of law, and the human flaws of greed, megalomania, misogyny and brutal slavery. Human history is not pretty nor for the faint of heart.

Other common occurrences throughout Italy's history that are shared with all humanity through all time are migration, invasion, occupation and integration issues. For those interested in reading more history after this book, there are plenty of names, events, places mentioned to choose from, each covered in books of their own.

As with all books about Italy's history that attempt to tackle large time frames (this one aims to cover 3000 years! broken into 19 eras/chapters from the Greeks and Etruscans to Mussolini), about one third of the way in I started to feel swamped with names, places, battles, alliances, traitors... I suggest you take your time with the book, and perhaps take breaks to read up on bits and pieces along the way in other sources. All in all, this is a wonderful overview broken down by era, for the true Italophile-Amateur Historian.

From the book's description:
3,000 years of Italy.

Over one and a half million people visit Italy every year from Great Britain alone, many to see the countless treasures of her past. But only a few have had the time or chance to study this past in detail, and the majority must often have felt the need for a simple overall guide to Italian history — whether in their reading, in their appreciation of art and music, or in their enjoyment of an Italian holiday.

Treating of the whole gamut of Italian experience from Etruscan and Roman times to the present day, Mr Trease writes with enthusiasm and a fine eye for compression. The ancient world; the Dark Ages; the Renaissance; French, Spanish and Austrian domination; Risorgimento; the rise and fall of Mussolini — The Italian Story is an absorbing ‘serial’ covering 3000 years, in which Mr Trease has used his skill as a novelist to give full value to colourful characters and dramatic incidents, without losing sight of social and economic factors or the main political outlines.

The result is a book sound enough for the student and compulsively readable for the layman.

Here is a direct link to the book at

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