The Pursuit of Italy a History of a Land Its Regions and their Peoples
written by David Gilmour
Allen Lane | ISBN 9781846142512
Hardback – 480 pages
Member’s price: $44.96
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Visiting a villa built by Lorenzo de Medici outside Pisa, David Gilmour fell into conversation about the unification of Italy with a distinguished former minister: '"You know, Davide," he said in a low conspiratorial voice, as if nervously uttering a heresy, "Garibaldi did Italy a great disservice. If he had not invaded Sicily and Naples, we in the north would have the richest and most civilized state in Europe." After looking round the room at the other guests, he added in an even lower voice, "Of course to the south we would have a neighbour like Egypt."' These words stayed in the author's mind for a long time. The dream of a unified Italy, how and why it has never been more than a dream, became the subject of a book he has been thinking about and writing for the last twenty years. Was the elderly Italian right? "The Pursuit of Italy" traces the whole history of the Italian peninsula since the Romans in a wonderfully readable style, full of well-chosen stories and observations from personal experience, and peopled by many of the great figures of the Italian past, from Cicero and Virgil to Machiavelli and the Medici, Garibaldi and Cavour, and the rather less inspiring political figures of the 20th century. Gilmour gives a clear-eyed view of the Risorgimento, the pivotal event in modern Italian history, debunking the many absurd and influential myths which have grown up around it but including a particularly sympathetic portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, one of many cultural figures he treats. Gilmour shows that the glory of Italy has always lain in its regions, with their distinctive civic cultures, cuisine, art and identities. Similarly, most of the people of the peninsula have thought of themselves first as Tuscans, Venetians, Romans, Neapolitans or Sicilians and as Italians second, if at all. This, he argues, is where the strength of Italy lies rather than in misconceived ideas of unity. This wise and enormously engaging book explains the course of Italian history in a manner and with a coherence which no one with any interest in the country could fail to enjoy.