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The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  399 ratings  ·  61 reviews
One of The Economist’s 2011 Books of the Year

Did Garibaldi do Italy a disservice when he helped its disparate parts achieve unity? Was the goal of political unification a mistake? These questions are asked and answered in a number of ways in this engaging, original consideration of the many histories that contribute to the brilliance—and weakness—of Italy today.

David Gilmo
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2011)
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This is a great book on Italy. I think it is worth reading by Italians themselves too. A historical book as it should be. It is a very balanced account of country’s history and a very fair assessment of its key figures and events. Nor is his book a collection of iconoclastic provocations. You see real people, not lacquered and embellished saints or demonized beastly villains. He calls events and processes precisely by their correct names and not just recites glorious titles. A certain character ...more
I was truly sorry when I finished this book. David Gilmour has done all of us a great service in the writing of this readable, entertaining and yet serious history of Italy. After quoting Napoleon on the excessive length of the country, Gilmour properly points out that Italy is really - and always has been - a "country" of its regions and communes, and that it is too much to expect the average Italian to place his primary loyalty to the modern Italian nation/state, with its many shortcomings. He ...more
this is a pretty gripping account of the chimera that is (and always has been) Italy, which is seemingly scathing of almost everything it comes across - people (especially politicians and leaders), even the food (although he does preface with a clarification of his position on polenta).

that the author paints such a critical picture (in the most part, the positive assessments are handed to outsiders) reveals, I believe, a profound affection and empathy for the subject, based on a longstanding fam
Gilmour makes a consistent and convincing case that Italy is largely a collection of independent-minded towns and provinces. Despite attempts at national unity, from the territorial conquests of the medieval period to the Risorgimento, Italians continued to feel disconnected from each other. Unification was "a sin against history and geography," as Gilmour often quotes. This work is expansive and at times overbearing, but nearly always entertaining. It attempts to capture the major political mov ...more
A great primer on the history of Italy, from pre-Roman times to the era of Berlusconi. The pace is brisk, and flashes of wit makes the going easy. I particularly liked the discussion on the unification of Italy in the 19th centuries. It gave fascinating insight into the different forces that pulled at the people and the land and that continue to divide Italy today.
This was a well-written romp through the history of Italy. By describing the regions of Italy, and how they functioned as political entities, he carefully laid the groundwork for an overview of the misery that became unification. The north didn't like the south and the feeling was mutual. Venice was its own special case, and then there were the Papal States - the Pope's personal territory.
Not only did the people not share a language (they spoke in dialect in spite of the eventual institution of
This book surveys the long and complex history of Italy. The decentralization that followed the fall of the Roman Empire resulted many entities: friendly, competitive, combative and intermarried entities. There were wars and competition and money and art to be made. A pageant with wealthy and fascinating players: Catholic Church, Florentine bankers, Venetian merchants, Bourbon kings, talented artists and more played across this narrow peninsula. It's ambitious to chronicle Italy's history and Da ...more
An excellent book, wide ranging and also well written. For a complete beginner on Italian history this is probably the book to read. Gilmour is himself a British journalist who has worked internationally but also covered Italy at various times, for this book it seems like he dedicated some years of living and studying in Italy, in it's different regions. The book is born not of professional or academic interest but of personal interest, and reads at a good pace, with sufficient historical and po ...more
Robert Bor
I planned to read this book during our holiday in Tuscany, Italy. It was well-timed and added to the experience. Mr Gilmour has an endearing style, although he does not bother sounding objective (Cavour and king Victor Emmanuel are treated harshly, probably justifiably so). He often sounds more like a gossiping friend than an academic, which definitely adds to the readability and the thrill factor. The book helped to appreciate the various Risorgimento museums and the beautiful renaissance bulwa ...more
Fred Misurella
Not as good as Hughes on Rome, but a very good, succinct and clear history of Italy from Pre-Roman times through Berlusconi. The basic thesis is that the Risorgimento (when Italy became one nation instead of a collection of various countries' possessions) emphasized Italian nationalism as opposed to local culture on the peninsula, and this opened the doors to Mussolini and the Fascists. I'd heard things like that before, but Gilmour delivers an impressive, fact-filled argument that has me thinki ...more
David Gilmour is a knowledgeable and entertaining writer but he pushes his thesis that Italy is a disparate collection of diverse peoples rather than a nation a bit too hard. He certainly marshalls the evidence to support his thesis from the fractured geography to the strong regional identities including mutually incomprehensible dialects and the indifferent success of nation-building at the time of the Risorgimento and the subsequent reign of the Savoia. Yet perhaps there is more of an identity ...more
Will Kelton
If you've ever wondered how Italy got to be the shape and condition it did, this is a great place to start. The author has a very pointed view on the subject, and for the most part carries us along with his view that Italy was more or less a historical accident that didn't necessarily have to happen, and maybe shouldn't have happened at all. I like the brisk, somewhat pointed style the author uses, and how he explains how the various sections of the country really represent different, completely ...more
Actually my brain hurts from reading but it's spectacular. It's very engaging and explains the course of Italian history in a way of interest that many people could enjoy. (still my brain hurts!)

Very powerful; I have a clearer understanding of the country and it's trials and tribulations. It questions whether Italy is in fact a unified state or indeed a bunch of alternative ones. David Gilmour is a great writer!
This book is packed with information - found it hard going but ultimately rewarding, certainly know a lot more about Italy and its constituent parts than before. It reminded me a little of the book Germania - by Simon Winder that gives a similar treatment to Germany, and 'The Discovery of France' by Graham Robb. Although Gilmour's book is more of a historical account..some fascinating stuff in there.
First off, I won this through Goodreads' First Reads giveaway.

I absolutely loved this book. It was a very in-depth one volume history of Italy. I loved how the author went into depth about how the Italian language was chosen. Italian history has always been fascinating and this book was a great read. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in Italian history!

Great Book!
A relatively snappy history of Italy written in an engaging style, this book could perhaps have provided greater coverage to certain eras and topics. The Romans are understandably dealt with within the scope of a few pages (something had to give) and the early chapters pass by briskly before the post-unification meat - clearly Gilmour's main preoccupation even if the medieval chapters are critical in emphasizing that Italy is above all a loose collection of distinct regions and an uneasy whole.

Benjamin Gaiser
This book is a real pursuit of a history being told and chanted but also being neglected and tweaked. Italy's way to unification was harder than for many other countries but it is due to her society. This book entails not just the history of Italy but also the sociology of Italy's diversed culture and states.
David Gilmour outlines the reasons why Italy "is a geographic expression not a country." By going back to Pre-Roman times he shows how a peninsular that lacks natural resources, navigable rivers, and is bisected by a mountain range (the Apennines) that though is unexceptional in height has no passes could not generate a nation. Compounding this are problems in language with dialects that are incomprehensible to persons living less than a hundred miles away and a culture which puts an emphasis on ...more
Andrew Fish
Since the financial crisis of 2008, there's been much talk of separatist movements in Europe. Some of these, like Catalonia and the Basque country were familiar to me, but the idea that Northern Italy was also contemplating secession came as something of a surprise. Feeling that I knew less about Italy than I should, I sought out a book on the subject.

Gilmour's book isn't quite the one-volume history it's billed to be. Dispensing with the Roman period in a not overly long chapter and the Middle
A bit tough going but gives a really good general insight into Italian history - in other words, it does exactly what it says on the tin! :)
A short history of Italy. Even though the text runs to 399 pages with another 80+ pages of footnotes, etc., this is a short history of what we now call Italy.

Interesting facts I didn't know before reading this book: Italy was formed into a united country a mere 160 years ago. Before then, it was a group of semi-related city-states and regions that inhabited the Italian Peninsula. Even the language we call "Italian" was not in existence until around the time the nation of Italy was formed.

Gilmour's one-volume history of "the boot" takes a while to get warmed up, but once he arrives at the Risorgimento he is excellent. With iconoclastic zest he skewers the flimsy mythmaking that surrounds Italy's nineteenth-century unification. Apart from Garibaldi, the whole lot of the great men of the age appear rather more like cynical scoundrels than noble patriots. And Gilmour demonstrates clearly why understanding the flawed foundation on which the nation was constructed is necessary for get ...more
This is a well-written history of Italy. The sub-total gives you a clue as to Gilmour's thesis: "A History of a Land, Its Regions, Their Peoples." Gilmour questions that Italy can truly be one nation; he contends it would be better as a federation of states, that would better reflect its diversity. He supports this thesis by showing how the peoples and regions of the Italian peninsula have evolved separately. The biggest argument is the differing dialects that existed at the time of unification, ...more
Celia Montgomery
Just getting around to reviewing this excellent history, which I finished back in June. Do not be misled by this book's romantic title. If you knew nothing about Italy and ventured into the pages of this book, you would assume that the country had been rendered miserable by centuries of war and epic mismanagement. Gilmour exposes every overrated hero of Italian history. Even Garibaldi, who fares better than most, looks like a blundering victim of history. Gilmour starts at the very beginning - i ...more
Dit is een kritische geschiedenis van Italie, beginnend bij Aeneas en eindigend bij Berlusconi. Dat zegt misschien al genoeg over de teneur van het boek. Gilmour is duidelijk een liefhebber van alles wat italiaans is, maar dat weerhoudt hem er niet van om in dit boek de vele mythes rond het land door te prikken. Het komt er op neer, dat Italie waarschijnlijk beter af zou zijn als een confederatie van de verschillende van oudsher bestaande staten en landjes, dan zoals nu met een land. Heel leesba ...more
Holly Cruise
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up on the cheap, and noted it was a history of an entire country in just 400 pages, but it managed to impress me a lot with its breadth of information, its style and the quality of the writing.

Rather than just a dry account of battles and kings (relevant but often dull when it comes to national histories) this crammed in social narratives, cultural analysis and a fair amount of wit and good humour. The writer clearly loves Italy, altho
I expected this book to be an overview of Italian history. It was...kind of. It was really more about the history of Italian unification, from the Romans until now. As such, the majority of the book was about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - the Risorgimento through World War II - and less about ancient, medieval or Renaissance Italy. Even though it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the book. The writing style is moderately engaging, and Gilmour does a good job of desc ...more
Jordan Cox
Spends nearly the entire book on the fragility and futility of Italy as a nation state. Either I haven't read much on nationalism and its discontents (likely), or he should have put Italy-as-nation into a European and world context of nations and nationalism much more often. NEVERTHELESS the skill of getting that much Italian social, political, and geographical history into a short book in such a coherent way makes it more than worthwhile.
I picked this book up after reading a generally positive review of it and thought to myself "I don't really know anything about Italian history!" Overall, it is a good read. The author paints with broad strokes, covering a lot of history in a short period of time. The overarching theme is the distinctiveness of Italy's various regions and how both events and topography have helped shape and reinforce those distinctions. The heart of the book is the struggle of artists, nobles and revolutionaries ...more
Fascinating account of the forging of a nation, and how Italy as a construct is a naïve dream. Gilmour is very good in revealing without condemning the relative merits of the north and the south. The balance of fact and conjecture, statistic and opinion is well-handled throughout. His criticism of the military braggadocio is scathing, and rightly so. While he may labour more over music than art, his assessment of the impact of provinces and personalities is comprehensive and he is the first pers ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Sir David Robert Gilmour, 4th Baronet (b. 14 November 1952) is a Scottish author. He is the first son of Ian Gilmour, Baron Gilmour of Craigmillar, 3rd Baronet, and Lady Caroline Margaret Montagu-Douglas-Scott, the youngest daughter of the 8th Duke of Buccleuch. HRH Princess
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