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The Pursuit of Italy

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,074 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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 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 m ...more
Hardcover, 426 pages
Published 2011 by Allen Lane
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3.96  · 
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 ·  1,074 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
This was weird. It included many historical over views but jumped around in time and geography.
Perhaps if I was better versed in the history and politics of the Italian peninsula but sadly I'm not.
K.M. Weiland
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
A hard-hitting biography of a beloved if often troubled country. It felt a little scattered early on, more of an “intermediate” book for people with some familiarity with Italy’s general history, but overall it presented an engaging and relatively thorough explanation of the region’s history.

Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Mess of a book. Oddly organized, and the sentence structure often is so jumbled that it destroys any flow. And the author is fairly patronizing toward his subject.
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎

I wanted to look at the peninsula’s centrifugal tendencies and inquire whether the lateness of unification and the troubles of the nation state had been not accidents of history but consequences of the peninsula’s past and its geography, which may have made it unsuitable territory for nationalism. Were there not just too many Italies for a successful unity?

I’ll start by saying that the author delivers on what the title promises, an exploration of Italy’s past as the root of why the country as a
Mar 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy
Unsure how this was even published, let alone how it received the fairly positive reviews it received. A claptrap of names and dates, hastily thrown together with no narrative or through line guiding any of it. Zero pizzazz or elan that can be found in other histories where the past sings and dances for the reader, becoming, for a moment while reading, the present. Blind spots a mile wide and contradictions a mile long. Was this book deal a pay-off for the author? Did Gilmour black mail someone ...more
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: italy
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
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: guido-s-picks
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
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, italy
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
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

I was delighted with the first part of the book, covering the earlier history of the landmass that is now Italy and its diverse population and culture. Gilmour is a great storyteller, tying together many threads and keeping it comlex and simple at the same time. However, the main part of this book deals with the "great men" of the 18th and 19th century - so countless invasions, revolts, conspiracies, soldiers and kings. I quickly lost interest, mainly because Gilmour's narrative became strangely ...more
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: italo-file, histories
This is not a "review" by any means. I just have to share my astonishment at one fact I learned in reading this book. Having visited the picturesque and seemingly well preserved medieval town of San Gimignano in Tuscany several times, I could not have been more surprised to learn from the author that it was restored during the fascist period. If one can use the word restore to describe their agenda of promoting the country's medieval heritage for political purposes while attempting to remove all ...more
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Started off well, with interesting ideas about the connection between geography and culture, but eventually became a litany of names and dates from the unification onward that wasn't particularly insightful.
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone attempting to write a compact history of a place like Italy, covering a time period of 3000 years and doing a decent job already deserves a medal. David Gilmour doesn't hit it out of the park but without his book, my understanding of Italian history would certainly be a lot poorer.

The book begins on a high note. I found the initial pages unputdownable although to my regret, first 2000 years get over in the first 50-60 pages with the next 1000 getting remaining 350. So if you are looking t
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book provides a clear and relatively brief history of the Italian peninsula through the recent present of the premiership of Silvio Berlusconi. It is best, I feel, and most informative in the chapters on the Risorgimento, Italian unification, the period intervening between unification and the fascist era, and the fascist era itself. The chapters on the past 74 years of Italian history (i.e., post-World War II) are fast and "low flying" over some interesting country. In light of the earlier ...more
Robert Bor
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
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!
Oct 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010s
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.
Benjamin Gaiser
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jul 27, 2015 rated it liked it
The overview of WWII and Mussolini was probably the best part for me..
Paul Higbee
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Informative but disappointing. Not a true history, lots of opinion and editorial comments.
Sep 25, 2012 rated it liked it
A better title may have been a very brief and general history of Italian history.
Aug 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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! :)
Lee Wills
Nov 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Packed full of information but a slow and rather boring read
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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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