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Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo
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Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

(Italy and Italians)

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,418 ratings  ·  223 reviews
The best-selling author of Italian Neighbors returns with a wry and revealing portrait of Italian life—by riding its trains.

Tim Parks’s books on Italy have been hailed as "so vivid, so packed with delectable details, [they] serve as a more than decent substitute for the real thing" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, in his first Italian travelogue in a decade, he delive
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 10th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company
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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,418 ratings  ·  223 reviews

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Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
There are some writers whose style is so pleasant, whose humour is so gentle and to whom you return so often that you feel you know them personally; to sit and spend an hour in the company of one of their books is like chatting to your dearest friend over a cup of tea and they have that rare talent of making you think without distressing you. Among my "comfort writers" I would number Alexander McCall Smith, Maeve Binchy and, when it comes to books about Italy, Tim Parks.

It is difficult to point
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
There is a joke that goes:

HEAVEN is where: The police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics are German, the lovers are French, and it's all organised by the Swiss
HELL is where: The police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it's all organised by the Italians!!

In Italy the trains are right in line with those stereotypes too. It is a country of fine foods, beautiful countryside, strong coffee and exasperating bureaucracy

Park is very famili
Andrew Robins
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I had read two of Tim Parks' earlier books before picking up this one.

Italian Neighbours, which tells the story of his early years in Italy, I had read, and enjoyed, years ago.

A Season in Verona, his story of following Hellas Verona around Italy, I read a few years later. For me this was one of the few great books about being a football fan. There are plenty of really good books about football, but there are precious few which touch on what it is like to be a fan against your best instincts, to
Jan 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
I am happy to say that this is the last book I will ever read by Tim Parks.

Page after page, book after book all this guy does is complain about Italy. This person had this bad attitude, that person had that bad attitude. Their politics is messed up, their institutions are run poorly.

At one point in the book he tell of how the mayor of his town cautions him that visitors to the town should not be quick to critize. If he doesn't like Italy so much MOVE BACK TO ENGLAND.
Jim Lewis
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Late in this book, some Sicilian acquaintances ask Tim Parks why he’s writing about Italian railways. “It’s not a book about Italy seen from train windows … Not a travel book. And it’s not a book about trains as such.” He then struggles to explain that it’s a book about Italian culture.

This gem of a book is also about the Italian people, government (or lack of same), politics, history, religion, and even food.

Tim Parks' latest is filled with observations about all things Italian and, above all
May 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Tim Parks, an Englishman, has lived and worked in northern Italy for more than 30 years. Like so many of us, he commutes a significant distance to work – from Verona to Milan, where he teaches at the university. To start with he saw his train travel as an everyday source of woes about ticket queues, late running, officious staff, and so on, but as years passed he decided to interrogate Italy’s rail system as a metaphor for the country itself. He structures this book around seven train journeys. ...more
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: my-audio-books
I used to think that it is impossible to write a boring book about Italy and Italians but Tim Parks managed to prove me wrong. For about the first third of the book an interesting premise of presenting Italian railways as a device for understanding "Italian ways" drowns in endless details of the author's angry trials and tribulations in ticket queues and train wagons. The boredom wears out when he gets to describing his railway travel through the South of Italy, but I almost did not get there wi ...more
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-italy
"One of the reasons for endlessly voting for corrupt politicians is that your own misdemeanours seem trivial by comparison"

Thoroughly enjoyable book - but there again I've yet to read anything by Tim Parks that hasn't been very good.

Not a history or a travel book -more an attempt to look at Park's adopted country of Italy (he is English) and write about how his experiences of train travel have coloured his views.

Parks is a Professor at Milan University - he's lived near Verona for over 30 years
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly charmed! I loved listening to this. Maybe in part because I am about to go to Italy. I would heartily recommend the audiobook on this one. The reader, Ben Bartolone, is terrific. It does not sound like he is reading a book to you. It is more dramatic presentation than reading. I loved it!
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: found-at-library
“A train is a train is a train, isn’t it?” So starts Tim Parks’ Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. The charming narrative about life and travel in Italy vacillates between complaints of the inefficiencies and inconveniences of rail travel to extolling its virtues. Sure the bus is faster, but it isn’t nearly as romantic or interesting!

I love to travel, and my very first memory is of a train trip from California to Iowa to visit my grandmother. It seemed like a grand and dar
Melissa Kane
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
What I like about Tim Parks' writing about Italy is that it's honest. Unlike many other expat writers about the country who don a fine pair of rose-tinted specs before they sit down at their computer, his fondness for his adopted home is always tempered by his acknowledgment of the daily frustrations of living in Italy. They're frustrations that anyone who has lived there will recognise with a wry smile, and they are the reason why many of us who might otherwise have made a life for themselves i ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, travel
I listened to the unabridged version of this book during a marathon solo car journey. It was in fact my first experience with an audiobook. In the given circumstances I couldn't have made a better choice. Parks is an astute observer and a gifted raconteur. He mixes a string of amusing first-person anecdotes and off-stage reflections into a consistently interesting, effervescent narrative. But as often in his books the burlesque element is counterbalanced by more serious concerns. Parks' lighthea ...more
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library_books, travel
Very well written and funny insight into the Italian character via the national train system. Much of the book covers his home turf in the north, with the final section being a trip to Sicily and back. I confess that never having been to the country myself, and even with the assistance of provided maps, I wasn't able to easily differentiate say Turin from Verona as distinct places, but I'd accept that an Italian who'd never been to the States might have trouble with, say, Dallas vs. Houston as w ...more
Aug 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
I was prepared to immerse myself in Italian culture: people pushing ahead in line, people renegotiating every rule, wild reunions among everyone who is aquatinted with everyone else, frustrating yet endearing bureaucracy. I looked forward to feeling a sense of peace and solidarity knowing someone else has spent 30 minutes trying to buy a train ticket at the kiosk only to be kicked out and sent back to the beginning and to hearing of how someone else deals with the local who tries to go through t ...more
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
I did not finish this book. To be honest I barely made it into it. I was intrigued with learning how the Italians are, but the author had a bit of a negative tone. Due to his tone, I found myself not wanting to pick it up and read... at all. I am getting ready to go on a trip soon and this was actually making me question visiting Northern Italy. There's nothing worse than being all pumped and excited about your overseas adventure and then reading a book that makes the people there sound like sel ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A discussion of the Italian State Railway (Ferrovie della Stata) and his adventures on the train, starting with his regular commute from Verona to Milan and ending with a journey to the South. His point is the Italian railway system can tell you a lot about Italian culture, and I think he proves his point. Parks is an excellent observer of people and places, but he is also critical. If you want Tuscan sunshine and romance in your travel books (and you are not interested in trains) this is not fo ...more
The book is fairly entertaining and Tim Parks makes some interesting points. However for an author so obsessed with passing for Italian the book ironically contains several spelling mistakes in Italian... Not to mention the episodes of racism and sexual harassment perpetrated by the author's Verona pals that he recounts as hilarious anectodes and his racist view of the South.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was slow to get going and I thought I’d be bored but I ended up looking forward to reading it before bed each night.

I can relate to the book having travelled Italy by train myself last year; the Italian ways of train travel are so accurately described by Parks and the logic and loopholes in the railway companies’ systems are comical.

I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my tummy when I finished this book! 🚂
Bill M
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel
As someone who will soon go to Italy for the first time, to visit and to meet relatives, I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Alas! I found someone who seemed to be perpetually negative about virtually everything he saw and experienced. It wasn't until he nearly completes the book that the author says something clearly positive: that he loves train compartments for their ability to mix people, and that he enjoyed relaxing for a brief time in the southern tip of the the country. I struggl ...more
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, contemporary
Parks begibt sich mit diesem Buch in die Tradition schreibender Eisenbahnreisender – und schneidet dabei, etwa im Vergleich mit Paul Theroux, sehr gut ab. Wie die schöne Wortspielerei des deutschen Buchtitels schon sagt, geht es hier ausschließlich um Italien, die Wahlheimat des Autors seit Anfang der Achtziger. Parks versucht, sich der italienischen Seele in den Bahnwaggons zu nähern und das Werk weiß meist dann zu begeistern, wenn es in den Zügen zu Begegnungen und teils skurrilen Dialogen kom ...more
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Train travel sounds romantic until you actually board the train. In the United States, the country is so large and trains are so slow that flying or driving makes much more sense. In Italy, train travel is plagued by strikes, bureaucratic red tape, and a ticketing system that’s incomprehensible even to people who have been riding the train for years. So why even bother taking the train? In Tim Parks’ new book, Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo, he explores his adopted coun ...more
Jul 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Tim Parks, an Englishman living in Italy for over 30 years, describes a number of train journeys he has taken around Italy. Parks' anecdotes cover the trains and the stations, the passengers and the ticket inspectors, the history of the railways and the modern political attitudes to rail travel.

This is an interesting and quirky look at train travel, more from the point of view of Italian society and culture than a true travel book. Parks observes the Italians with a sympathetic eye, occasionally
Aug 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, italy, reviewed
Tim Parks wonderful description of his journeys across Italy is so infectious - and his love of his adopted country shines through every syllable of his journey. He attempts to diagnose the Italian question by travelling across the country by rail and succeeds in capturing that elusive quality.
This is surely one of the best books about what it means to be a train commuter.
I salute Mr Parks ingenuity and admire his prose. With this book he has surely cemented his name amongst the finest of mode
Liz Gray
Apr 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
It was a delightful experience to read a large portion of this book while traveling on the very trains Tim Parks describes. Parks, an Englishman who has lived in Italy for over 30 years, uses the country's train system as a way to describe many aspects of the Italian psyche. His writing is a wonderful combination of information, humor, vignettes, and love for his adopted country. "Modern Italian genius is largely about inhabiting the past in a way that makes sense and money," says Parks, and he ...more
Feb 25, 2014 added it
My commute in America was 45 minutes each way. This author had a commute in Italy of 2 hours each way every day 100 miles each way. Tim Parks is English and has lived in Italy for 30 years. I am American and have lived with a man of Italian descent for 30 years. There are observations here that tell me more about my husband. These shall remain untolf hrre. Parks rides the rails. All over Italy he gathers vignettes of railway stations, passengers, conductors, ticket sellers, ticket machines, scen ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Who knew a book solely about the craziness that is Italian train travel would be so lovely!? I love trains. I wish this country was more of a train culture - no traffic, less pollution, ten times as relaxing! But nooooo. Italian lives by their trains. People literally will live 2 hours away from their job and commute by train for 4 hours a day. It's totally normal. I like how my commute is 45 minutes and I bitch and moan about it all the time, but that's a different story. Anyways, a book about ...more
Sep 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you're an Italophile, this is a very enjoyable description of a journey from Verona to Sicily (and back again) by train and the accompanying and inevitable contradictions unique to Italy. Parks (a translator and lecturer at the University of Milan and twice Man Booker Prize nominee) is occasionally still seen as an outsider despite 30 years in Italy. His entertaining and exasperating encounters with his fellow travelers give a birds eye view on life, social attitudes and manners across modern ...more
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Parts of this novel I enjoyed: descriptions of train journeys in the south with an assortment of travelling companions, descriptions of Milano Centrale station (a beautiful building); however I found the first part was a diatribe against his chosen country. Luckily, this seemed to subside and amusing anecdotes and descriptions of scenery became more of the norm. Very astute observations at the end about encouragement of rail travel being more than an economic problem, more of a cultural one.
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
I loved the premise of this book - an exploration of the Italian railway network. However, it had more explanations of politics and history than I cared about and for a large part of the book, the author seemed so condescending of the very railways he was travelling on that I wondered why he was riding them in the first place. Unfortunately, the author's negativity overpowered the beautiful uniqueness that is the Italian railway network in this book for me.
May 16, 2014 rated it liked it
This one was on ok read for me. I started it before a trip to Italy, and finished it after. We did ride the trains, and I was kinda glad I'd only read part of the book. If I'dve finished it and read the parts about Southern Italy (even though we'd didn't go below Rome) it would have made me more nervous to ride.
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Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since, raising a family of three children. He has written fourteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), Destiny, Cleaver, and most recently In Extremis.
During the nineties he wrote two, personal and highly popular accounts of his lif

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