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Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,422 ratings  ·  193 reviews
Norman Lewis arrived in Naples as an Intelligence Officer attached to the American Fifth Army. By 1944 the city’s inhabitants were so destitute that all the tropical fish in the aquarium had been devoured, and numbers of respectable women had been driven to prostitution. The mafia gradually became so indispensable to the occupying forces that it succeeded in regaining its ...more
Paperback, 206 pages
Published 1983 by Eland Publishing (first published 1978)
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Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was quite a different sort of autobiographical account to read the daily diary entries of Norman Lewis about his experiences as a U.K. intelligence officer in Naples when he was stationed there for a year just after the Germans left in 1944. It was fascinating to read how he had to deal with all the plundering, bribery and prostitution in the city. People were starving and would do anything in their power to get food and protect their families. Lewis certainly dealt with all the turmoil in a ...more
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have a GR virtual bookshelf for "WWII" and this is the 39th book to be added to it. None of the other 38 are anything like this. A journal written at the time with the author's immediate impressions, and providing a view of the conflict that I personally hadn't encountered before.

The account starts with the landings at Salerno, and from the author's perspective the event was one of confusion, widespread panic, deaths from "friendly fire", and all round ineptitude, with results that varied from
Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who reads with their spine, & with history in mind
Recommended to John by: received it for review
Shelves: raw-hunks
Harrowing, unsparing, penetrating -- yet throughout profoundly humane -- this reminiscence restores the good name of memoir. NAPLES '44 details, via diary entries no doubt reworked for the book's mid-1970s publication, Norman Lewis' experience as a community liaison between the Allied occupiers and the locals, in the devastated Southern Italian metropolis of Naples following the Nazi withdrawal of September 1943. Every entry offers a bracing corrective to dimwitted American notions of "the good ...more
Norman Lewis, the author of this book, writes in diary format of his time in and around Naples from September 1943 to October 1944. He served as a sergeant in the Field Security Service of the British Army Intelligence Corps after the city’s recent liberation from Nazi control.

Each day’s entry is short, sometimes only a paragraph or two. He writes of the chaos of wartime occupation and the sufferings of the Neapolitan people. Famine and disease, filth and vermin, rampant prostitution and rape,
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jim by: Lisa Lieberman
This is a delightful memoir, diary really, by an author whose work I hope to encounter again. This isn't a tale of derring-do by a fearless commando. Lewis is an intelligent and tender-hearted citizen of the world thrust reluctantly into a wartime situation where he sees little actual warfare. In fact, he had a Webley revolver (aka known as the "wobbly Webley" by anyone who used it) thrust upon him at embarkation with 5 rounds of ammunition. Apparently he had never fired the weapon in training a ...more
Disclaimer: I got a copy via Netgalley.

Have you ever read the transcripts from the Titanic inquiry? It’s a rather interesting look at what various British people thought of the rest of the barbarians, except for the Americans. In some places, Lewis’ diary of his wartime experiences in Naples mirror those transcripts, but this time the Americans are part of the barbarians.

One of the most interesting parts of reading this diary is how slowly, subtlety Lewis’ views change. He eventually falls in
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
There was a humourous punchline at the end of each diary entry, but the remaining contents could not entice me to finish the remaining half of the book. I have always avoided Naples because of its reputation for crime and grime. Having, admittedly, only seen photos, I wondered why it was called La Bella Napoli; it always looked "Brutta" to me. Still, I am curious about it precisely because I've never been there and I've often wondered if Neapolitans are the same as my family on the other side of ...more
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine book, accurate daily participation in history with the addition of Lewis's fine irony. For example, put in charge of Naples security by the Allies, he is given the same offices the Germans had--with all their files. The persons reporting to German security, snitching on their neighbors, were the same ones who reported to Norman Lewis.
His account of the workings of Italian courts are vivid, sometimes heartbreaking, as when a father of three is jailed for a year for having army rat
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have lived as an expat in Naples for three and a half years now, and have a small library of English language books on Naples, my adopted city. This one is perhaps the best, and certainly one of the most entertaining. In summary, the book is the autobiographical account of a British counterintelligence officer in Allied occupied wartime Naples. The account takes place after the invasion of Sicily and before the liberation of Rome. My maternal grandfather was with Patton's 3ID and at Anzio and ...more
Lisa Lieberman
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
A British intelligence officer on loan to the American Fifth Army, Norman Lewis landed at Paestum with the Allies and soon found himself in Naples heading up the effort to root out collaborators--a thankless task that entailed sifting through masses of denunciations, most inspired by personal vendettas going back decades. Meanwhile, former Fascists and powerful crime bosses ingratiated themselves with the occupying forces and continued as before.

All of this serves as the background to Lewis's re
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, memoirs
The Italian journalist Anna Maria Ortese, writing of Naples in the fifties, finds Naples little changed from the medieval-seeming region that Lewis was stationed in as an intelligence officer as the Allies began their invasion in 1943. By the end of his duty there he has come to love Italy despite the frustrations of his work, and to deplore the ignorant ham-handedness of the army’s initiatives. The incredible poverty and destruction of war are portrayed with no varnish. So are the interesting r ...more
Julian Gray
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book at the same time as Curzio Malaparte's The Skin. This review compares the two books and was posted on my blog at together with pictures and relevant links.

Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin and Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth both concern Naples under Allied occupation during World War Two, written by people who were there at the time. Malaparte was an Italian liaison officer, hanging out with American forces, an i
Vlad Kovsky
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, non-fiction
It would be impossible to publish Naples diaries of Norman Lewis right after the war. The world was busy glorifying and romanticizing the great allied victory, creating myths and heroes of the modern age, thus paving the way for new wars to come.

Lewis takes a different point of view. For him, the war effort, the involvement of the allied armies is a necessary evil. It is necessary but it is evil nevertheless. The actual war events take second stage, are mentioned in passing if mentioned at all;
Jun 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mooched, non-fiction
A classic; I'm surprised it took me so long to get around to reading it. Norman Lewis writes like an angel, and describes the medieval squalor and suffering of Naples in 1944 with a strange, detached irony that belies the horrors and injustices he describes. At the same time, he manages to develop a genuine affection and respect for the venal, superstitious, and devious Neapolitans. This world, and Lewis's calm curiosity about it, seems very remote from ours:

[We:]... were admiring the splendid h
Apr 19, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gritty. I read this book in the two days that I visited Naples and it helped to understand why the city is so rough. It is not a beautiful place and a lot of that is easily understood when you read about how much the city went through during the war.

This was a good read but I'm not sure I would recommend it if you are not traveling to Naples. Unless you like short books that personify war, in which case I do recommend this one or better yet, "Armegeddon in Retrospect" by Kurt Vonnegut.
Oct 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I needed to cleanse my mind of all the mediocre and/or downright lousy fiction I'd been trying to read, so I settled on some tried and true nonfiction. Outstanding! This guy was such a great observer, and he had the temperament for keeping a detailed diary when history was being made. ...more
The invasion of Europe to fight back against the Nazi’s began in Sicily in July 1943. A couple of months after that the allies had reached halfway through Italy, Norman Lewis was one of those who landed in Paestum, Southern Italy in September 1943. Just before he disembarked from the Duchess of Bedford they were given a lecture by the intelligence corps who could have saved everyone a lot of time by just saying that they knew nothing about what was happening…

Passing the corpses of those that had
David Smith
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew I would like this book - it came highly recommended by Francis Rolt - but it exceeded expectations. Time to find more Norman Lewis.
Kept thinking about South Africa as I read this - the chaos, the corruption, the deals made between government and private sector at the expense of Joe Average. Nothing changes - war time, peace time, greed and power are at the forefront.
John Purcell
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strange book. Weirdly reserved one moment and uncomfortably frank the next but never quite honest.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Having just finished a factual account from World War II regarding the Italian Campaign it seemed a good choice to dig out this book that I have had for a couple of years.
I am so pleased I did. I had no pre-conceived ideas about this author or knowledge of his literary value.
I am not surprised to learn that he was a contemporary of Graham Greene having read and listened to his voice through the words recorded here.
Naples ‘44 is a diary set in the aftermath of the Allied liberation of Southern It
Oct 06, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
I wanted this to be exactly like the bits in "Catch-22" in Rome: airmen and their prostitutes walking naked around crumbling baroque apartments.

But Norman is a bit dull. He'd have been happier taking the Met line to a desk as a staff writer on the Daily Mail. He's po-faced or rolling his eyes. Not what I expected at all.

"Quite frequently suspects were not even identified by name, but by such descriptions as 'of medium height', 'age between thirty and forty', 'strikingly ugly', or in one case, '
Ray Smith
Great writing and some incredible events are described here, but something is missing here. The problem is the format of a diary, which isn't up to the conveying all the incredible experiences Lewis has in his year in Naples. For example, boring events are given the same amount of time as great events, and the book becomes a litany of this-is-what-happened with no overriding narrative and way too many characters.

I guess I'm spoiled in many ways having read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evi
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In elegant, memorable sentences, Lewis recounts the chaos left behind by the Nazis and Fascists, as well as the allied armies, in this vivid, day-to-day account. Starving, poor people, buffeted by war, struggling to stay alive through theft, corruption. At the same time, the day-t0-day life that continues despite war, and the often funny episodes that he encounters in trying to restore order. All of these together make this a very enjoyable read. Vesuvius erupts too.
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly, utterly wonderful. Compared to the usual official descriptions of WWII, this is like taking a toilet roll tube and making of it a massive kaleidoscope containing bits of the La Chappelle stained glass window and furry magical butterflies that you can step inside. It's one of the most alive books I've ever read. ...more
Shockingly grim but fluidly written and engaging diary of the occupation of Naples. Toward the end, far too many details of the complicated imbroglios of these Neapolitans crowded in, pushing out Lewis's sharp, crisp entries on daily life unadorned by judgment. ...more
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Beautifully written, fascinating view of southern Italy during the Allied occupation of World War II. Lewis was sent as an intelligence officer with no instructions on what he was supposed to do. Among various miscellaneous tasks, he kept a journal and took stock of the people of Naples and surrounding villages. It reminded me a little of Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, but the circumstances of the two men, although close in time, were miles apart in geography and culture (although both we ...more
Nicholas Grace
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now this is an interesting read. For anyone unaware, this officer served under 5th Army in Italy. It is his time as a Field Security Police commander and deals with his 'adventures'. At times it is a shocking read but not the often used UK vs USA in Italy sense. It shows at times the panic of command and does give a negative image of the Commander of 5th Army. This is a very interesting read that certainly shows a reality from certain mainstream works. ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the title indicates, this is the author's (no doubt reworked) experiences as a British Intelligence Officer with the allied invasion of Southern Italy. In parts entertaining and critical (of both the allies and the Italians), I found the author's writing style easy. A quick read that still provides insight into the character of Southern Italy. ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would it be possible to give more than 5 stars? Possibly the Neapolitan Orwell’s “homage to Catalonia”, without the whole ideological background

Glory, decay, the brutality: Lewis tells war stories set in the city where I was born in. Incredibly poignant: a must read for everyone to understand how horrific World War II was.
Kobe Bryant
I think Ive read too many war books to be impacted
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Play Book Tag: [Horizons] Naples '44 - Norman Lewis - 4 stars 2 7 Apr 17, 2019 04:05PM  

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Norman Lewis was a prolific British writer best known for his travel writing. Though not widely known, "Norman Lewis is one of the best writers, not of any particular decade, but of our century", according to Graham Greene.

Lewis served in World War II and wrote an account of his experiences during the Allied occupation of Italy, titled Naples '44. Shortly after the war he produced volumes about Bu

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“Under alle omstendigheter, og da skyver jeg alle spørsmål om mine egne mangler til side, er jeg ankommet på et tidspunkt da disse folkene i sine hjerter må være grundig syke og kvalme av oss. For et år siden frigjorde vi dem fra fascistmonsteret, og de sitter fortsatt der og gjør sitt beste for å smile høflig til oss - like sultne som alltid og mer plaget av sykdommer enn noensinne, i ruinene av sin vakre by der lov og orden har opphørt å gjelde. Og hva er gevinsten de til slutt kan vinne? Demokratiets gjenfødelse. Den vidunderlige utsikten til en vakker dag å bli i stand til å velge sine egne herskere fra en liste over mektige menn, hvorav de flestes korrupthet er alment kjent og akseptert med trett resignasjon. Benito Mussolinis dager må fremstå som et tapt paradis sammenlignet med dette.” 0 likes
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