The Italians

The Italians

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

That is the title of a book by Luigi Barzini. Please note that this is by Luigi Barzini Jr. Since his father was also a well known Italian journalist. They both worked at the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera – Italy’s equivalent of the New York Times. But Junior outdid his father in writing some very influential and controversial books. This particular book was published in 1964 so it had already been around a long time when I first read it. Still, it provides great insights into the Italian character and the forces that have shaped the nation. In the photo below the woman is his daughter Benedetta an actress and model – an interesting story in her own right.

One thing that has definitely changed from the time when Barzini wrote this book is the economic status of Italy. He talks of Italy as a poor country but now it has about the same GDP as the UK. There is still the problem of the Mezzogiorno. That is the economic divide between the wealthy north and the relatively impoverished south. This has been so for a very long time and seems to be due to a cultural difference between the two halves of the country. In some ways it is like the United States in that the north developed industry while the south remained more feudal. I dare say that that model still holds. Another aspect of Italian life that remains true today is the brain drain from Italy due to the inadequate resourced provided for scientific researchers. I read an article recently about just that phenomenon Amazing that this is just as pertinent now as 46 years after Barzini made this observation.

Other notable observations stressed by Barzini are the importance of spectacle (check out those Carabinieri uniforms) and the art of illusion, and perhaps most importantly of self-delusion.

Basta! It’s a great read and provides a lot of insight into what makes the country and the people what they are. I’d even say it is a must for anyone serious about trying, difficult I grant you, to really understand Italian national character. For those of you who’d like something a little shorter here is an article that Luigi wrote for the New York Times in 1981.

So has anyone read this or a similarly significant book on the Italian character?

Of course I’d love for you to subscribe – you can be the second (my wife is the first).

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