Monday, May 8, 2017

Italy: A History by Vincent Cronin



Why I Read It: I'm Italian.

Summary: A thorough, straightforward history of the two millennia that forged the current Italian nation.

My Thoughts: It's good to know that my professors as UMASS were correct.

I had the chance to study Italian history under two professors who were, as we like to say, "fresh off the boat." They had no doubt been here in the States for a long time, but like my great-grandmother and others in my extended family, they retained heavy accents and occasionally threw in an Italian word where it fit better than anything English had to offer. Hearing them speak about their native history was inspiring, even if the Italian people have struggled to make their way through the centuries. I think that was the biggest takeaway from this book for me, that Italian history is not a simple path, and for huge chunks of time it's not even Italian.

It's glorious at the start, if we can confidently connect the dots between ancient Rome and modern Rome. Like much of European history it falls silent after the fall of the Roman Empire, and wide chasms of time pass without any, or much, documentation. But when Italy arises again, in its many nation states, it becomes the cultural center of Europe, from Michelangelo to Galileo and beyond. Napoleon - who was Italian in all but official nationality (born on an island that became French just a few years before his birth, he spoke Italian and had an Italian surname, Buonaparte) - forged the idea of unity picked up later by Mazzini and Garibaldi. Since that time, there has been a single Italy, even if it has struggled for national identity.

If there was one fact that I learned in this book that I will remember for the rest of my life it's that my name, or one very close to it, once sparked fear in the hearts of people across Italy. Gian Galeazzo (as compared to John Galluzzo) was the first Duke of Milan in the late 14th century, just before the Renaissance, and dreamed of unifying Italy. He led numerous military campaigns toward that end, and is credited with setting up the first modern bureaucracy. It all came to naught, as he died of a fever before he could finish off his plan.

This book, in my case, was refreshing, both in the sense of being pleasant, and also in reaffirming the value of my college education.

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