Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

When I lived in Rome, it was my first time living in Italy full-time and it was really challenging. There was so much to learn about Italy, not just how to live there, but what the hell people were actually talking about. I hardly got any of the cultural and historical references that came up in conversations and films and I was always asking questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’. Like who was Aldo Moro and why was he assassinated?·

(This is a long and interesting story, but the very short version is that Aldo Moro, Italian prime minister during the 70s, was kidnapped by the Italian anarchist group Le Brigate Rosse for ransom and then killed and left in the trunk of car in the centre of Rome.)

After a while (and it really should have been much sooner), it occurred to me that I could read about this stuff and find out for myself. There are so many books out there in English about contemporary Italian history written by historians and journalists. I really don’t know why it took me so long to start reading them, but I have been reading these books ever since.

Continue reading “Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books”

Here are two books to start with:

 A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1980 by Paul Ginsborg:

This is a dry and dense read written by British historian Paul Ginsborg who has been Professor of contemporary European history at the University of Florence since 1992. It’s a historical analysis of post-war Italy and includes charts, data and statistics. This book will give you all the information you need about the post-war economic boom, the movement of southern workers to the north, left wing politics and the working class movement, the 50 year run of the Christian Democrat party, the ‘anni di piombo’ and the Red Brigades, and more.

It’s a bit of slog to get through, but well worth the read and gives a complete overview of what happened in the country after the war. This was the first book I read about Italy and it blew my end. I understood so many more cultural and historical references and suddenly the names of the streets in Rome had meaning. For example, viale Palmiro Togliatti, a main thoroughfare that cuts through Rome north and south is named after the leader of the Communist Party who helped put together a new Italian government at the end of WWII. This is a significant thing to know about because it helps explain Italy’s relationship with communism and how it helped shape the fabric of the Italian left. Italian communist leaders were respected enough to have streets named after them.

You can follow up this book with his sequel Italy and its discontents: family, civil society, state, 1980-2001. This book will continue its exploration of history during these two decades through the lens of the Italian family and the role it played in the further development of the country. It covers major events such as Tangentopoli that caused the downfall of the Christian Democrat Party, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi, and mafia and corruption.

The Italians by John Hooper:

For something with more of a narrative structure and less heady, try The Italians by John Hooper. Hooper is the Italian correspondent for The Economist and a former foreign correspondent at The Guardian covering Italy and Spain. Taking the title of Luigi Barzini’s book, The Italians digs deep into Italian culture, history and religion to try to dismantle stereotypes and explain why Italy is the way it is today. It’s a fun and very perceptive read written by someone who has lived in Italy for decades. There is still an historical perspective, but Hooper uses facts to explain things like why there’s no word in Italian for hangover (but 12 words for coat hanger), the connections between football and the freemasons, changing attitudes to sex, the north and south divide, and why Italians are reluctant to use a dishwasher.

You can read about some other Italy history and culture books in a previous post I’ve written.


And I also recommend some other books that I’ve read since that last post including:

read about Italy

read about Italy
  • The Sack of Rome by Alexandre Stille – about the rise of Berlusconi from his beginnings as a property developer to his multiple runs as Italy’s prime minister. This book explains the role television played in shaping Italy during the 1980s from the government to family life. Read this and then watch the TV series 1992 and 1993. fd
read about Italy
  • Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy – another cookbook by my favourite food writer who lives in Rome. This book consists of recipes that are cooked in her home kitchens in Rome and in Gela, Sicily where Roddy’s partner Vincenzo is from. Its sections are organised by ingredients (such as chickpeas, grapes, ricotta, and fish) instead of types of dishes so you get a more literary and deeper sense of ingredients and the role they play in Roman and Sicilian meals.

This post is written as part of the dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada the 3rd Sunday of every month.  Click #dolcevitabloggers to read blog posts by other participants

My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy

My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy

It’s wonderful and incredible fulfilling my dream to live in Italy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging at times and sometimes a little lonely. These four podcasts are particularly helpful to me when I’m feeling a bit down or homesick for good conversations with my friends. These podcasts in English and Italian discuss the difficulties of living life abroad, unpack the history and cultural significance behind the food eaten in Italy, address Italian feminist issues while showcasing bad-ass women, and delve into contemporary Italian history with a bit of music thrown in.

Continue reading “My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy”
Four top podcasts
From thebittersweetlife.net

1. The Bittersweet Life (in English)

This is my absolute favourite podcast that I have been listening to for the past five years and I never get tired of. I could say that The Bittersweet Life gives an in-depth focus on issues that ex-pats aka immigrants face living life abroad, which is definitely does, but it does a lot more than that. Through interviews and discussions, co-host Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks, show the rich creative fabric of being alive, the challenges and success, the self-doubt and fruition of trying to live a less off the beaten path. Katy is a radio producer based in San Francisco and Tiffany is a writer and author of Midnight in the Piazza. They’ve been friends since the 6th grade and it’s wonderful to listen to this podcast and listen to two friends have an interesting conversation. The Bittersweet Life has kept me company and given me comfort during these years living in London and in IschiaThe Bittersweet Life (in English)

Start with:

Episode 219 – Abdicate – Interview with Jackie Jalley, a former lawyer who, in her 40s, decided to give up her career and move to Europe. She discusses she learned how to deal with things when they didn’t go as planned.

Four top podcasts
From anchor.fm/gola

2. Gola (in English)

This is a new podcast that I’ve really gotten into. Rome-based food journalist Katie Parla and culinary historian Dr. Dannielle get together in each episode to discuss the role of food in Italian culture. While there a lots of food podcasts out there (which I really enjoy) this one has a really deep discussion about the cultural and historical background of topics such as coffee, garlic, anchovies, panettone and cocktails. The topics quickly meander into discussions about history, sociology and culinary culture and after each episode you come away with a deeper understanding of Italian culture.

Start with :

Properly Caffeinated: Listen about the role fascism played in the rise of coffee culture in Italy during the 20th century.

Four top podcasts
From storielibere.fm/morgana/

3. Morgana (in Italian)

This is a new podcast presented by Italian writer Michela Murgia and Chiara Tagliaferri. According to the podcast, a Morgana is a woman who is strong, difficult, strange, dangerous, witchlike, and not afraid to break some balls. Women that live for themselves and don’t give a shit about making you happy. Where a woman is killed every two days by her partner or ex and sexism plays a large part of everyday life for women, this is an exciting podcast aimed to empower women and show them examples of potential heroes. Each episode focuses on a cultural figure, both contemporary and historical, and discusses how she is an extraordinary Morgana.

You can listen to all the websites and watch a trailer for the podcast on the Morgana website.

Start with:

Madonna and Saint Catherine of Sienna

Four top podcasts
From www.radio24.ilsole24ore.com/programma/mix24-storia

4. Mix 24 – La Storia (in Italian)

This podcast stopped airing on 30 June 2017, but you can still listen to the last 28 episodes on ITunes as well as find all of the episodes on their website. If you live in Italy or love Italian culture, these are a perfect way to get a more understanding of recent history and you’ll come away with recognising more cultural references that come up in conversations (as well as strengthening your Italian). Particular fun episodes focus on a year, what was going on back then and the hit songs on Italian radio (both Italian and international songs. If you visited Italy in 2008, you could listen to the episode of that year and recognize the songs that were on the radio and learn a little bit more about what was actually going on Italy, politically and culturally, that you may not have picked up back then.

Start with:

Musica and storia – 1998: Monika Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II meet for the first time, the Italian government under Romano Prodi falls and the new government under Giovanni D’Alema is installed. Selected songs featured: Ray of Light – Madonna; My heart will go on – Celine Dion; Blu – Zucchero; Senza te o con te – Annalisa Minetti; Getting jiggy with it – Will Smith.

Luigi Tenco, mistero a San Remo:  Mystery still surrounds Luigi Tenco, singer and songwriter of hits like Gloria and Ti Amo, and his suicide on 27 January 1967 at the Hotel Savoy di San Remo after his song was dropped out of the race at the San Remo Music Festival. This episode talks about the story and success of the Italian icon who died at only 29 years old.