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The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy by…

The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy (1997)

by George Holmes

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This collection of essays about Italy starts with the announcement that it is not a history of Rome, though, inevitably, a lot of Roman history winds through the pages from the age of the Emperors through the growing Papal authority.

The long ages of fragmentation between the different kingdoms in Italy is a fascinating and sometimes appalling story of power, prestige and sibling wars between the various city-states. Add to that the almost mythological status of having control of practically any part of Italy, and you have a set-up rife with trouble. Austria, Germany and France often had their hands on some part of Italy, helping to keep the country fragmented. And yet, while each of the cities had their own culture, there was obvious overlay and even competition that kept them striving to be the best. Rome was, by no means, the only city of cultural importance.

This book, with alternations between history and culture of the times, did much to layout the history of these city-states in a way that allows a better understanding of the overall problems and triumphs of the area, and the final push to create a unified country -- quite late in history by our modern standards.

Of all the chapters, the one on World War I seemed to be the most appalling in many ways, and an interesting counterpoint to other works I've been reading on the era.

The book was informative, relatively easy to read, and filled with gorgeous photography. While having different authors work on different sections helped in many ways, it did sometimes give it an uneven feel for the writing style. I found it amusing to read one of the cultural sections which seemed, in my opinion, to read a little over the top in the 'snobish' art critic range -- and yet, even there, I found the work fascinating, and the ability to tie painting, music and writing together far more informative than many books I've read dedicated to the arts. Pulling all the pieces together made this a fascinating read. ( )
  zette | Mar 1, 2010 |
  Budzul | Jun 1, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0198205279, Hardcover)

George Holmes's well-written, heavily illustrated narrative offers a broad view of Italian history from the early days of the Roman empire to the beginning of the 1990s. Italy as we know it, Holmes notes, is a fairly modern invention, the product of the 19th-century Risorgimiento and the unification of the nation for the first time in centuries. He explores the reasons for this, noting the tendency of Italian regions to turn inward and form small alliances with immediate neighbors, a tendency that expresses itself today in the northern Italian movement for secession. Holmes also considers the role of the arts in the formation of Italian identity and provides snapshots of major points in the nation's history. It all makes for a useful one-volume reference.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:35 -0400)

Italy did not exist as a political unit until just over a century ago, but in previous periods it had been both the heart of the Christian Church and the seedbed for the extraordinary cultural flowering of the Renaissance.

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