The best books for understanding the Italian mindset

Who am I?

Tim Parks moved to Italy in 1981 and is still there today. He has written five bestselling books about the country, brought up three splendid Italian children and translated some of the country’s best-loved authors. There cannot be many foreigners more familiar with the country, its literature, its history and its people.


I wrote...

An Italian Education: The Further Adventures of an Expatriate in Verona

By Tim Parks,

Book cover of An Italian Education: The Further Adventures of an Expatriate in Verona

What is my book about?

An Italian Education does more than any book I know to explain how Italians become Italians. Tim Parks focuses on his own young children in the small village near Verona where he lives, building a fascinating picture of the contemporary Italian family at school, at home, at work, and at play. The result is a delight: at once a family book and a travel book, not quite enamoured with either children or Italy, but always affectionate, always amused, and always amusing.

The books I picked & why

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The Italians

By Luigi Barzini,

Book cover of The Italians

Why this book?

Want to know what really makes Italians tick? Why they’re so obsessed with la bella figura? What family means to them? Where the good side of the mindset morphs into the bad? The afia. Corruption. Barzini was the son of a journalist close to Mussolini, but went to high school and university in New York. This book, which he wrote in English in 1965 is as at once hilarious and essential reading.

The Italians

By Luigi Barzini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Italians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this consummate portrait of the Italian people, bestselling author, publisher, journalist, and politician Luigi Barzini delves deeply into the Italian national character, discovering both its great qualities and its imperfections.

Barzini is startlingly frank as he examines “the two Italies”: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, “invaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.” Deeply ambivalent, Barzini approaches his task with a combination of love, hate, disillusion, and affectionate paternalism, resulting…


Family Lexicon

By Natalia Ginzburg, Jenny McPhee (translator),

Book cover of Family Lexicon

Why this book?

Among the greatest family memoirs of all time. Novelist, Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) grew up in a big family in Turin between the wars. Her Jewish father was a famous and famously irascible scientist, her mother a charmer from the well-to-do bourgeoisie. The last of five, Natalia gives a sparkling picture of the loves, friendships and conflicts between her older brothers and sisters as Fascist Italy drifted toward war. Impossible not to laugh and cry, while at the same time getting a sense of the deeper forces driving Italian life.

Family Lexicon

By Natalia Ginzburg, Jenny McPhee (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Family Lexicon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A masterpiece of European literature that blends family memoir and fiction

An Italian family, sizable, with its routines and rituals, crazes, pet phrases, and stories, doubtful, comical, indispensable, comes to life in the pages of Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon. Giuseppe Levi, the father, is a scientist, consumed by his work and a mania for hiking—when he isn’t provoked into angry remonstration by someone misspeaking or misbehaving or wearing the wrong thing. Giuseppe is Jewish, married to Lidia, a Catholic, though neither is religious; they live in the industrial city of Turin where, as the years pass, their children find ways…


Sea and Sardinia

By D.H. Lawrence,

Book cover of Sea and Sardinia

Why this book?

“COMES over one an absolute necessity to move.” Has there ever been a more appropriate opening line to any travel book? D H Lawrence moved to Sicily right after the First World War and from there got the itch to board a ship and visit Sardinia to the north with his wife Frida. He was hoping to find a primitive, pre-modern society, where men were men and women were women. He did indeed find them and was appalled. But delighted too. It’s hard to think of a book with more fun in it, more self-mockery, more pathos, and more poetry. Not to mention the descriptions of Sardinia. To die for.

Sea and Sardinia

By D.H. Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sea and Sardinia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sea and Sardinia By D. H. Lawrence


Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

By Carlo Levi, Frances Frenaye (translator),

Book cover of Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

Why this book?

Like many Italian intellectuals during the Fascist period Carlo Levi, a doctor and painter, was sent into ‘internal exile’ for his criticism of Mussolini. That meant being isolated in some tiny, godforsaken village in the deep south. It was a common saying in Aliano, Basilicata, where Levi was sent, that “Christ stopped at Eboli,” a town some way to the north. The Saviour hadn’t made it this far. Christianity, modernity, even history had passed these people by. Finding himself in great demand as the only qualified doctor for miles, Levi turned his extraordinary experiences in this most backward part of Italy into a treasure for all time. Reading about the drunken priest, the brigands, the malaria, the strange mix of rigid social protocol and sexual promiscuity, the mysticism and superstition, you can’t help being at once both charmed and shocked.

Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year

By Carlo Levi, Frances Frenaye (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Christ Stopped at Eboli as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'There should be a history of this Italy, a history outside the framework of time, confining itself to that which is changeless and eternal, in other words, a mythology. This Italy has gone its way in darkness and silence, like the earth, in a sequence of recurrent seasons and recurrent misadventures. Every outside influence has broken over it like a wave, without leaving a trace.'

So wrote Carlo Levi - doctor, painter, philosopher, and man of conscience - in describing the land and the people of Lucania, where he was banished in 1935, at the start of the Ethiopian war,…


The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks (translator),

Book cover of The Prince

Why this book?

Considered one of the great publishing scandals of all time, The Prince is also a profound, fascinating and surprisingly entertaining read. Removed from political office in Florence in 1512, tortured for crimes he hadn’t committed, Machiavelli withdrew to his country farm and began to set down his thoughts on politics. How does a man have to behave if he wants power? How can he hold on to it once he’s got it? And the great scandal of the book is that, analyzing the exploits of one great leader after another, Machiavelli just tells the truth, straight from the hip: “If you always want to play the good man in a world where most people are not good, you’ll end up badly. Hence, if a ruler wants to survive, he’ll have to learn to stop being good, at least when the occasion demands.” Five hundred years later, the implications of that reflection haunt the corridors of power the world over.

The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Prince as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power.  Astonishing in its candor The Prince even today remains a disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince . . . a king . . . a president.  When, in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in his beloved Florence, he resolved to set down a treatise on leadership that was practical, not idealistic.  In The Prince he envisioned would be unencumbered by ordinary ethical and moral values; his prince would be man and beast, fox and lion.  Today, this small…


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Interested in Italy, World War 2, and Sicily?

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