“You can have the rest of the world if I can have Italy,” said Giuseppe Verdi, who is one of many Italian icons and a perfect example of the Italian character at its finest. The biggest mistake made by newly-arrived expats in Italy is not realising that globalisation may well be ubiquitous, but cultural differences still exist and have to be respected and enjoyed in equal measure. If you want to live and work in Italy, or simply do business or spend time in this beautiful Country without feeling like a perpetual tourist, it will take more than remembering to not put cream in your carbonara. And if you don’t know where to start, we suggest you read these amazing and diverse books, that will help you understand and appreciate Italian culture.
Calcio: a History of Italian Football, by John Foot
Winston Churchill is famously quoted to have said that “Italians lose wars as if they were football matches, and football matches as if they were wars”. There might be more than a nugget of truth in this statement and there is certainly no better way to get to know Italy than through its love of football. John Foot’s analysis is absolutely precise, comprehensive and informative, but also entertaining and enjoyable. It takes into account all the elements that of Italy’s love story with this noble sport, from the history of the most popular Italian teams to the Country’s famously overenthusiastic football fans, from some of the most famous Italian champions in football history to the Country’s obsession with referees. The book also explores the connections between football and politics that are weaved through decades of Italian history.
Italian Journey: 1786-1788 by Johann Wolfgang Goethe
This is one of the most notable accounts ever written of someone falling in love with a whole Country. While the above is slightly reductive (particularly because the “someone” in question is J. W. Goethe, filtering his adventures through one of the highest sensibilities in modern history), this is ultimately what the book is about: how Goethe’s journey through Italy was transfigured into a deeply emotional and sensual experience that is akin, in many respects, to falling in love. This book will also upend some widely circulated stereotypes, namely the ones that oppose Italy’s supposed chaotic creativity and sensitivity to the rationality and inflexibility of the German character. In this instance, one of the German forefathers of Romanticism explores Italy relishing its beauty, history, and flavours, the majesty of its natural landscapes as well as the carefree attitude of its inhabitants. If you want to look at Italy from a foreigner’s perspective, Goethe is an excellent starting point.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
This is the first in a series of book by elusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, which has been one of the most irresistible literary successes of the decade. Not since J.K. Rowling has a book series been met with such ubiquitous success both at home and abroad. The series of Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Novels” has much of the classic coming-of-age story and it follows the lives of two girls, Raffaella and Elena, as they try to find their own place in the world, within a culture that doesn’t make it easy for young women to succeed. Ferrante’s writing explores aspects of Italian life and Italian culture that are partly connected to Italy’s recent past and partly still present, in different incarnations, in parts of the Country. Ferrante’s greatest strength is in the rendering of uniquely Italian (and uniquely Southern) atmospheres, which are conveyed with a few, well-connected brushstrokes, conjuring up a universe you will want to inhabit.