16 November 2004

Book Review: The Dark Heart of Italy, by Tobias Jones. *


In 1999 Tobias Jones travelled to Italy, expecting to discover the pastoral bliss described by centuries of foreign visitors and famous writers. Instead, he discovered a very different country, besieged by unfathomable terrorism and deep-seated paranoia, where crime is scarcely ever met with punishment. Now, in this travelogue, Jones explores not just Italy's familiar delights (art, climate, cuisine), but the livelier and stranger sides of the bel paese: language, football, Catholicism, cinema, television and terrorism. Why, he wonders, do bombs still explode every time politics start getting serious? Why does everyone urge him to go home as soon as possible, saying that Italy is a 'brothel'?


This must be the worst book on Italy I have ever read. Uninformed, superficial, exuding prejudice and smugness, politically biased. The author displays phenomenal ignorance and his judgement is superficial almost to the point of being funny! Were it not for some specific anecdotes he tells rather amusingly, I would have wondered whether he ever set foot in the country at all. He is obsessed with Berlusconi, he just hates the guts of the man. Well that's fine, many Italians do too, but it does not make for informative reading. His writing style is full of smugness, he says he loves the country but he is very condescending toward Italians and does not display the least interest in truly integrating in Italian society. Inaccuracies are too many to list here. A book that is better avoided by those who want to understand contemporary Italy.

01 November 2004

Book Review: Endurance, by Alfred Lansing, *****

Endurance in its death throes

In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set sail for the South Atlantic on board the Endurance. The object of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic overland. In October 1915, still half a continent away from their intended base, the ship was trapped, then crushed in ice. For seventeen months Shackleton and his men, drifting on ice packs and then on the stormiest seas on the globe, were castaways in this most savage region of the world.

Lansing's gripping narrative, based on firsthand accounts of crew members and interviews with survivors, vividly describes how the men lived together in camps on the ice until they reached land, how they were attacked by sea leopards, ate sea lion and polar bear, developed frostbite (an operation to amputate the foot of one member of the crew was carried out on the ice), and finally embarked on a 850-mile voyage in a 22-foot open lifeboat to find help.