Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Italians by John Hooper

On a recent trip to Italy, we met many friendly people. I have fond memories of the desk clerks, waiters in restaurants, tour guides, and salespeople I met. Of course, they were all in a monetary relationship with me, but they seemed genuinely pleasant and thoughtful people, just like many of the people journalist John Hooper met during his long tenure as a correspondent in southern Europe. He tells about them in his new book The Italians.

Hooper's aim in The Italians is to define the essential character of the people of Italy and what factors shaped them. The problem with this is that there is not one type of Italian and the task is about as easy as defining a typical American. Like most of the countries in Europe, Italy is increasing diverse as it accepts immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, often doing the jobs that Italians will not do. That sound familiar? Hooper says that Italian children are urged to be independent but often live safely, not challenging social conventions. Many are living with their parents long into adulthood, too. Hooper sometimes compares the Italians to the Spanish, which is to be expected since he wrote The Spaniards and The New Spaniards.

Despite the need to generalize, Hooper has written a book I find fascinating. He starts with a bit of history to explain differences in northern and southern Italian upbringing and the general lack of faith in the nation to protect itself from outside forces. The peninsula has been invaded many times from various directions. The periods of glory for the natives have been few since the fall of the Roman empire - though it can be argued that through the spread of the Roman Catholic Church, Italy has conquered much of the world.

Readers learn much about the country that seems very safe for tourists despite (or because of) the power of the mafia. Hooper examines people in the media, schools, the government, police forces, and the church. Having lived among the Italians for about a couple of decades, the author knows many good stories to tell. I recommend the book to anyone wanting to travel to Italy.

Hooper, John. The Italians. Viking, 2015. 316p. ISBN 9780525428077.

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