The Shortest History of Italy by Ross King

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

The mention of Italy conjures up many thoughts in our minds. It might be the food, the wine or the coffee. It could also be the days of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire.

In amongst the reminiscences, there is often the question about the way in which this long lived and interestingly shaped land mass jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea came to be formed and eventually organised into the single republic that it is today.

Ross King gives us a good overview of the long history that tells the story of Italy in the latest of Black Inc’s shortest history series. Like all good yarns he begins with the rise of what eventually became Rome and continues the narrative through the various ages until the present day.

While the shortest history series has been well received by the reading public, we need to be mindful of its limitations. King has provided some detail of the events he covers but due to the restrictions of length he can only touch the surface of Italy’s fascinating history and life.

We also need to remind ourselves that King is examining the life of a land mass rather than a particular people. While the Romans rate a good mention, many peoples have called Italy home over the centuries. The idea that members of other races and cultures find the need to move to have a better life is not new. It has been happening since time immemorial and will no doubt continue for the foreseeable future.

King’s efforts show the great contribution that Italy and its peoples have given us through language, systems of government, military innovations and ways of social interaction. While we may not see this greatness in modern Italy, it is there and has been acknowledged. This book provides the story without the need for us to be constantly cross-referencing other volumes to get the picture.

He also encourages the reader to look beyond this slim volume and research particular topics for themselves. It’s good to have a basic knowledge under the belt as we plunge into the morass of more detailed argument and counter argument.

The Shortest History of Italy is very readable. It’s a book for everyone who has wanted to know more about Italy but have never had the chance to begin the journey. It’s also a handy resource for those embarking on a trip to the different and very distinct regions of the republic. It offers a small amount of knowledge that can be built on through further reading or by hitting the road to enjoy a little of the Italian way of life.

Ross King is a renowned expert in the Italian Renaissance. He is the author of numerous bestselling and acclaimed books including The Bookseller of Florence, Brunelleschi’s Dome, and The Pope’s Ceiling.

The Shortest History of Italy

by Ross King


Black Inc.

ISBN 978 176064 367 6

$27.99; 272pp

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