cover image La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

Dianne Hales. Crown Archetype, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49916-5

In this inquisitive celebration of the Italian spirit, Hales (Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered) traverses the country, exploring its history and culture. Her journey begins in Sicily where she traces the island’s role in Greek mythology and Etruscan history (“Among pre-Roman civilizations, only the Greeks compared in wealth, power, and influence”). In the next vignette, her gaze turns to Rome and a succession of emperors with a focus on romantic intrigue, from Mark Anthony and Caesar’s affairs with Cleopatra to the polygamy of Octavian. While in Florence, Hales discusses the works of 15th-century poet Dante; in a chapter on music, she gives a history of Italian opera, from the earliest “castratos” (singers castrated to retain a boyish high pitch) to the life of Luciano Pavarotti. The chapters on food will delight readers with descriptions of artisan foods: in Parma, for example, she tries the local specialty of prosciutto; in Modena, a balsamic vinegar maker says, “This is my passion—the emotion, the tradition coming together to give people a true flavor of Italy, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” Sure to inspire many vacations, this volume shows Italy’s many contributions to the world and captures the essence of the very things that make it such a wondrous place. (Apr.)