Genoa, ‘La Superba’: The Rise and Fall of a Merchant Pirate Superpower

Nicholas Walton. Oxford Univ, $19.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-84904-512-4
English journalist Walton presents a passionate, idiosyncratic history of the Genoan city-state, glorying in the medieval piratical enterprise that brought it both fame and notoriety. Walton intersperses historical meanderings with personal experiences—devoting an entire chapter, for example, to the origins of pesto—and relates Genoa’s rise and eventual decline as a seafaring power through anecdotal (and not always accurate) tales. Many stories are gleaned from local traditions and charming interviews. For Walton, Napoleon is less interesting than local heroes, such as Adm. Andrea Doria, the 16th-century namesake of the 20th-century ocean liner, and Giuseppe Mazzini, a leader of the 19th-century Italian unification movement. Walton narrates the finale of centuries of Genoan ship-building via accounts of the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria and delivers the story of the Risorgimento in his recounting of Mazzini’s funeral. One of Walton’s strengths is his depiction of the city itself, with its narrow alleyways and jumbled mixture of centuries of building, and like the local architecture, he slides easily from past to present and back again. This book is an unashamed celebration of Genoa, warts and all, a city that “does not get the credit its extraordinary history deserves.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/25/2015
Release date: 09/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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