Edition: 2017
Pages: 2204
Series: IR/L
ISBN: 9788858129166

Novels through time - How literature narrates history

Alessandro Barbero - Alessandro Portelli - Alberto Mario Banti - Lucy Riall - Andrea Graziosi - Emilio Gentile - Alessandra Tarquini - Anna Foa - Salvatore Lupo



Novels are as reliable an indicator as History of the truth and reality of their time. Nine eminent historians trace and interpret notable events, characters and lifestyles through the pages of some of the greatest novels of all time.

Alessandro Barbero: Napoleon and the art of war from Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Tolstoj was a career official. He fought in Crimea and was familiar with soldiers and armies: his novel is a unique testimony, realistic yet visionary, on men, arms, and the techniques, rules and art of war in the time of Napoleon.

Emilio Gentile: the collapse of the West from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.
Condemned as obscene pornography, the Tropic of Cancer caused an instant sensation and was banned outside of France for almost 30 years. It gave rise to a global literary debate: Miller was not outrageous because he narrated the obscene, but because he described himself as a happy man while depicting the collapse of a civilisation.

Alessandro Portelli: the racism of white people from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. A novel that is often misunderstood. Tom encourages and helps two fellow slaves to escape, and sacrifices his life rather than betray them. In any other context, we would dub him a resistance hero – certainly not “uncle Tom”.

Alberto Banti: bourgeois morals from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Emma wants to give birth to a boy, because “at least a man has his freedom. A woman is constantly frustrated” Madame Bovary is an eloquent diagnosis of what it means to be a woman according to prevailing morals.

Lucy Riall: Garibaldi in Sicily from The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The Leopard is considered the most important account of the unification of Sicily with the rest of Italy. In fact, its author had very different ambitions for his novel, and the text itself has many layers of meaning, explored by Lucy Riall.

Andrea Graziosi: the terror machine from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Archipelago Gulag.
Begun in 1958 but published in 1973, this “narrative investigation essay”, based on over 200 first-hand accounts, changed the face of the XX century. Solzhenitsyn reconstructs the genesis and defining features of the repressive Soviet system from 1917 to the uprisings of 1952-1954.

Salvatore Lupo: the American Mafia from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
Mario Puzo started to map out The Godfather in 1966, following Joe Valachi’s momentous confession that revealed the existence of a US Cosa Nostra. The book tells the story from the godfather’s point of view, depicting the Mediterranean as a motherland, with a culture that defends natural institutions like the family. ‘Mafiosi’ evoke a sense of honour, friendship and a set of rules – a bewitching and deceptive mythology that endures beyond the world of fiction.

Alessandra Tarquini: the resistance between myth and reality, from Beppe Fenoglio’s Johnny the Partisan.
Johnny is a student who, after 8 September 1943 chooses, almost by accident, to take up the partisan fight. A novel about identity-building and nation-building: from disillusion about the war and fascism to the rediscovery of democratic values worth fighting and risking one’s life for.

Anna Foa: Jews, Zionists and partisans from If Not Now, When By Primo Levi
The plot is based on a true story: a band of Russian and Polish Jews fights its own partisan war against Nazi invaders, spanning the whole of Europe. They are Jewish partisans from the East who encounter the non-Jewish world during the conflict and later as refugees in an inhospitable Europe.

The authors

Alessandro Barbero

Alessandro Barbero is Italy’s best known historian. His books are all bestsellers in Italy and abroad and his ‘History Lessons’ are widely followed live and on social. He teaches Medieval History at the University of Eastern Piedmont. His latest book, Dante (2020), has sold more than 250,000 copies and has been translated in more than 20 countries.

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Alessandro Portelli

Alessandro Portelli is a historian, a music critic and an Anglicist. He taught Anglo-American literature at La Sapienza University of Rome.

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Alberto Mario Banti

Alberto Mario Banti teaches Contemporary History at the University of Pisa. His most recent publications include: The Nation of the Risorgimento (Turin 2000) and The Honour of the Nation (Turin 2005).

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Lucy Riall

Lucy Riall is professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. She studied at both the London School of Economics and Cambridge University. Her Italian publications include: The Risorgimento. and Interpretations (Rome 1997) and Sicily and Italian Unification (Turin 2004).

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Andrea Graziosi

Andrea Graziosi, professor of Contemporary History at the University of Naples Federico II, has studied and taught in American, Russian and European universities. Among his most recent publications, translated into several languages: The Battle for Ukrainian. A Comparative Perspective (with Michael Flier, Harvard University Press 2017); La grande guerra contadina in Urss (Officina libraria 2022); Genocide. The Power and Problems of a Concept (with Frank Sysyn, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022).

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Emilio Gentile

Emilio Gentile is an historian of international renown, he is emeritus professor at ‘La Sapienza’ University of Rome. He received the Hans Sigrist Prize at the University of Berna for his studies on the religions of politics. Among his main works published by Laterza, often reprinted and translated all over the world: The Cult of the Lictor: the sacralisation of politics in fascist Italy; Politics as religion; Fascism: History and interpretation; Fascism in three chapters; God’s democracy: American religion after September 11 (Burzio Prize); Stone fascism; Two gunshots, ten million dead, the end of a world; The March on Rome and Fascism in Power; The leader and the Crowd; “In a democracy people are always sovreign” False!.

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Alessandra Tarquini

Alessandrea Tarquini teaches contemporary history at La Sapienza University of Rome.

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Anna Foa

Anna Foa taught Modern History at the University of Rome La Sapienza. She has specialized in the history of culture in the early modern age, history of mentality, and the history of the Jews. Among her publications: Ateismo e magia; Giordano Bruno; Eretici. Storie di streghe, ebrei e convertiti; Andar per ghetti e giudecche; Cicerone o il Regno della parola (with V. Pavoncello). For Laterza: Ebrei in Europa. Dalla Peste Nera all’emancipazione XIV-XIX secolo; Il rogo di Giordano Bruno in I giorni di Roma; Diaspora. Storia degli ebrei nel Novecento; Portico dOttavia 13. Una casa del ghetto nel lungo inverno del ’43; Ebrei sionisti e partigiani. A partire da Se non ora, quando?di Primo Levi in Romanzi nel tempo. Come la letteratura racconta la storia.

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Salvatore Lupo

Salvatore Lupo is professor of Contemporary History at the University of Palermo. He is the author of numerous studies on the history of southern society between the ninth and twentieth centuries.

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