Fabian Alfie

The University of Arizona has the fifth largest Italian Program in the United States--and the largest undergraduate-only Italian program in the country!

General Information about Italy and Italians

The information contained on this webpage is general information about Italy, Italians, and Italian culture. It is intended to complement the more specialized information presented in our classrooms, and in no way substitute for it. It is presented here for current and former students--as well as for members of the general public--who wish to further their understanding of Italy, Italians and Italian culture. It may also be of help for those people planning trips to Italy in the future.



1. Luigi Barzini, The Italians (New York: Touchstone, 1996). Although this work, originally published in the early 1960s, is quite dated--its discussion of a "national character" is one we now generally avoid--it offers many insights into the behaviors of Italians. It is still a touchstone text for people interested in the everyday culture of Italians. Highly recommended.

2. Tobias Jones, The Dark Heart of Italy (New York: Northpoint Press, 2003). When this book was first published, it caused a national debate in Italy. It combines political observations with cultural insights as it explores the popularity of then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Highly recommended.

3. Tim Parks, Italian Education (New York: Harcort, 1996). A lighthearted memoire of a British expatriate raising his children in Italy. At times his dry sense of humor about Italian culture comes close to condescension; still, it portrays contemporary life in Italy with accuracy.


1. Maurizio Viroli, Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2002). A well written biography of this fascinating man and thinker.

2. Charles Nicholl, Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind (Penguin, 2005). Well researched and extremely thorough, Nicholl's work presents the complete biography of this fascinating character. It also provides a nice corrective to The Da Vinci Code. Highly recommended.

3. Martin Kemp, Leonardo (Oxford University Press, 2004). A far less daunting biography about Leonardo than Nicholl's.

4. Rodney Bolt, The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend and Italian Opera's Impresario in America (Bloomsbury, 2006). A well written biography about an amazing man, Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the librettos for Mozart's operas Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, who brought opera to America, and who was the first professor of Italian in the United States. Highly recommended.

5. Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (Penguin, 2001). An in-depth examination of the construction of the cathedral of Florence.


1. Lauro Martines, Blood in April: Florence and the Plot against the Medici (Oxford University Press, 2003). This study explores a fascinating episode in Renaissance history--the plot to kill Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici (the plotters successfully killed Giuliano). It relates how Lorenzo, in his response to the plot, consolidated the power of the Medici family in Florence.

2. Robert Katz, The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 (Simon & Schuster, 2004). The complete story of the Second World War in Rome.

3. Paul Ginsborg, Italy and its Discontents: Family, Civil Society, State (Palgrave, 2006). An extremely thorough perspective of contemporary Italian society. Highly recommended.


1. Jack Zipes, ed. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm (Norton, 2000). As is clear from this list, folklorist Jack Zipes is at the forefront of publishing anthologies about Italian folklore in English. All of them are very thorough. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition contains fairy tales from literary works, including Giambattista Basile's Pentameron and Straparola's Notti piacevoli. This anthology offers a pan-European perspective on the respective fairy tales therein.

2. Beautiful Angiola: The Lost Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales of Laura Gonzenbach, ed. Jack Zipes (New York and London: Routledge, 2005). This anthology as well as the following are translations of the compendia of Sicilian folk tales by the nineteenth-century Swiss folklorist Laura Gonzenbach; they are recommended for people wanting an in-depth analysis of Sicilian folktales.

3. The Robber with a Witch's Head, ed. Jack Zipes (New York and London: Routledge, 2005).

4. Thomas Frederick Crane, Italian Popular Tales, ed. Jack Zipes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). In the nineteenth century, Thomas Frederick Crane published one of the first collections of Italian folklore in English.

5.a. Ethnosuoni: http://www.cdroots.com/fce.shtml

5.b. CD Roots Italy: http://www.cdroots.com/italy.shtml

The two websites above are highly recommended for people interested in purchasing recordings of Italian folk music.


1. Highly recommended: The entire series of Guido Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon. Set in modern-day Venice, these page-turners bring up contemporary issues facing Italy, including political corruption, immigration (legal and otherwise), foreign relations (including those with the United States), and environmental concerns. There are many titles in the series, including:

Death and Judgement

Blood from a Stone

A Noble Radiance

Through a Glass Darkly

Dressed for Death

Death in a Strange Country

2. Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (New York: Random House, 2005). Mary Doria Russell tells the story of resistance to the German occupation in a fictional Northern Italian town during World War II. Bad-Italian Alert: students of Italian are cautioned that the author needed to proofread better her use of Italian; many terms and expressions are misspelled.