The Shortest History of Italy

The Shortest History of Italy by Ross King
U.S. & Canada cover

The calendar. The Senate. The university. The piano, the heliocentric model, and the pizzeria. It’s hard to imagine a world without Italian influence―and easy to assume that inventions like these could only come from a strong, stable peninsula, sure of its place in the world. In this breakneck history, bestselling author Ross King dismantles this assumption, uncovering the story of a land rife with inner uncertainty even as its influence spread.

As the Italian tale unfolds, prosperity and power fluctuate like the elevation in the Dolomites. If Rome’s seven hills could talk, they might speak of the glorious time of Trajan―or bemoan the era of conquest and the Bubonic Plague that decimated Rome’s population. Episodes of wealth like the First Triumvirate and the time of the Medicis are given fresh life alongside descriptions the Middle Ages, the early days of Venice, the invasion of Napoleon, and the long struggle for unification.

With illustrations and maps to reinforce key details, King paints a vibrant portrait of a country whose political and cultural legacies enrich our lives today.

Purchase from, & Noble,, Booktopia (Australia) or Indigo (Canada)

Praise for The Shortest History of Italy

The Shortest History of Italy by Ross King
U.K. cover

‘King, who has written extensively on the history, art, and culture of Italy and is known for his impeccable research and engaging style, is the perfect Virgil to guide us from The Aeneid to COVID-19 in this densely packed volume of tantalizing details. King dexterously moves from the founding of Rome to the rise and fall of the empire … King has a keen eye for the provocative anecdote, ranging from the debauchery of the emperors to papal history and the origins of the Mafia … Each page brims with Bill Bryson-like trivia that is sure to delight.’
—Bill Kelly, Booklist (starred review)

‘With his customary light but learned touch, King has performed a miracle of compression … This would be a splendid companion to a holiday in the bel paese … Hazy about your Manzoni? Mix up Marconi with macaroni? King is that ideal friend, stimulating rather than intimidating, who has seen everything, and doesn’t mind doing it again with you.’
—James Owen, The Oldie

‘King, who has previously written books on Leonardo, Michelangelo and Filippo Brunelleschi, here moves out of his familiar 15th- and 16th-century territory back to Aeneas and his Trojans washing up in Italy, as migrants do today, and forward to the 20th-century industrial muscle of Fiat cars and the triumph of Giorgia Meloni. In fact-rich chapters he covers topics as broad as the fall of the Roman empire, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, the lure of Mussolini and the fractured politics of the postwar years. Along the way he drops in details from the diet and sex lives of the many centenarian residents of the village of Acciaroli, to how the nation’s love of coffee started in the late 1600s. The result is a handbook both informative and entertaining.’
—Michael Prodger, The New Statesman 

The Shortest History of Italy by Ross King
Australia cover

‘Few have as much insight into the history of Italy as the author of Brunelleschi’s Dome, and here Ross King offers a masterful and perceptive account of Italian virtues – and sins – from the Romans to Berlusconi… An ideal handbook for anyone who loves Italy and wants to dig a little deeper into the past.’
—Richard Owen, author of D.H. Lawrence in Italy

‘A rollicking introduction to the history of a country that, until barely 150 years ago, was not one. Vibrant, admirably clear and often wryly amusing … a splendid achievement.’
—John Hooper, author of The Italians

‘A remarkably readable whirlwind tour of Italian history over the millennia, replete with conquerors, emperors, slaves, popes, assorted invaders, and filled with juicy historical nuggets. There’s nothing quite like it.’
—David Kertzer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Pope and Mussolini and The Pope at War

‘History exerts a force in Italy that is multifaceted and ambiguous, especially to the outsider – but The Shortest History of Italy helps to render the country coherent’
—Kurt Johnson in The Saturday Paper

‘Terrific… a lucid, riveting history of a country that is both exquisitely old and painfully young at the same time’
—Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus

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