La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World by Dianne Hales presents a nonscholarly look at Italy and its history and influence. Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua, a New York Times best-seller; Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, an Amazon best book of the year, translated into six languages; and more than forty trade and textbooks.
What makes Italy unique in a world of195 countries? Ask anyone of Italian heritage, and they will tell you. It is almost like the old Marine Corps maxim. Never ask a person if they were a Marine. If they were, they would tell you, if not no need to embarrass them. The same goes for Italians. Ask Americans with interests in different areas about Italy. Cyclists will speak of Colnago, Campagnolo, and Pinarello. The motorcyclist will speak of Ducati and Moto Guzzi. The car enthusiast Mazaradi and Ferrari. The list goes on with opera, clothing, works of art, political philosophy, and food. No matter the subject of discussion there is something the Italians did to make it better or more remarkable.
Hales’ book presents something of a different take on Italy. Her work is not a rigid history or even a cultural history although she does show her source material. It carries an informal and friendly tone throughout the book. She uses history to support the concept of La Passione, a passion for being passionate. La Passione is easily recognized. This year I met Valentina Scandolora a well known Italian cyclist who was competing in the US for the first time. There is little doubt about her passion for cycling and winning. But, what was the most fun was hearing about things that, we Americans, think of as Italian. Coffee and food are two easy subjects. It is difficult for an Italian to find a good cup of coffee in Oklahoma or decent (real) Italian food. It’s vaguely recognizable but not the real thing. It’s not arrogance but a simple statement — “This is not Italian.”
This passion runs deep in Hales’ love story of Italy. It covers a broad spectrum from Petrarch to high heels. I learned a few new things about Dante, lace, Titian, and Botticelli. La Passione is the perfect book for those wanting to learn more about Italy and Italian culture without the rigors of a detailed history text. The writing is informal and lets the reader have a feeling they are talking to an insider with secrets to share. Nicely done.