How to Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians / Edition 2

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How to Do It shows us sixteenth-century Italy from an entirely new perspective: through manuals that were staples in the households of middlebrow Italians merely trying to lead better lives. Addressing various challenges such as how to conceive a boy, or what to do should you want to goad female (or male) desires, these booklets give us a refreshing and fun social history.

"...uncovers a culture much like our own in which people sought advice for everything from reining in a wayward spouce to running an efficient household...a refreshing, funny, social history of sixteenth century Italy."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
It may be a sign of our love of progress or it may be proof of our desperation. Either way, there's no doubt that one type of book outsells all others — the often embarrassing, always available books that The New York Times categorizes as "Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous."

In our culture, millions of readers seek answers in the pages of Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul and The Rules: TIme-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. These books are as popular as they are ephemeral. Concerns about Prozac are soon overwhelmed by interest in Viagra; Reviving Ophelia has been replaced by Real Boys.

In How to Do It, Rudolph M. Bell brings us back to 16th-century Renaissance Italy, a time when high culture and scientific innovation thrived, and advice manuals were as popular in households as they are today. Acting as a lively and amusing guide, Bell leads us through manuals that offer advice on conception, pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing, adolescence, marriage, and widowhood. The suggestions for "good living" range from the ribald to the ridiculous.

Not surprisingly, many of the "health" tips are arcane, if not extraordinarily odd, as well as hilarious. Sterile? Take the testicles off a chicken and serve them up in some chicken soup. Trying to conceive a male heir? Tie a string around the right testicle. Wondering why farmworkers have healthier sons than the rich do? It is, of course, because the wealthy gorge themselves and have sex at night, while the exhausted laborer eats a meager meal and is too tired foreveningromance. His morning lovemaking is more productive as "his semen is strong and dry; he is refreshed and alert."

Sex is a constant theme in these manuals; and the middle-class domestic focus was clearly a guise for more prurient concerns. The respectable books allowed readers to bypass the teachings of the Catholic Church while seeking information on sex. While many of the populist lessons were moralistic ("Too much sex shortens the life span"), Italians also enjoyed celebrations of lust. The popular "I Modi" ("The Ways") introduced readers to 16 techniques for achieving new heights of lovemaking pleasure. After the Pope banned this bestseller, a new and improved edition appeared "containing many words and ideas that would receive an instant NC-17 rating in our own culture."

Bell believes that the proliferation of how-to books allowed for an alternative information network to emerge, one that wasn't controlled by the Catholic Church or established media. Like the Internet today, this populist, inexpensive medium allowed anyone to be an "expert," but also resulted in the spreading of false and harmful ideas.

Misogyny, for example, prevailed as the experts both reflected and upheld the belief that men were naturally superior. Thus, parents seeking advice on daughters were told that "plumpness is bad for girls and leads directly to lasciviousness and dishonesty. Virgins should not be running from house to house, nor should they be seen lingering and chatting in the piazza." Women looking for marriage tips were constantly told that the good wife was subservient and silent. In the charmingly titled "I Donneschi Difetti" ("The Defects of Women"), Giuseppe Passi helpfully warns that any man who listens to his wife will end up dead.

While pointing out such social prejudice, Bell ultimately wants to entertain, and he does. His book is both fun and insightful, a revelation about the mores and morals of a bygone culture, as well as a comment on our endless desire for instruction. Foolhardy or curious, there is clearly a timeless need to turn to pages with promises about how to find happiness, safety, and love.

—Margot Towne

Jen Nessel
...the moral of [Bell's] book rings loud and clear. If the Venetians had had television, they would have had informercials for the latest in pessaries and uterine fumigators.
Lingua Franca
Alida Becker
Readers trolling for comforting reassurance of late-20th-century superiority will instead find pronouncements that often sound like extracts from modern-day debates....Bell provides sections on everything from menstruation to choosing a spouse to coping with widowhood....[W]ithin the strictures of a relentlessly patriarchal world...there wre still opportunities for a bit of independence... —The New York Times Book Review
Like people today, Renaissance Italians had an appetite for self-help books. Bell history, Rutgers U. made his way through manual after manual in archives and libraries across Italy. Here he presents his summaries and interpretation of their content, attempting to identify themes and variations, major voices, and contexts and controversies. Coverage is broad, including conception, pregnancy and childbirth, child rearing, adolescence, and marital relations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Alida Becker
Readers trolling for comforting reassurance of late-20th-century superiority will instead find pronouncements that often sound like extracts from modern-day debates....Bell provides sections on everything from menstruation to choosing a spouse to coping with widowhood....[W]ithin the strictures of a relentlessly patriarchal world...there wre still opportunities for a bit of independence...
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226042008
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2008
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 389
  • Sales rank: 1,137,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Rudolph M. Bell is a professor of history at Rutgers University. His previous books include Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000-1700 and Holy Anorexia, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Readers
2. Conception
Boy or Girl
Frequency of Intercourse
Positions during Intercourse
Male Impotence
Infertility in Women
Are You Pregnant?
3. Pregnancy and Childbirth
Boy or Girl?
Maybe Twins?
Due Date
Diet and Daily Activity
Postpartum Care
4. Raising Your Child
Nursing: Who Should Do It?
Nursing: How to Do It
Child Rearing: Physical Health
Child Rearing: Good Character
Children's Books
5. Adolescence
Who Was an Adolescent?
The Sins of Adolescence
Making Fun
Choosing a Spouse
6. Marital Relations
From the Humanists
From the Church
From the Gentlemen
7. Then and Now
Female Authorship
The Internet

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2013

    i think im going to stay with maximum ride

    I would defianty rate this book with a big (beepin) ugly 0000.00000000¿ dont buy this book is very bad

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Dont judge a book by its cover

    Recommend you dont read this book it gives you no imformation so dont waste your money on this lame book.

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