Sprezzatura: 50 Ways That Italian Genius Shaped the World

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A witty, erudite celebration of fifty great Italian cultural achievements that have significantly influenced Western civilization from the authors of What Are the Seven Wonders of the World?

“Sprezzatura,” or the art of effortless mastery, was coined in 1528 by Baldassare Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier. No one has demonstrated effortless mastery throughout history quite like the Italians. From the Roman calendar and the creator of the...

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Sprezzatura: 50 Ways That Italian Genius Shaped the World

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A witty, erudite celebration of fifty great Italian cultural achievements that have significantly influenced Western civilization from the authors of What Are the Seven Wonders of the World?

“Sprezzatura,” or the art of effortless mastery, was coined in 1528 by Baldassare Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier. No one has demonstrated effortless mastery throughout history quite like the Italians. From the Roman calendar and the creator of the modern orchestra (Claudio Monteverdi) to the beginnings of ballet and the creator of modern political science (Niccolò Machiavelli), Sprezzatura highlights fifty great Italian cultural achievements in a series of fifty information-packed essays in chronological order.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the early 16th century, Count Baldassare Castiglione penned his famous Book of the Courtier, synthesizing the ideals of the medieval courtly gentleman with the new "Renaissance man." Above all, the courtier should exhibit the qualities of grace and sprezzatura, which D'Epiro and Pinkowish accurately describe as "an assumed air of doing difficult things with an effortless mastery and an air of nonchalance." In 50 bite-sized chapters that are as delicious as they are short, D'Epiro and Pinkowish (What Are the Seven Wonders of the World?) take readers through a whirlwind tour of 25 centuries of culture and history on the Italian peninsula. From the calendar and Roman law to the Montessori method and Enrico Fermi, readers can delight in the defeats and accomplishments of a most varied group of men and women. Most books extolling the Italians conveniently delete the dark side of Italian history; this one honestly leaves in many of the more brutal details. The writing is engaging, and the authors' lively and descriptive style almost compensates for a lack of illustrations. One of the book's great merits is that it will surely stimulate readers to return to their Ovid, Livy, Dante and Boccaccio; in addition, one can gain greater appreciation for such masterpieces as Rossellini's Rome, Open City and Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's The Leopard. Although the authors only hint at it, sprezzatura is anything but effortless: mastery of any skill requires more perspiration than inspiration. Or, as D'Epiro and Pinkowish point out, the "social mask," or the "disjunction between appearance and reality," is "the very patina of civilization." (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720199
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition description: First Anchor Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 396
  • Sales rank: 406,201
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish are the authors of What Are the Seven Wonders of the World? And 100 Other Great Cultural Lists–Fully Explicated. D’Epiro lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Pinkowish lives in Larchmont, New York.

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Table of Contents


1 Rome gives the world a calendar—twice
2 The Roman Republic and our own
3 Julius Caesar and the imperial purple
4 Catullus revolutionizes love poetry
5 Master builders of the ancient world
6 “Satire is wholly ours”
7 Ovid’s treasure hoard of myth and fable
8 The Roman legacy of law
9 St. Benedict: Father of Western monasticism, preserver of the Roman heritage
10 Salerno and Bologna: The earliest medical school and university
11 St. Francis of Assisi, “alter Christus”
12 “Stupor mundi”: Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily and Jerusalem
13 St. Thomas Aquinas: Titan of theology
14 Dante’s incomparable Comedy
15 Banks, bookkeeping, and the rise of commercial capitalism
16 Petrarch: Creator of the modern lyric
17 Boccaccio and the development of Western literary realism
18 The mystic as activist: St. Catherine of Siena
19 Inventors of the visual language of the Renaissance: Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio
20 Lorenzo Ghiberti and the “Gates of Paradise”
21 Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici, grand patrons of art and learning
22 Sigismondo Malatesta: The condottiere with a vision
23 Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance man, eternal enigma
24 A new world beckons: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, Verrazano
25 Machiavelli and the dawn of modern political science
26 Michelangelo: Epitome of human artistry
27 Sprezzatura and Castiglione’s concept of the gentleman
28 Aretino: Self-publicist, pornographer, “secretary of the world”
29 Giovanni Della Casa’s Galateo: Etiquette book par excellence
30 Andrea Palladio and his “bible” of building
31 Catherine de’ Medici: Godmother of French cuisine
32 Peri’s Euridice: The birth of opera from the spirit of tragedy
33 Galileo frames the foundations of modern science
34 Two sonorous gifts: The violin and the piano
35 Claudio Monteverdi, father of modern music
36 The Baroque splendors of Bernini
37 Pioneers of modern anatomy: Eustachio, Fallopio, Malpighi, Morgagni, et al.
38 Founder of modern penology: Cesare Beccaria
39 Trailblazers in electricity: Galvani and Volta
40 Venice: Rhapsody in stone, water, melody, and color
41 Europe’s premier poet of pessimism: Giacomo Leopardi
42 Giuseppe Garibaldi: A united Italy emerges
43 The last “Renaissance” prince—D’Annunzio at Fiume
44 La Dottoressa: Maria Montessori and a new era in early childhood education
45 Marconi invents the radio
46 Enrico Fermi: Father of the atomic age
47 Roberto Rossellini: Neorealist cinema and beyond
48 An unlikely international bestseller: Lampedusa’s The Leopard
49 Ferrari—on the road to perfection
50 La moda italiana: The art of apparel

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About the Contributors

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    One of the best books on Italian culture.

    This was a surprise. It is not a puff piece simply boastful of Italian culture. The surprise was it's academic and research tone. It is peppered with footnoted facts not relegated to either the bottom of the page or worse the back of the chapter or the worst, the back of the text. The back of the tex does have a wealth of additional reading for the truly interested. The easily read prose brings us directly from Italian/Roman accomplishment to modern day results (admitted by the authors to have been, in many cases the beginning and not the whole) of Italian inventiveness, brilliant scientific, engineering and artful accomplishment, intellectual excellence and brash accomplishment. It reveals the cultural, religious, logistical and historical environment and context in which these sometimes courageous men and women were operating. Pointing out some of the personal challenges associated with their accomplishments. Proud to be any part Italian once you read this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009


    One of the best books I have come across in a long long time. Wonderful writing style. Not dry and academic. Full of great information, even though somehow I suspect if the information may be a little biased! But certainly informative and rewarding. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2004


    Expertly researched and written, with plenty of side essays linking Italian inventions and inspirations to modern conditions that we often take for granted. One essay for example: What a surprise to see the Roman Republic credited with inventing concepts like balance-of-powers, multi-branch government, separation of lawmaking and execution, use of the veto, and other mainstains of the US constitution, which was liberally constructed on the history of successful societies. The fifty self-contained essays make an otherwise ponderous amount of information accessible and easily readable. Those who love Italy and History will love this fascinating book. There is something for everybody, with topics including arts, sciences, literature, religion, politics, medecine, mythology, exploration, law, the Renaissance, astonomy, education, famous inventions, modern fashion, fast cars, and of course, famous Italians like St. Thomas, Dante, the de Medici dynasty, Leonardo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Marconi, and many others. This book rejoices in the muti-faceted successes that people and culture brought forth, and not the usual, contemporary image of eye-talians as foul-mouthed thugs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2002

    Easy Enlightening Education

    This is must have book.It's full of facts and descriptions that answer many, many questions you meant to ask along the way, before you got to this.The writing is conversational and friendly,yet as authentic and trustworthy as any quality academic tome.You get a perspective on many, many ideas,structures,objects, and events that comes only from a sure hand. The book is itself an example of sprezzatura.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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