Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

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ISSIMO Booklist: Liceo 101

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Growing up Italian means we, all of us from prima elementare (1st grade) to quinto liceo (senior year of High school) are incubated in dense world of epic Italian literature. By the time we’ve reached high school, we’ve read and we’re reading the 101 of Italian culture through some of the country’s most important authors. These books aren’t just required reading, they are part of our culture, and all of us – whether Dante-quoting taxi drivers and Machiavellian market merchants or primped Pirandello pontiffs and Boccaccio babes – find ourselves casually referencing them throughout our daily lives. Here’s what you need to read to get through Liceo 101.

I Promessi Sposi

“The Betrothed”
by Alessandro Manzoni

One of the most important novels of Italian literature, Alessandro Manzon’s 1827 I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) details the terribly oppressive rule of the Spanish over Italy in the early 1600s through the tale of two young lovers.

La Divina Commedia

“The Divine Comedy”
by Dante Alighieri

Dante Alghieri’s 132 masterpiece trilogy of literature written is well matched by the peerless designs and illustrations of 19th century artist Gustave Doré.

La Coscienza di Zeno

“Zeno’s Conscience”
by Italo Svevo

A dive into the mind of addiction and analysis, Italo Svevo’s 1923 La Coscienza di Zeno (Zeno’s Conscience) is considered a seminal work of modernism.

Uno, Nessuno, Centomila

“One, None, and a Hundred Thousand“
by Luigi Pirandello

A philosophical and metaphysical examination of self and self-delusion, Pirandello’s 1926 Uno, Nessuno, Centomila (One, None, A Hundred Thousand) pioneered questioning authenticity.

I Malavoglia

“The House by the Medlar Tree“
by Giovanni Verga

Originally published in 1881, Giovanni Verga’s epic novel unleashed a social landslide in its Sicily-based story about societal struggle.

Il Fu Mattia Pascal

“The Late Mattia Pascal“
by Luigi Pirandello

Il Fu Mattia (The Late Mattia, 1904) launched Pirandello into international fame with its story about searching for identity.

Il Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio

Often considered the successor to La Divina Commedia, Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1353 Decameron is a collection of “human comedy” tales and a masterpiece of classical Italian prose.

Il Gattopardo

“The Leopard“
by Giuseppe Tommaso di Lampedusa

Giuseppe Tommaso di Lampedusa chronicles the changes in Sicily’s social and economical landscape of the second half of the 1800s.

Zibaldone di Pensieri

“Zibaldone di Pensieri“
by Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi’s “hodge-podge” of notes (originally 4526 pages!), Zibaldone di Pensieri (1832) is considered the greatest intellectual diary of Italian literature.

Orlando Furioso

“Orlando Furioso“
by Ludovico Ariosto

Written in 1516 and completed in 1532, Orlando Furioso (Raging Roland or The Frenzy of Roland) is Ariosto’s chivalric poem of love and war – and most likely inspiration for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Il Principe

“The Prince“
by Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli’s seminal treatise of political theory. Originally published in 1532, Il Principe (The Prince) shocked the world with advocacy of ruthless tactic and absolute power, and abandonment of morality.

Ultime Lettere di Jacopo Ortis

“Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis“
by Ugo Foscolo

Ugo Foscolo tells the story of Italy’s struggle for liberation during the late 1790s in an epistolary novel.

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