Whispering City Rome and Its Histories R. J. B. Bosworth

Publication date:
15 Mar 2011
Yale University Press
358 pages: 235 x 156mm
33 b-w illus.
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In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud claimed that Rome must be comprehended as 'not a human dwelling place but a mental entity', in which the palaces of the Caesars still stand alongside modern apartment buildings in layers of brick, mortar, and memory. 'The observer would need merely to shift the focus of his eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other'.

In this one-of-a-kind book, historian Richard Bosworth accepts Freud's challenge, drawing upon his expertise in Italian pasts to explore the many layers of history found within the Eternal City. Often beginning his analysis with sites and monuments that can still be found in contemporary Rome, Bosworth expands his scope to review how political groups of different eras - the Catholic Church, makers of the Italian nation, Fascists, and 'ordinary' Romans (be they citizens, immigrants, or tourists) - read meaning into the city around them. Weaving in the city's quintessential figures (Garibaldi, Pius XII, Mussolini, and Berlusconi) and architectural icons (the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and EUR) with those forgotten or unknown, Bosworth explores the many histories that whisper their rival and competing messages and seek to impose their truth upon the passing crowds.

But as this delightful study will reveal, Rome, that magisterial palimpsest, has never accepted a single reading of its historic meaning.

A renowned Anglophone Italianist, Richard Bosworth is Professor of History at Reading University and Winthrop Professor of History at the University of Western Australia. In 2011, he will become a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. He divides his time between Australia and England.

"[A] refreshingly original study…..With stealthy accuracy of focus, Bosworth demonstrates the ways in which Rome, during the past hundred years, has become a battleground in what he calls the ‘history wars’ fought by successive regimes, local or national." —Jonathan Keates, Literary Review

"For anyone who loves Rome, Richard Bosworth’s Whispering City is a lively journey through its modern history and its memories of its past."—Theodore K. Rabb, Times Literary Supplement

"Bosworth has an advantage over many historians of Rome in that he knows the city intimately, having explored it on foot in 1967 when he was a Cambridge PhD student, as well as being a fluent Italian speaker: this gives his book personal authenticity and small-scale detail…..Fair-minded and well researched, this is a very readable, jargon-free history which I found both instructive and informative."—Robert Carver, The Tablet

"A rich, well-documented and fascinating study. This book also takes a well-worn subject – the city of Rome and its pasts – but injects it with fresh life. Bosworth makes a detailed and convincing case for seeing Rome as the product of competing histories."—John Foot, History Today Blog

"In Whispering City, Richard Bosworth offers a matchless history of Rome over the last two centuries."—Ian Thomson, The Spectator

"Few [books] have attempted to integrate the multiple aspects of how today’s Rome was produced over the past 200 years. None that I know of is more thorough or engaging than this one... It is recommended reading for armchair flâneurs and hard-working tourists alike; don’t leave for Rome without it." —Mia Fuller, Times Higher Education 

"Something to be read – before or after a visit – that will provoke thought about histories, and the city, present and future."—Rory Steele, Canberra Times

"Whispering City: Rome and its Histories offers maybe the most sophisticated and thought-provoking study of the season."—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"Assiduously researched and always absorbing, this book should have an appeal far beyond lovers of Rome."—Charles Freeman, Blue Guides