Book Review: Naples Declared by Benjamin Taylor

Posted May 21, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 7 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Naples Declared by Benjamin TaylorNaples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay by Benjamin Taylor
Published by Marion Wood/Putnam on May 10, 2012
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Travel
Format: Paperback
Pages: 210
Source: the publisher

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It is a city of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, simultaneously glorious and ghastly. And it is Ben Taylor’s remarkable ability to meld these contradictions into a whole that makes this the exciting and original book it is. He takes his stroll around the bay with the acute sensitivity of a lover, the good humor of a friend, and the wisdom of a seeker who has immersed himself in all aspects of this contrapuntal culture. His curiosity leads him to many byways, both real and metaphoric, and his passion for this ancient city and its people becomes, in his graceful prose and amusing anecdotes, irresistibly contagious.

(from the author's website)

If I could only visit one foreign country before I die, that country would be Italy. I am fascinated by Italy’s architecture, culture, food, and artwork. The Italian language is music to my ears. Everyone in my family has been there but me; my sister lived in Florence for a semester during college and my parents went to visit her. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it there, but it’s a trip that I often daydream about making.

When Naples Declared was offered to me for review, I accepted without hesitation. I’ve read a lot about Italy–both fiction and nonfiction–but I couldn’t remember ever reading anything about Naples specifically. With a subtitle like A Walk Around the Bay, I was expecting the usual travel book: “here are the best places to go, this is what you’ll see, here are the best places to eat.” Instead, Benjamin Taylor takes the reader on a more historical journey in order to explain the why’s of that which a traveler in Naples will see and experience. At the beginning of Naples Declared, readers will find a chronology of Naples’ history, starting with an entry for Circa 1800-1600 B.C. and ending with an entry for 2011. The bulk of the book goes on to explain this chronology in more detail, as it pertains to certain sites and attitudes in Naples. While Taylor takes his walk around the bay, he details the ways in which the (sometimes confusing) history of Naples has resulted in its very diverse cultural practices, religious practices, architecture, and artwork.

Sadly enough–and by my own fault–I am not much of an expert on European history. I know the basics and most of the major events, but when it comes down to the details of who conquered, owned, and/or ruled different countries throughout the history of Europe, I’m lost. Because of that, I found myself a little lost or confused through certain parts of Naples Declared. It is obvious that a ton of research went into this book–much of that research done in Naples, itself–and I feel like I should have learned more, but much of the history just left me confused. Naples Declared reads more like an academic travel book, if you will. Now, that is not a bad thing by any means–I love to learn and it is clear that I should be learning more about European history (Italy’s history, specifically)–but that does mean that I will need to read this book again and take the time to look up anything that I don’t fully understand while I’m reading. I learned quite a bit while reading Naples Declared, but I know I would have found it much more interesting and much less confusing if I’d done the extra research the first time around.

It is clear that Benjamin Taylor loves the city of Naples and put a lot of time and effort into the writing of Naples Declared (sixteen years of research and eleven stays in Naples, to be exact). He does write with passion, and in a clear and concise way. Included at the back of the book is Taylor’s list of sources for the historical information contained in Naples Declared, and I think I’ll be looking into some of those books before I read this one again. If you’re interested in learning more about Naples, Italy, I do recommend Taylor’s well researched and thorough account–but if you’re not already somewhat familiar with European/Italian history, be prepared to do a little extra research of your own while you’re reading Naples Declared.

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  • Hello Heather,

    I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award.

    Do check out http://logo-ligi.com/2012/05/21/sunshine-award/ for rules on accepting

    • Thank you so much! I’m honored.

  • I’ve never heard of this book but will definitely check it out! I love, love, love Italy! It’s my 2nd home really, because I have lived there a couple of times and have family over there. My grandmother was actually from Naples, so I have a soft spot for the city. It’s probably mentioned in the book – a lot of people look down on Naples. They really don’t know what they are missing! I’ve been there a number of times now and feel very at home (although it can be a bit of a culture shock to people used to other other Italian cities!)

    One really good book I can recommend is Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis. It’s about his experiences as an Intelligence Office in the Second World War. It’s a time that my grandmother used to speak a lot about (she married an British officer the same year!) It really captures the spirit of the Italian culture and shows the terrible circumstances people found themselves in.

    I really hope you get to Italy one day! It’s so worth it to go! 😀

    • My paternal grandfather was Italian, but I can’t remember what part of Italy he and his family came to the states from. I vow to make it there some day. Thank you so much for the book suggestion–I have added it to my list and will be sure to read it, hopefully sometime in the near future.

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