In This Review

Material Nation: A Consumer's History of Modern Italy
Material Nation: A Consumer's History of Modern Italy
By Emanuela Scarpellini
Oxford University Press, USA, 2011, 352 pp


Foreigners associate Italy with the grandeur of its art and the simplicity of la dolce vita. Yet anyone who has lived there knows that Italians, like people everywhere, are materialists at heart. The desire to consume spurs the crassness and corruption, as well as the creativity, that are typically Italian. Despite its reputation for bureaucratic incompetence and peripheral poverty, Italy is one of the world’s great economic success stories, rising from postwar penury to become a great industrial powerhouse. Scarpellini observes that it was Italian, rather than American or French, craftsmanship that truly democratized luxury, spawning such brands as Armani, Ferragamo, and Gaggia. Yet many Italians, glued to television sets and shopping in supermarkets, have sunk to the cultural lowest common denominator. This book’s heavy academic prose and plainly descriptive style do not quite capture the paradoxical coexistence of beauty and ugliness that is modern Italy. But Material Nation nonetheless gives readers a fresh perspective on this endlessly fascinating country.