John Hooper is a supremely able and experienced foreign correspondent who has mastered a particular subgenre of his craft: the detailed and comprehensive study of individual countries – in his case, Spain and now Italy. His book The Spaniards has gone through successive editions and has become more or less obligatory reading for students of contemporary Spain; The Italians may well do the same for Italy.
The Italians is an example of the kind of reportage pioneered, I think, by the American John Gunther in the 1940s. In its way it is a sort of travel book, but without evocative pretensions. It is dependent for its arguments upon facts and statistics, but is characterised nevertheless by a strong personal presence. The result is rather like the sort of long dispatch that I imagine a literate and imaginative British ambassador might send to the Foreign Office towards the end of his posting.
The Italians does not for a moment presume to be conclusive – inclusive, perhaps, because the whole Italian essence is presented and discussed here, but always with reservations, doubts, personal preferences and entertaining asides. It is an admirable piece of work, unassuming but authoritative. If Hooper really were a diplomat instead