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The Heart of Italy

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Editor: Chris Manganaro

copyright 20012 Art of Living, PrimaMedia,Inc

It is not uncommon to have a love affair with Italy. Simply looking at books or movies will reveal that there are many people who have had such experiences. While this means that many understand this feeling that Italy creates, not everyone accepts it simply at face value.

James Ernest Shaw has written the book An Italian Journey: A Harvest of Revelations in the Olive Groves of Tuscany in part to discuss his own ideas on what makes Italy and its people tick. What makes them so different and in that way, what is it about Italy that is so attractive to people. He does this while pursuing work on farms where he helps by harvesting olives. He has numerous goals in the book including learning Italian and in his trek through six farms, he finds himself in many different situations.

Due to the fact that there is more than one focus to the book, it often changes subject quite quickly yet it is handled well in most aspects. The book is nicely put together with a map and quotes that tie in to each chapter and add a little texture to his writing. The author does try not to repeat himself for the most part, but there are repetitive moments sprinkled throughout, especially toward the end.


When focusing on his time traveling by bike and seeing the sights, the book is a delightful little travelogue. He does a wonderful job of describing scenery and people he meets and the challenges of traveling by bike. The reader will even find that he is able to fuse together many of his goals in this section of the book. Shaw’s adventure may even make one rethink the way that they travel, though, maybe not all of us would be able to bike the way he does. Either way, it makes you think.

If you are interested in farming, there is a lot of talk on it in this book as well. Perhaps at times, the details may be too much for regular readers, but he makes sure to stress the importance of farming so the reader becomes concerned as well. We also become more engrossed with farming because we are so intimately introduced to the characters of the farmers that he encounters. The plight becomes even more grounded in reality when we see lives effected by it. The reader will likely walk away with a deeper understanding of farming from reading this book.


While Shaw does make many good points about Italy, Italians, and life in general, he does lose his universality, especially towards the end of the book. At this point, he is leaving Italy and lets religion take over as the focus. Specifically, his own beliefs and the way he sees things. Basically, it feels a bit preachy and is likely to lose some readers. He does try to keep it within a certain realm of understanding, but because it is almost the sole focus of the last two chapters, it may put some people off. Having it at the end may leave a bad taste in one’s mouth depending on the reader.

Shaw tries to get to the heart of Italy through Tuscany. He feels that he has found something in his journey, but it is likely that every journey people take would yield different results. At least, he seems to have found an answer of his own. Overall, it is a book that has its ups and downs just like the hills of Tuscany.


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