One of my all-time favorite books about Italy is That Fine Italian Hand by Paul Hofmann. While I’ve read many other books trying to explain Italians to foreigners, I believe this book captures their particularities superbly. Paul Hofmann, a former New York Times correspondent, died in Rome this past week at 96. His books about Italy are simply treasures. My friend Joe who e-mailed me Hofmann’s obituary, rightly calls The Seasons of Rome, “a blog before its time.”
While Hofmann told incredible stories, the story of his own life was of note in and of itself. Born in Austria, as a journalist there, he fought against the rise of Nazism and later acted as an informer for the Allies while serving on the staff of the German commandants of occupied Rome during World War II. From 1970 to 1976 he was Rome bureau chief for The New York Times, and in 1978, he covered the “year of the three popes”: the death of Pope Paul VI, the brief pontificate of John Paul I and the elevation to the papacy of the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Although he became an American citizen, he lived in the city he loved so much – Rome.