Christopher Hibbert’s Garibaldi: Hero of Italian Unification is another example of why libraries and brick and mortar bookstores can never be replaced by online retailers. In fact, its an example why libraries have such an great value that even Borders or Barnes and Noble can match. You can read a book that you don’t necessarily want or need to read and would never ever purchase.
Palgrave Macmillan: 2008
Hibbert wrote a biography of one of the more interesting people I could imagine, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi was an Italian, who was banished from Italy for leading an insurrection, left for South America where he played a critical role in the independence of Uruguay and then returned to Italy, where he lead a series of unification attempts in Italy, often with the help of more political influential leaders while he saw himself as the military leader.
Garibaldi is that unique character in that he is seen as a spectacularly successful guerrilla military leader, achieving a mythical quality by his compatriots and the peasants who he claimed to be leading/serving. Hibbert’s books traces Garibaldi’s exploits after his return to Italy. He only touches on Garibaldi’s tours in South America when it has direct impact on an event in Italy, such as the death of his wife (who was from South America) or when former comrades joined his banner.
In the end, this book is interesting, and I’m better off for having read it, but its very specific focus on Garibaldi is limiting. It talks very little of the broader picture that is going on throughout Italy, the different unifaction drives that are taking place in the disparate regions and cities. It gives rather short change to Giuseppe Mazzini and Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour (more commonly known as Cavour).
The most interesting part of the book to me is when Garibaldi and 1000 followers set off for Sicily to conquer the island and restart the push for unification after it had been stopped. Its a story of ridiculous faith in an extremely charismatic man, of amazingly poor training for his soldier who yet overcome a large, better trained, better armed force and in spite of some natives siding with the Bourbons. The story is so ridiculous and illogical, the characters all bigger than life and act with unseen motivations that could only be told by Neal Stephenson. And yet, Garibaldi succeeds.
As I said above, this is story about Garibaldi, not about the Italian Unification. If you are new to the history, as I was, this is not the book to start. If you want to know much more about a thoroughly complex and interesting individual, then read this book. But find it at your library. Its not a book to reread. But its a fun one.
Three out of Five Melons!