More can be learned of a country’s character, often, from the way it makes bread or sardines than from its politics or administration. Tim Parks, whose literary and journalistic career has centered around his long residence as a teacher in Italy, has chosen Italian railroads to sketch a portrait of his adoptive country.
The result is uneven. Some parts cast a revealing though not especially new light on the Italian character; others go into tedious detail on station arrangements and the procedure for buying tickets. For long stretches the book reads like a distended magazine travel piece, leaving the reader with the suspicion that the project was padded with facts when ideas ran short.