Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History

This morning I finished reading Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History, by John Julius Cooper (Viscount Norwich, thus known as John Julius Norwich).  This book attempts to cover all of Sicily's history from antiquity to modernity, and generally does so. The book really begins in the Greek era, when Sicily was central to the imperial ambitions of Athens, and in common with other the rest of the Greek world, minor city states struggled and battled against one another. In some ways this never changes, as one power after another takes over the island, from Carthage, all the way to Piedmont in the Italian unification.

Norwich clearly knows certain periods of history well, and enjoys discussing them in greater detail than others. As might be deduced from his CV, Normans and the Norman kingdom of Sicily figure heavily, but he also apparently is quite taken with Nelson and the Hamiltons, and spends an inordinate amount of time discussing their various permutations and interactions with the court of Naples.  This section was a hard slog, and it took me several days to get though. In this book at least Norwich is clearly writing a "popular" history, rather than a scholarly one, and opinions, anecdotes and partisanship run throughout. [short, non-comprehensive list of things Norwich does not like: Napoleon, peasants, Spain, Monty, Mussolini]

I will say that I knew very little about Sicily prior to reading this book, and I certainly enjoyed most of it, but the Bourbon period is a hard slog, and the post unification era (150 years) is breezed through in just a few chapters which was very disappointing (the book effectively ends with the occupation of Sicily in 1943 [Operation Husky, which my Grandfather participated in as an ordinance officer]), giving little feel for contemporary people, and no idea what to expect for the future. So, I would recommend the first portion of this book unreservedly, but if you have little interest in court machinations of the Bourbons during the Napoleonic era, you are probably better off skipping that section.

Now as for wargaming, Sicily was a battleground for the Peloponnesian war, Punic wars, and Second World War, so there are plenty of opportunities to have a battle or two set there. Operation Husky in particular seems to be pretty interesting, with its "midwar" setting, and mix of forces present.

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