A country’s transportation system can be surprisingly illuminating, and in Italian Ways (W.W. Norton, $15.95) Tim Parks takes the Italian railroad region by region, telling the country’s history by that of its railway. His engaging and informative tour includes a look at nonsensical laws that are as frequently enforced as they are blatantly ignored, and the political and economic implications of the controversial form of transportation (yes, controversial!). From the tickets that state they require stamping but in fact don’t, to the Sicily-bound train that has to be dismantled, carriage by carriage (a twelve-hour process), and ferried to the island because there is no bridge, the reader sees what Parks means when he says that “Italy is not for beginners.” All this is riveting, and Parks makes the book unputdownable with his own personal accounts of traveling by Italian rail. Here are first-hand glimpses homecoming soldiers smothered in maternal kisses and the loud and boisterous soccer fans waving team flags from the windows—you will walk away from this book with a few laughs and a deeper understanding of Italy’s people and culture.
Where did Ronaldo learn his signature shuffle? Who first developed the Brazilian style? And why are Italian fans called tifosi? Get ready for World Cup fever by reading Who Invented the Bicycle Kick?: Soccer’s Greatest Legends and Lore (Wm. Morrow, $14.99),by Paul Simpson and Uli Hesse. This compact book, packed with trivia, will regale you with everything you always wanted to know—and never knew you were missing—about the global history of soccer. Heroes and bad boys; personalities and hidden talents; unforgettable matches and unbelievable shots; original maneuvers and unusual nicknames; curses and streaks—it’s all in here.
Thomas Dyja’s comprehensive history, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream (Penguin, $18), demonstrates that as went the Windy City, so went the nation. Every fascinating chapter uses anecdotes, data, and colorful characters to illustrate Chicago’s leading role in America’s progress from circa 1938 to 1960. It was the time when Mies van der Rohe’s revolutionary and rigorous designs shaped the Illinois Institute of Technology while Lazlo Miholy’s preached free-spirited inspiration at the Institute of Design. Studs Terkel walked the streets collecting amazing stories and songs for his broadcasts. Gwendolyn Brooks and Nelson Algren chronicled the struggles of the nation’s marginalized while Mike Nichols and Elaine May laid the groundwork for five decades of comic brilliance. Mahalia Jackson sang transcendent Gospel and Muddy Waters’s electric blues reminded listeners that hell ain’t so far below. But this is just a sample—Dyja’s rich cultural tapestry has much, much more.