Pen in hand

Books published by diplomats: the Italian case


         Diplomats are born with a pen in their hand. They write countless reports, analyses and memos during their 35 - 40 years of service, and are forced to acquire a certain familiarity with the pen or nowadays with the computer. Therefore, writing becomes a daily activity not to say a routine. This continuous engagement with writing sometimes sparks a desire to compose something more permanent and deep than the usual fleeting report, likely to be read only by a close circle of colleagues at the workplace. A scarcely known side of diplomats, however, is the books they publish.

The current essay presents and analyzes books published by Italian diplomats from the post-war period to today. The more than six-hundred titles give a broader and more varied picture than one might imagine, bringing out not only their talent for describing situations and characters, but also the broad, diverse interests that distinguish the members of this profession.

This volume also takes a look at relations between diplomacy and literature, examining the primary moments and protagonists of this binomial.

Many diplomats have published books while in active service, others only after retirement. These books are often autobiographies, professional memoirs or historical essays. What is the value of such books, for whom are they destined, who are the readers, how do researchers view them? Obviously, it is difficult to express a single judgment on such a wide and varied body of work, but it is possible to define some trends.

The answer to the first question is perhaps the most difficult and above all the most subjective. Perhaps, we could say in general that the more a book has to offer to its readers, the greater its worth. In Italy too many books are published for  the extremely small number of readers. As a result many books have limited circulation and, shortly after their publication, become impossible to find. The books considered in this study are no exception, being found often only in libraries or in second hand bookshops after long and sometimes exhausting searches.

The potential audience of these books can be identified according to genre. Simply stated, the memoirs and historical essays (which constitute the most of the books covered by this study) are addressed to a wide public ranging from scholars and other diplomats, to general readers interested in history and biography. A small circle of readers purchases most of the books. The essays on international relations are addressed to a wider public which includes all those who want to stay abreast of current events. This last feature is the main limitation of some of these essays. They often age very rapidly and are destined to become obsolete as a result of dramatic and unexpected events, especially in the last decade of the 20th century. We should not forget that in this genre diplomats often compete with journalists, “forever rivals, but so dissimilar,”[1] and also condemned to the same fate of working “with pen in hand.”

Finally, with regard to fiction (novels, short stories, and poetry), the works are addressed to a small audience of “curious” or affectionate readers. This genre is the most common, and the reader is left alone in a sea of authors and titles.

The bibliography of books published by Italian diplomats in the foreign service from the postwar period to the present is quite extensive, and includes 673 titles. All the titles chosen for this study are shown in section 12, including the complete bibliography.

In section 14 we have divided all the titles into nine different groups and we have translated all the titles into English.

We do not presume to have compiled a list of every book published by an Italian diplomat[2]. In some cases the limited circulation or the use of pseudonyms impeded our work. The purpose of this study is instead to provide an initial tool – we hope not too incomplete – for further analyses of the whole corpus of books published by Italian diplomats since the end of the Second World War.

A very rigorous and complete study has already been conducted on diplomatic books published in the period between 1861 and 1915.[3] However, in looking forward to possible future editions, we are very thankful to all those, be they authors or readers, who wish to point out omissions, gaps, and flaws.

The period covered by this analysis (1946-2005) does not permit us to include some outstanding Italian diplomatic writers belonging to an earlier era. Among these we should mention Costantino Nigra,[4] Carlo Dossi[5] and Daniele Varè.[6] They are personalities whose literary fame has extended beyond the narrow readership and reaches a much wider audience.

In looking through the list of authors and titles, one will notice that, in many cases, the topics refer directly or indirectly to people, problems, or experiences that took place while the diplomat-author was on active duty. After all, the problems and the places with which the diplomat comes into contact during his career are often so varied to provide a great deal of material that might inspire the writing of a book, and the author is often tempted to recount true stories to strangers.

From the published works of numerous authors it is often possible to detect the places in which they served. A prolonged sojourn in a particular place stimulates the study of related topics and issues. Some diplomats try to share with others their experiences or the results of their research. This type of book is often written after completion of a diplomatic posting.

Several examples illustrate this trend. For instance, during his mission, Gian Paolo Tozzoli published books on the Swiss (Gli svizzeri visti da uno straniero, Edizioni Nemi, 1966) and on Albania (Il caso Albania. L’ultima frontiera dello stalinismo, FrancoAngeli, 1989).

Mario Sica in his book Manigold non fiorì (Ponte delle Grazie, 1991), describes the failure of an Italian peace initiative in Vietnam between 1965 and 1966, and in his Operazione Somalia (Marsilio, 1994) recounts the last two years of the Siad Barre dictatorship which he experienced first-hand as Ambassador of Italy to Mogadishu in 1990 -1991. Somalia also inspired Claudio Pacifico, who wrote Somalia. Ricordi di un mal d’Africa italiano (Edimond, 1996). Pacifico served there in the same period as Mario Sica.  Alberto Indelicato, the last Ambassador of Italy to the German Democratic Republic (DDR), has written one of the most important Italian books on the DDR entitled Martello e compasso. Vita agonia e morte della Germania comunista (Luni Editrice, 1989). Sergio Romano has written several books on Russia that were published after his service as Ambassador to Moscow . These include La Russia in bilico (Il Mulino, 1989), in which he analizes various aspects of the Gorbachev reform, Il declino dell’URSS come potenza mon­diale e le sue conseguenze (Longanesi, 1990), and Viaggio intorno alla Russia (1993). Before him, Federico Sensi published Avvenne in Russia (Rusconi, 1982),[7] a memoir of the period he spent as Ambassador to Moscow .

In some cases the diplomat’s link with the country or with the continent where he served lasts long after the mission is over, as if to continue the analysis of certain situations. This is the case of Ludovico Incisa di Camerana, who wrote a book on Brazil (Il Brasile, ERI 1969) and many years later wrote on Latin American issues with an extensive work on the Caudillos (I Caudillos. Biografia di un continente, Corbaccio, 1994).

Books usually concern experiences and events the authors have experienced directly. Such books often provide precious material for the investigation and study of a historical topic. Many researchers have underlined the importance in this field of the “narrative source”, particularly memoirs and diplomatic diaries. Memoirs are currently deemed to be a source of a great importance in the area of historical writing.[8]

Publishing a book is by no means an easy task for a diplomat, and publishers are not necessarily willing to introduce a text to the market simply because it has been written by a diplomat. Paolo Vita-Finzi’s account of the events surrounding the publication of his book on Peron[9]  is emblematic of the difficulties diplomats encounter:

 I tried to offer my manuscript to some of the largest publishing houses. In 1972 Peron had been plotting for years, from his house in Madrid , to regain power in a country devastated by guerrilla warfare and inflation. I had several indications that the moment of his victory was near. But the publishers, who probably had a very approximate knowledge of Argentina , unanimously rejected my book. According to them, Peron was dead and buried, and my work was of no interest to anybody. Just then, the Government of Buenos Aires agreed to reinstate the full civil right of the General, allowing his return to Argentina after 17 years of exile, as well as the possibility to give interviews to union leaders, and to have tumultuous demonstrations in his favor. [...] If released by an important publisher and adequately publicized, the volume would have aroused curiosity, sold many copies, and been translated into various languages. But the modest Pan Editrice which undertook the project didn't have the capacity to widely distribute it. Despite good reviews, my work had little impact, and subsequent biographers of this odd personality have not used it.[10]

Not many diplomats have published books before entering the service. Nevertheless, we should mention some of them, including Roberto Ducci, who had already published three books on history[11] before passing the foreign service exam in 1937; and Andrea Cagiati who, as a student published the first edition of his La diplomazia dalle origini al XVII secolo in 1944.

The unique genre and style of most of the books in this study reflect the personalities of the authors and, in a more general sense, they also indicate the changing role of the diplomats and the position they hold within modern society. On this subject, the words of Roberto Gaja seem to be appropriate:

 There is no doubt that long ago, the diplomatic career constituted the upper echelon of the Government Ministries, and that during the course of half a century – not only in Italy – its prestige has suffered a collapse. [...] As early as the 1950s, Quaroni, who was unquestionably one of the finest and most courageous minds of our diplomatic corps, would write that, in the theatrum mundi, the diplomat may no longer have a place on stage, but at least he was in the first row. Thirty years later, even Quaroni’s statement no longer seems to be completely true. Nowadays, in fact, the diplomat has to struggle to find a seat in the parterre, from where he can appreciate or criticize the show and then report back  to those who couldn’t attend or couldn't purchase the ticket. [12]

 Renato Bova Scoppa gives an interesting description of the diplomat’s role:

 The diplomat should provide precise elements for an objective evaluation and also, with due caution, attempt to predict events, while trying at all costs to avoid prophecies like those of Nostradamus. The primary problem is the collection of data. The main activity of the diplomat, in fact, consists in gathering notes, information and news that will enable him to report with absolute adherence to reality, be it political or economic. Improvisation is the worst enemy of real diplomacy. It’s true that  modern life forces even  diplomats to give concise summaries, as is true for journalists, but woe unto the diplomat who succumbs to the journalistic imagination. [13]

 While Roberto Ducci has written, “An ambassador, or at least a mediocre ambassador, is tempted to be  diplomatic (in the worst sense of the word) with his own government, too: he tries to guess what it likes and conceals what it does not.”[14]

Methodology adopted for the research


[1] Definition used by Roberto Gaja in the article Professione: diplomatico (1945 – 1990), published in the magazine “Affari Esteri”, n. 94, April 1992.

[2] In order to update the book with all the titles that will be identified after the publication of the research, the authors have set up an Internet page at:

[3] In 1986 a working group lead by Prof. Fabio Grassi published the volume La formazione della diplomazia nazionale (1861 - 1915) – schede bio-bibliografiche, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Rome. In the volume, besides indications about the careers of every diplomat in the period under consideration, there is also a list of all the writings (both articles and books) published by the authors. The subsequent study, edited by Vincenzo Pellegrini, “Materiali per una bibliografia del Ministero degli Affari Esteri”, published by the Istituto  Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato in 1999, is also of particolar relevance. This research contains over 4000 bibliographical records on the publications (not only monographs, but also articles that appeared in periodicals and magazines) of the officials who entered the foreign service  in the years 1919-1943, and it constitutes the ideal continuation of Prof. Grassi’s work. Both texts represent unique sources for researchers and all other with an interst in Italian diplomats and diplomacy.

[4] Nigra has developed a notable activity as a philologist and linguist. Among his books recently reprinted are Canti popolari del Piemonte, Einaudi, 1974, a fundamental study of folk music, and Le poesie, Zanichelli, Bologna , 1961. 

[5] Carlo Alberto Felice Pisani Dossi (this is his complete name) has published numerous books, some of which have recently been reprinted. Some titles are:  Vita of Alberto Pisani, Garzanti,1999, L‘altrieri, Garzanti, 1996 and Note azzurre, Adelphi, 1988. On this important personality Enrico Serra's book Alberto Pisani Dossi diplomatico, FrancoAngeli, 1987, includes some unpublished documents. 

[6] Varè is best known for his of memoir, Il diplomatico sorridente, Mondadori, 1941 (reprinted several times). This book was originally published in English as Laughing diplomat, J. Murray, London 1938. Some novels, particularly those with a Chinese background, are still on sale in Great Britain , as for instance “The temple of costly experience”, Black Swan, London , 1988. Varè also published the two-volume study “Storia d’Inghilterra” (History of England), R. Bemporad e figlio, Firenze , 1923.

[7] This book was first published in French, with the title Russie amour (Éditions France-Empire, 1980) and subsequently translated by the author into Italian. 

[8] See Enrico Serra in Manuale di storia dei trattati e di diplomazia, ISPI, Milan, 1980, p. 305.

[9] Peron, mito e realtà, Pan Editore, Milano, 1973.

[10] See Paolo Vita-Finzi, Giorni Lontani. Note e memorie, Il Mulino, 1989, pagg. 601-602.

[11] To know more about these early publications (Un conflitto tra Francia e Corsica nella Roma del sec. XVIII, 1931 under the pseudonym of Boninsegna, Prima era di Napoleone, 1993 and finally Il territorio del Bacino della Saar, 1934, subject of the thesis for the degree in Jurisprudence). See, by the same author, the autobiographical book  La bella gioventù, 1996, pagg. 39 - 52) 

[12] Roberto Gaja, Professione diplomatico, in “Affari Esteri”, n. 94, April 1992. 

[13] Renato Bova Scoppa, La pace impossibile, Rosenberg and Sellier, Turin, 1961, p. 9. 

[14] Roberto Ducci, I contemporanei, Editip, Turin, 1976, p. 89

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