14 March 2019

14 March

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – publisher

Accidental death of an aristocratic activist

Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a leading European publisher and one of Italy’s richest men, died on this day in 1972 after being blown up while trying to ignite a terrorist bomb on an electricity pylon at Segrate near Milan. It was a bizarre end to the life and career of a man who had helped revolutionise Italian book publishing. He became famous for his decision to translate and publish Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago after the manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union, where it had been banned on the grounds of being anti-Soviet. This was an event that shook the Soviet empire and led to Pasternak winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Feltrinelli also started the first chain of book shops in Italy, which still bear his name. As a lifelong supporters of the political Left, however, he was an advocate of guerrilla activity in Italy on behalf of the working classes. Read more…


Victor Emmanuel II

The first King to rule over a united Italy

King Victor Emmanuel II was born Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso on this day in 1820 in Turin. He was proclaimed the first King of a united Italy in 1861 by the country’s new Parliament and in 1870 after the French withdrew from Rome he entered the city and set up the new Italian capital there. The Italian people called him Padre della Patria, Father of the Fatherland. It was Victor Emmanuel who in 1852 appointed Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour as Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia and Cavour who masterminded the monarch’s campaign to rule over a united Italy. Victor Emmanuel soon became the symbol of the Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement in the 19th century. He supported Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand in 1860 which resulted in the fall of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and gave him control over the southern part of the country. Read more…


Giovanni Schiaparelli - astronomer

Discoveries sparked belief there was life on Mars

The astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, whose observations in the late 19th century gave rise to decades of popular speculation about possible life on Mars, was born on this day in 1835 in Savigliano, about 60km (37 miles) south of Turin. Schiaparelli worked for more than 40 years at the Brera Observatory in Milan, most of that time as its director. It was in 1877 that he made the observations that were to cause so much excitement, a year notable for a particularly favourable 'opposition' of Mars, when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up so that Mars and the Sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth, making the surface of Mars easier to see. Schiaparelli was convinced he could see a network of links between his so-called 'seas' which he described as "canali".  Later, notably as a result of the work of another Italian astronomer, Vincenzo Cerulli, astronomers developed a consensus that the "canals" were an optical illusion although the public hung on to the notion of life on Mars until halfway through the 20th century. Read more...


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