Anglophone students of modern Italian history can wait decades for classic works to appear in translation. In what may be an extreme example, almost a half century passed before Federico Chabod’s history of Italian foreign policy came out in English. The wait for Alessandro Portelli’s outstanding oral history of Terni, the historic center of steel production in modern Italy, has only taken thirty years, perhaps because Portelli produced the English translation himself. Regardless, the publication in English of Biografia di una città (1985), together with the shorter, follow-up study of Terni, which Portelli published in Italy in 2008, is nothing less than a cause for celebration. From start to finish, Portelli’s collective portrait of Italian steelworkers and their town is fascinating.

In a short but brilliant introduction on the sources and methods of oral history, Portelli prepares the reader for the...

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