Places of Cycling: Giulio Einaudi, a life in literature

Einaudi grew up on a wine-producing farm in the hills south-east of Turin.

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Turin, where last week the Giro d’Italia exploded on a brutally hilly stage, is one of the spiritual homes of Italian cycling. Nestled beneath the snow-capped Alps, the capital of the Piedmont region is renowned for its elegance and civility. In the 16th century it was the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, a small but influential state tucked between France and Italy and drawing upon the culture of both countries. In 1720 the Duchy became the Kingdom of Savoy, then later the Kingdom of Sardinia. Italy’s new monarchy in the 19th century came from Turin, and for a short time it was capital of the newly unified Italy.

The Piedmontese have a reputation for being restrained, dignified, precise and perhaps a little chilly. The city is a reflection of this supposed character. Its streets are laid out in a grid pattern based on an ancient Roman template, and the architecture of the historic center combines the baroque elegance and classicism. Despite losing its political power in the early 20th century, Turin remained an economic force, forming part of a strong commercial triangle with Milan and Genoa. Much of Italy’s automotive industry is based in the city, including the headquarters of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia.

Culturally too, Turin is a powerhouse. In 1933 Giulio Einaudi founded the publishing company that would go on to play a prominent role in Italian literary life, Giulio Einaudi Editore. The son of an anti-Fascist intellectual, Einaudi grew up on a wine-producing farm in the hills south-east of Turin. He served his editorial apprenticeship with his father, publishing a political magazine that was eventually shut down by Benito Mussolini in 1935. Einaudi and his colleagues were thrown in prison for 45 days.

Vittorio Bo, Giulio Einaudi, Daniele Del Giudice, Roberto Cerati, Venezia, Fondazione Cini, 30th January 1996. (Photo: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)

But it was with his publishing house that Einaudi really made his mark. Starting in a small office on the Via Arcivescovado in Turin, Giulio Einaudi Editore scraped through the war years (Einaudi’s involvement in left-wing politics meant that he was constantly being watched by the Fascist regime, and for a while was forced into exile in Switzerland). After the war, with the Fascists gone, Giulio Einaudi Editore flourished. Offices were opened in Rome and Milan, and Einaudi gained a reputation as a finder of new literary talent. Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginsburg all began their careers at Einaudi.

Throughout the rest of the century, Einaudi presided over a growing empire, diversifying across translation, fiction, non-fiction, academia, graphic novels and DVDs. In literary terms Giulio Einaudi Editore was always pushing the boundaries; in financial terms, however, the business was often on a precipice. Einaudi was known by his staff as Il Principe (the prince) not only for his regal appearance but also his lavish spending habits. His lifestyle, and refusal to cut costs in the business, eventually took Giulio Einaudi Editore to the edge, and eventually, in 1994, the company was taken over by Mondadori, the right-wing media run by Silvio Berlusconi.

When he died in 1999, at the age of 87, Einaudi left behind him a proud legacy, more than just a business. His publishing house has been a profound influence on Italian cultural and political life. When in Rome, a city he loved as much as Turin, Einaudi would often stop for coffee in an outdoor cafe in Piazza Navona to watch the world go by, read and meet authors. What better way for us to celebrate his life than to buy a book from nearby Libreria Fahrenheit 451, find a cafe and sit down with a cappuccino or two.

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