Author uses 'Icons' to sum up a century
October 28, 1999
(CNN) -- How can you define a century? Is it just time passing, the sun rising and setting, the planets spinning?
For Italian author Giorgio Taberelli, a century can be defined by those people who represent something unique; those personalities who, whether good or evil, have earned a place in the ambiguous pages of history.
Taberelli, who lives in Milan and doesn't speak English, has written a book that tells the story of the 20th century by focusing on those people who survive in the memories of billions of men and women.
The compendium -- "Icons of the Century: Personalities for 100 Years" -- focuses on one person for each year of the century. First released in Italian, it was published in September in the United States.
Taberelli was hand-picked by Barron's book publishers, and he chose each personality featured in the book. Taberelli, 62, bills himself as a "cultural historian," and has also been an editor and writer.
"The publishing company thought of writing a book on the most famous personalities of the century," Taberelli says through a translator, "and from here on in, the choice of the personalities was born. It was a rather difficult summary to construct, and we had to exclude some rather important personalities that were not included in the mass preferences."
When asked what personalities he wished hadn't been left out, Taberelli responds, "There aren't any. I believe in the whole panorama of the book.
"It was probably the longest task I had to do, that of summarizing these personalities and excluding some," he says.
The book starts with Queen Victoria, giving a brief summary of her life and her reign:
"Perhaps Victoria was not a great queen," writes Taberelli. "Sensual but not warm-hearted, capable of strong dislikes, indifferent to culture and the arts, she often obstructed her prime ministers and was averse to novelty.
"Authoritarian, she did not follow infractions to etiquette. As a widow she hid behind a haughty reserve, not all all gracious or discreet."
The book includes personalities ranging from Freud to Madonna, Cezanne to Princess Diana, Stalin to J.R. Ewing (the fictional villain of the TV show "Dallas").
"It is a rather international perspective, without chauvinism," says Taberelli. But then he says, "My book, from year to year, decade to decade, sees the growth of the United States."
The book took Taberelli three years to write. And what does he think there is to be learned from an end-of-the-century compilation?
"First of all, we are able to reflect on each personality and reflect on his or her significance and the impact it had on this society or past societies," says Taberelli. "Also, the second most important thing we can learn is to see different personalities from different nationalities and different careers."
And accepting such difference, he says, is what makes this book unique.
"It is different," he says, "because it doesn't analyze perspective or sum up ideals for the future."
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