A Great and Terrible World

The Pre-Prison Letters (1908-1926) of Antonio Gramsci



ISBN: 9781907103964 Categories: ,

Format: Paperback

Publication date: October 1, 2014

Page extent: 384

68 in stock

This collection of letters written by Antonio Gramsci before he was imprisoned vividly evokes the ‘great and terrible world’ in which he lived. It also includes rarely seen photographs.

This collection of letters shows Gramsci beginning to form the theoretical concepts that come to fuller fruition in the Prison Notebooks, but they also give an essential and rounded picture of Gramsci’s development, politically, intellectually and emotionally – the latter especially through letters to his family and wife Jul’ka.

The letters constitute a fascinating insight into the period, both with regard to the Communist International and to Italian politics. The volume includes the famous letter of 1926 in which Gramsci criticises the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party for their handling of internal opposition.

The approximately 200 letters include some newly found and published for the first time. The collection begins with letters to Gramsci’s family as a student in Cagliari and ends with the last letter he wrote before his arrest in 1926. It includes a general introduction, a guide to the main personalities involved, and additional contextual information for each chapter.

General introduction

1. School and home in Sardinia – FREE CHAPTER
2. University student in Turin
3. Revolutionary Journalist: L’Avanti! and L’Ordine Nuovo
5. Comintern leader in Moscow
6. Vienna: towards the new PCI leadership
7. Rome I: Political upheaval, family matters
8. Rome II: The last months of freedom

Note on the translation
Note on main characters

‘This collection of Gramsci’s early correspondence provides new insight into his life and work. Through these letters, we follow the development of Gramsci’s own thought and his involvement with the international communist movement. This book will prove an indispensable resource, not only to Gramsci scholars, but to anyone interested in the history of the left more widely.’

Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism and Ghosts Of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures


‘This is a meticulous translation of a selection of Gramsci’s pre-prison letters with an extensive introduction that places them in their historical context. These letters furnish fascinating new insights into both his personal and political life. Gramsci the man and Gramsci the politician emerge in new depth and detail. The volume is an invaluable asset to anyone interested in better understanding his ideas and his humanity.’

Professor Anne Showstack Sassoon, author of Gramsci and Contemporary Politics

‘This present publication therefore plugs an important gap. Not only does it help us to understand the developing personality of Gramsci the man, and the depths of his personal relationships – thus affording essential context to the prison letters, many of which relate to personal matters; but it also provides a background political commentary and insight …’

‘In an extensive Introduction, Derek Boothman provides biographical, historical and political background to the letters, essential in order to understand the context. The many end-notes for the Introduction and for the individual chapters, plus the select bibliography and the notes on the main characters and organisations, indicate the care and scholarship undertaken in preparing this collection. Places where the translated text differs from previous versions, or from previous Italian collections, are clearly explained and justified. The book is thoroughly recommended …’

Martin Levy, ‘Plugging an Important Gap for Studies of Gramsci’, Communist Review 76


‘The letters testify to the richness of Gramsci’s experience as an activist and leader during the tumultuous years of the revolutionary crisis from the World War One until 1926 when he was thrown into prison. If there was any doubt, they show his analytic skills were well developed before his prison years. They give us deeply moving insights into his difficult personal life, but they also shed fascinating light onto his political ideas and the course of his development. This runs counter to much of the received wisdom.’

Chris Nineham, Counterfire


‘Those who only know Gramsci through the Prison Notebooks will find a more rounded picture here. The letters show us Gramsci the human being, through his relationships with his family and above all, with Julia Shucht, “Jul’ka”, his partner and comrade.’

‘This volume is essential for anyone interested in Gramsci, the man and his ideas, Italian history, or the early history of the PCI and the Communist International. It contains some letters published for the first time. Derek Boothman’s introduction provides useful historical context for the letters and his translation and notes are meticulous.’

Bruce Robinson, NW Labour History Journal 40


‘The great strength of Boothman’s book, to my mind at least, is that it brings to light in a manner that the current English language anthologies do not, the extent to which Gramsci was immersed in the politics and strategy of the United Front in his pre-prison years and committed to its key objective of winning over the working masses – and particularly the rural masses.’

‘Those familiar with Derek Boothman’s Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks will not be surprised to find the same thorough and engaging scholarship in translation and editorial clarity and explanation that characterized that work in the introduction and critical apparatus that accompanies this volume.’

‘For Anglophone scholars of Gramsci, the book fills an important gap in the literature and will sit nicely alongside the late Frank Rosengarten’s Letters from Prison. Scholars of the Comintern too should find space for this important and most welcome publication.’

Mark McNally, Twentieth Century Communism 10


‘Besides being a long-awaited translation, this book constitutes an original contribution to the existing scholarship on Antonio Gramsci.’

‘Boothman is a recognized expert in this kind of mediation between philological research,’

‘The extremely detailed and yet highly readable introduction highlights the importance of these letters for our understanding of Gramsci’s life and work.’

‘the years before his arrest are fundamental to our understanding of his intellectual trajectory in all of its multiple facets. Those interested in Italian cultural and literary history will find here an English translation of—and essential background information on—Gramsci’s correspondence with Trotsky about the Italian Futurists’

Alessandro Carlucci, Modern Language Review, Vol 3(2)