Jean-Yves Frétigné

(Armand Colin, 320 pages, 2017)

Today, Antonio Gramsci is widely celebrated as one of the greatest social thinkers and Marxist political theorists of the 20th century. First published in the 1950s, his Prison Notebooks continue to exert a strikingly diverse and lasting influence. Jean-Yves Frétigné, a specialist in Italian history, believes that too often Gramsci’s legacy has been reduced to a series of key words. How do we to restore the richness and depth of Gramsci’s intellectual journey beyond the routine invocation of a few of his most well known concepts? Frétigné’s answer is to comb through the events of Gramsci’s life, and to scrupulously retrace the evolution of his thought and political engagements within the context of his times.

 Frétigné retraces the successive phases in Gramsci’s life: from his impoverished youth in Sardinia, to his student years in the political and social ferment of Turin, to his departure to Moscow in 1922, and ultimately to his death in 1937. We first discover Gramsci as a brilliant young man who endured years of extreme poverty, solitude, and physical suffering. Frétigné pays a particularly close attention to Gramsci’s early intellectual influences, and shows how his knowledge of marxism came relatively late, in the wake of  Russian revolution. While Gramsci did not have any oratory talent, he was a prolific writer, and first made a name for himself as a ‘marginal and original’ socialist journalist.  In the wake of the Russian revolution, Gramsci threw himself wholeheartedly into political activism, a path that would eventually lead him to become one of the co-founders of the Italian Communist Party.

Frétigné offers a comprehensive account of the complex relationships Gramsci had with both the official Moscow line and his supporters in Italy and abroad. With remarkable precision, Jean-Yves Frétigné reconstructs the material and intellectual conditions in which Gramsci composed his famous Prison Notebooks. He includes a detailed study of the correspondence and network that Gramsci maintained from the ten interminable years of his incarceration in Mussolini’s jails, up until his death, a mere few days after his release.

Antonio Gramsci: To Live is to Resist is the meticulously researched biography of a man committed to translating the Russian experience into a project of political renewal adapted to his homeland, Italy. In doing so, and under harsh and tragic circumstances, Gramsci left behind an intellectual heritage still relevant to this day.


Jean-Yves Frétigné is a French historian and associate researcher at The Center for History at Sciences Po.  He specializes in nineteenth and twentieth centuries Italian history. His most recent book is Histoire de la Sicile: des origines à nos jours (Fayard, 2018). His other publications include a critically acclaimed biography of Giuseppe Mazzini (Fayard, 2006) and Les Conceptions éducatives de Giovanni Gentile: Entre élitisme et fascisme (L'Harmattan, 2007).