"In the early 1820s, if you had asked the best-informed observers where the intellectual life of Europe was at its most intense, they might have given a range of answers—Paris, Weimar—but none would have named Recanati, a small provincial town in the Papal States of Italy. Yet Giacomo Leopardi—not yet known as the greatest modern Italian poet—was living in Recanati, undergoing what must count as one of the supreme intellectual passions of the nineteenth century. As he read his way voraciously through ancient and modern literature, Leopardi developed a philosophical understanding of human life and civilization that ranks as one of the most profound, and profoundly disquieting, of modern times.”