The Serpent Coiled in Naples

Marius Kociejowski

New Yorker Best Book of 2022

An Economist Best Book of 2022


‘To write about Naples, you really need to be a poet or, even better, an antiquarian bookseller. Mr Kociejowski is both and has produced a delightful work that is as eclectic, labyrinthine, ironic and shocking as the city itself.’
John Hooper, The Economist

‘Kociejowski’s book (which takes its title from the Sicilian proverb ‘Never fear Rome the serpent lies coiled in Naples) is one of the best I have read on the ramshackle Mediterranean outpost (and I have read a few). In pages of scholarly but engagingly droll prose, Kociejowski conjures a death-haunted city, where the meaning of life is everywhere connected to what it is to die.’
Ian Thomson, The Spectator

‘[A] sprawling, labyrinthine, exuberantly discursive book … to be dipped into at leisure (whether in an armchair at home or on a terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples). And it is a holiday in itself, with all the ingredients of a first-rate one: natural wonders, the evocative remnants of a many-layered ancient culture, unfamiliar food, haunting music and an edge of scary strangeness, all of it explored in excellent company.’
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Times Literary Supplement

‘Marius Kociejowski is one of life’s great questioners [and] The Serpent Coiled in Naples takes on some of the largest questions that come with searching for this stupendous city’s soul…The experience is more of an intellectual joyride than a standard history.’
Claudia Roth Pierpont, The New Yorker



‘Kociejowski’s words pulse with the beating heart of this extraordinary city. He circumvents stereotypes and truisms and lays bare the true soul of Napoli. The Serpent Coiled in Naples is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the magic of this extraordinary city. The Serpent Coiled in Naples is more than a travelogue of one of the most confounding, mesmerising cities on the planet. It is a layered, poetic journey full of sights, sounds, and smells. Kociejowski’s book leads us not only to the heart of Naples, but to a greater understanding of our own humanity.’
Katherine Wilson, author of Only in Naples

‘Marius Kociejowski is a near-invisible narrator, so completely caught up in his quest that he walks us through the mundane veil of everyday life to encounter real story-treasure. He does not invent but records our world still aglow with metaphysical beliefs and skull cuts, taking tea with mystics in bedsits and talking to hermit-monks in caravans.’
Barnaby Rogerson, author of In Search of Ancient North Africa

‘At turns hilarious and profound, Marius Kociejowski seeks out the mythology and the reality of Naples, peeling off layer upon layer of human fragility, to discover what the ancients know all along, that the city is a metaphor for the world, its struggles, its complexities, and its contradictions.’
Diana Darke, author of My House in Damascus

‘Certain books may be likened to monuments. Just such a one is The Serpent Coiled in Naples by Marius Kociejowski. The Serpent Coiled in Naples makes for excellent armchair travelling. And it may well tempt one to visit this effervescent if dangerous hive of the South of Italy.’
The Fortnightly Review

‘Kociejowski offers up 15 discrete, thoughtful, copiously researched essays on the most consequential aspects of Neapolitan life, from its vibrant musical heritage and literary traditions to its deep culinary history, intimacy with crime, and complicated ties to the Catholic Church.’

The Serpent Coiled in Naples is the perfect read for those who wonder why Naples is so full of ambiguity and contradiction.’
Secret Trips

‘Exceptionally well-written, organised and presented’
Midwest Book Review


In recent years Naples has become, for better or worse, the new ‘destination’ in Italy. While many of its more esoteric features are on display for all to see the stories behind them remain largely hidden.

In Marius Kociejowski’s portrait of this baffling city, the serpent can be many things ― Vesuvius, the mafia-like camorra, the outlying Phlegrean Fields (which, geologically speaking, constitute the second most dangerous area on the planet). It is all these things that have, at one time or another, put paid to the higher aspirations of Neapolitans themselves.

Naples is simultaneously the city of light, sometimes blindingly so, and the city of darkness, although often the stuff of cliché. The boundary that separates death from life is porous in the extreme: the dead inhabit the world of the living and vice versa. The Serpent Coiled in Naples is a travelogue, a meditation on mortality, and much else besides.

MARIUS KOCIEJOWSKI is a poet, essayist and travel writer. Among the books he has written are The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool: A Syrian Journey (Eland, 2016) and a sequel, The Pigeon Wars of Damascus. He lives in London, England where, until recently, he worked as an antiquarian bookseller.

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