A cultural history of...

There is a type of book or study that I often look for but seldom find. In my imagination it's called "a cultural history of.." and it's a kind of travel guide to the mentality of a place. 

Countries, large regions and even cities, have a distinct mentality. It is more than "traditions" or "cultural events" and it goes beyond a collection of ethnicities, religions and sub-cultures. A place's mentality is a persistent yet invisible fabric that guides the people living there toward a certain type of recognisable macro-behaviour. It transcends individual beliefs and political views, and it applies to the newly settled just as much as to those who have been inhabiting a place for generations. 

When I wrote about California as the "land of dreams" in my previous post, I meant the distinctive DNA that ties together Hollywood with Silicon Valley, going back to the Gold Rush and passing through surfing culture of the South and counterculture of the North. A mentality is the product of a place's history and the history of the people who lived there. However, a traditional history book will only give you the input to understand a mentality. These books are normally a sequence of events and don't spend too much time trying to understand how each event is related to the next (beyond a strict causality) and how they stratify and ossify to produce a place's mentality. 

If you move to Rome today, you will see Roman ruins next to baroque fountains next to churches dating to the beginning of Christianity next to the balcony where Mussolini declared war next to a monument erected for a Piedmontese king which is also the tomb of the "unknown soldier" from the first world war. The innate sensibility of its people, their invincible cynicism, their allergy towards authority, and the sense of tragedy mixed with comedy that pervades every conversation, cannot be grasped without understanding this past. 

I wish there were more books and travel guides that could help the foreign visitor and the occasional expat to a better understanding of this "mentality". You cannot understand a place without grasping how its people think, even when they don't know they think like this.