Antonio Gramsci, deputy and secretary of the Communist Party, was arrested in Rome on November 8, 1926, in flagrant violation of parliamentary immunity. On June 4, 1928, the special court for the defense of the state, established by the exceptional fascist laws, sentenced him to more than 20 years of imprisonment.
Already after his arrest, during the period of confinement in Ustica and later in the prison of San Vittore in Milan, he expressed the desire to start a systematic study on historical and literary topics, but the permission to write was granted him only in the January 1929, while he was detained in the Turi di Bari penal house (serial number 7047).
On February 8 of that year, he drew up a first list of topics concerning Italian history, the role of intellectuals, popular literature and other philosophical, historiographical and political "questions". He frequently mentioned his studies and her notes in letters sent to his sister-in-law Tatiana Schucht - and through her to his friend Piero Sraffa - and to his wife Giulia, who lived in Moscow with their children Delio and Giuliano. Until 1932 he also devoted himself to translations from German, Russian and English. After having noted and cataloged the magazines and books he was allowed to read in prison for about three years, he began to rearrange the notes in new notebooks which he defined as "special" because they were dedicated to a single topic (The philosophy of Benedetto Croce, Il Risorgimento Italian, Noterelle on the politics of Machiavelli, Americanism and Fordism, etc.), erasing the previous drafts with long strokes of the pen. Due to the worsening of his health conditions, in November 1933 he was transferred to a clinic in Formia, where he could only resume work in the second half of 1934, dedicating himself above all to the compilation of monographic notebooks. Having obtained semi-release in October 1934, the following summer he was hospitalized in Rome in the Quisisana clinic assisted by his sister-in-law. He died on April 27, 1937, a few days after regaining his freedom, at the age of 46.
Upon his death, the 33 notebooks were taken over by Tatiana Schucht who, before sending them to Moscow, cataloged and numbered them with Roman numerals. The manuscripts returned to Italy on March 3, 1945 and from them the six volumes of the first edition of the Prison Notebooks published by the Einaudi publishing house between 1948 and 1951 were taken. In 1975 they were republished by Einaudi in the critical edition edited by the Institute Gramsci. The National Edition of Antonio Gramsci's writings, published by the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia, provides for their subdivision into Translation Notebooks, Miscellaneous Notebooks and Special Notebooks.
The originality and richness of Gramscian reflections is testified by the growing number of translations of the Notebooks and by the over 20,000 titles in 41 languages recorded by the Gramscian Bibliography.
The numbering in Roman numerals was applied by Tatiana Schucht at the death of Gramsci; the one in Arabic numbers indicates the chronological sequence established in the critical edition of 1975 and accepted by the National Edition of the writings of Antonio Gramsci.
The titles and subtitles given by Gramsci are in italics. The pages used include minute letters, lists of books and notes unrelated to research.