We present behavioral and anatomical evidence for a multi-component reading system in which different components are differentially weighted depending on culture-specific demands of orthography. Italian orthography is consistent, enabling reliable conversion of graphemes to phonemes to yield correct pronunciation of the word. English orthography is inconsistent, complicating mapping of letters to word sounds. In behavioral studies, Italian students showed faster word and non-word reading than English students. In two PET studies, Italians showed greater activation in left superior temporal regions associated with phoneme processing. In contrast, English readers showed greater activations, particularly for non-words, in left posterior inferior temporal gyrus and anterior inferior frontal gyrus, areas associated with word retrieval during both reading and naming tasks.