Kirkus Star


Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945
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A breathtakingly ambitious history that defies its author’s own warning: “Aspiring to write the total history of a totalitarian society is a delusion.”

Pride of place for fascism’s great leader is usually reserved for Adolf Hitler. Yet, as Australian historian Bosworth (Mussolini, not reviewed) notes, Hitler learned much from the fascist rulers of Italy; he was inspired by the Blackshirts’ march on Rome in 1922 to make his own putsch. Though Mussolini sometimes came off as a buffoon, and though the Italian state was a generally feckless enterprise, it was no joke; as Bosworth notes, the fascists were quite efficient at exterminating or silencing their political opponents, and in all events “it is frequently forgotten that the word ‘totalitarian’ originated in Italy” and was first extensively applied there, just as “ethnic cleansing” became an Italian specialty in the Italian-occupied Balkans before Hitler’s forces ever arrived. Still, as Bosworth writes, many Italians found plenty of ways to resist fascism, and even the true believers were very often in the fascism business to advance private agendas. Mussolini himself warned that “thousands of individuals had interpreted Fascism as no more than a defense of their own personal interests and as an organizer of violence for the sake of violence,” but by the time Italy made the grievous error of declaring war first on the USSR and then on the U.S., Mussolini himself was surrounded by a cult of personality as thorough as any in history, removed from such daily worries. He even earned uppercase status, so that, as a fascist journalist put it, “Rome is where the Duce is, it is in Him, with Him, in His divinations, in His struggles, in His torments, in His will, in His many creations.”

Superb—and timely, for Mussolinian ghosts celebrate “when they hear of the current approval of pre-emptive strikes and the cheerful acceptance that vast collateral damage may accompany them.”

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 2006
ISBN: 1-59420-078-5
Page count: 668pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2005


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