Mussolini's Italy: Life under the Dictatorship, 1915-1945

Mussolini's Italy: Life under the Dictatorship, 1915-1945

by R. J. B. Bosworth, Richard Bosworth

From one of the greatest historians in the field, a vivid, brilliant history of Fascist Italy, rulers and ruled

life the period in which Italians participated in one of the twentieth century's largest, most notorious, and ultimately most ruinous political experiments-Fascism-under their dictator, Benito Mussolini, and his henchmen. The Fascists were the first


From one of the greatest historians in the field, a vivid, brilliant history of Fascist Italy, rulers and ruled

life the period in which Italians participated in one of the twentieth century's largest, most notorious, and ultimately most ruinous political experiments-Fascism-under their dictator, Benito Mussolini, and his henchmen. The Fascists were the first totalitarians, and they provided a model for many other twentieth-century dictatorships, Hitler's first among them.

A regime based on a cult of violence and obedience, Fascism made immense demands on its subjects, killing many within Italy and its empire and ruining the lives of more. And yet one of R.J.B. Bosworth's most striking accomplishments is to show the gap that yawned between rhetoric and reality. Mussolini's Italy is lumped together with Hitler's Germany as a nightmarish totalitarian state that brutally reengineered an entire society. In fact, Bosworth argues, Fascism, though monstrous enough, had a far shallower impact on Italy because Italy was still such a traditional, undeveloped country, organized around family, tribe, and region, and because Italy's leaders were less ruthlessly ideological than the Nazis. Italians found many and ingenious ways of adapting, limiting, undermining, and ridiculing Mussolini's ambitions for them. The heart of this book is its engagement with the life of these ordinary Italians, struggling through terrible times.

Editorial Reviews

Geoffrey Wheatcroft
A book of this kind relies on statistical and impressionistic descripition, and Bosworth's deep knowledge of Italy, based on wide archival and primary study, is continually illuminating. On the one hand, he gives numerous short biographical sketches of people drawn to fascism, many (though not all) of them worthless, marginal men for whom the party offered a career. On the other, he paints a broad canvas of ordinary Italian life in the 1920s and '30s and shows how it was affected -- or not -- by the regime.
— The Washington Post
David Schoenbaum
Preceded by his major studies of the Italian dictatorship and its dictator, Benito Mussolini, Mr. Bosworth's retrospective of the country's experience with both is shrewd, lucid, exhaustively documented and totally unsentimental. But among its greatest virtues is his eye for what made Italian Fascism Italian.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
With this insightful, comprehensive study, Bosworth secures his place as one of the two leading historians in the English-speaking world (the other being Paul Ginsborg) of 20th-century Italy. Bosworth begins with an admission that he has embarked on an "impossible project": "to unveil the lives of Italians" from all walks of life "under a generation of dictatorship." Impossible, indeed, but what a grand attempt at a synthesis of social and political history he produces. While Mussolini and the party officials are at the center of the story, Bosworth dips into the Fascist police files to see what ordinary Italians were up to during the dictatorship, in order to portray a "fascism of the everyday." A good-natured drunken night on the town, ending with the singing of antifascist songs in the streets disturbing the people's sleep could land you in some God-forsaken remote village as punishment; further, the dictatorship was a corrupt and compromising affair. Yet Fascism in Italy, Bosworth frequently shows, was tempered by the continuing influence of the family and other nonparty institutions such as the Church, the army, the diplomatic corps and the universities. Another important feature is Bosworth's refusal to let "Liberal Italy" (1860-1922) off the hook. From imperialism to racism, corruption to authoritarianism, liberal Italy, he says, laid the groundwork for the Fascist regime. And while he gives ample instances of the violent and at times murderous nature of the regime, Bosworth does exonerate the Italian people of falling for totalitarianism. If Italians come off well from 1922 to 1945, they look far less noble in the postwar period. Bosworth's last chapter, "The Fascist Heritage," is a disturbing account of the tenacious survival of fascism into contemporary Italy. While not as pessimistic as Ginsborg, Bosworth (Mussolini) still reminds us of the "eternal tendency toward fascism." 35 b&w illus. not seen by PW; 3 maps. (On sale Feb. 6) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As in his magisterial biography, Mussolini, Bosworth (history, Univ. of Western Australia) combines prodigious research with a clear writing style that will appeal to all readers interested in the Italy of Il Duce. According to Bosworth, Fascist Italy was governed by ideological passions that persistently clashed with the traditional values and mores of this emerging nation. From the very outset, Mussolini had strutted onto the scene as the purveyor of a new mode of governing. He promised a revolutionary state that would be the embodiment of modernity and serve as a model for all nations seeking greatness. Indeed, Hitler embraced the Italian totalitarian model, but the Italian people did not. The Fascists may have bullied their way into power, but sustaining their grip on Italian society was another story. Through the skillful use of police reports and obscure local primary documents, Bosworth reveals that the populace found myriad methods for circumventing Mussolini's pontifical edicts. There is no historian better qualified to undertake this long-needed in-depth analysis of a critical period in Italian history. Some budget-stretched libraries that already own John Whittam's brief Fascist Italy may overlook Bosworth's definitive work, but any library that seeks to maintain a solid 20th-century history collection should purchase it.-Jim Doyle, Reference Dept., Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 Historments, 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."

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.54(h) x 2.11(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

R.J.B. Bosworth's prizewinning Mussolini was greeted on publication in 2002 as the definitive life of Il Duce. Bosworth is professor of history at the University of Western Australia and has been a Visiting Fellow at a number of institutions, including the Italian Academy at Columbia University, Clare Hall (Cambridge), Balliol College (Oxford), All Souls College (Oxford), and the University of Trento.

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