Why are we so fascinated by dictators? The biographies of such
monsters as Hitler, Stalin and now Saddam Hussein come thick and
fast, and the readership is by no means confined to historians. We
are all fascinated by these men who dispensed death and misery to
so many while claiming to be saviours of their countries. Mussolini
is, of course, one of the most infamous of this unsavoury breed,
and his regime has been the subject of numerous excellent studies.
But R J B Bosworth has a particular skill in conjuring up the
complex personality of the Italian dictator, and his cool,
dispassionate prose perfectly evokes an era and the man who ruled
Italy so ruthlessly. As with so many monsters, there are surprising
aspects to the dictator: he was a devoted student of philosophy,
and followed sport with a genuine enthusiasm. Of course, the number
of people who died under his regime rivals even those of his ally
Hitler, but Mussolini (unlike Hitler and Stalin) is often regarded
as a clownish figure, with his strutting manner and bizarre
appearance. He was the recipient of one of the most frequently made
observations about any dictator: he made the trains run time. But
did he make Italy more efficient? Bosworth is particularly sharp on
the ways in which Mussolini altered Italian society, and
demonstrates how the man's savagery often concealed his own
debilitating consciousness of weakness and failure. From the
youthful intellectual with high-flown ideals to the battered body
hanging from a lamppost, the remarkable trajectory of Mussolini's
career is given a trenchant and fastidiously researched treatment
here. (Kirkus UK)
In 1945, disguised in German greatcoat and helmet, Mussolini
attempted to escape from the advancing Allied armies. Unfortunately
for him, the convoy of which he was part was stopped by partisans
and his features, made so familiar by Fascist propaganda, gave him
away. Within 24 hours he was executed by his captors, joining those
he sent early to their graves as an outcome of his tyranny, at
least one million people.
He was one of the tyrant-killers who so scarred interwar Europe,
but we cannot properly understand him or his regime by any simple
equation with Hitler or Stalin. Like them, his life began modestly
in the provinces; unlike them, he maintained a traditonal male
family life, including both wife and mistresses, and sought in his
way to be an intellectual. He was cruel (though not the cruellist);
his racism existed, but never without the consistency and vigor
that would have made him a good recruit for the SS. He sought an
empire; but, in the most part, his was of the old-fashioned,
costly, nineteenth century variety, not a racial or ideological
imperium. And, self-evidently Italian society was not German or
Russian: the particular patterns of that society shaped his
Bosworth's Mussolini allows us to come closer than ever before to
an appreciation of the life and actions of the man and of the
political world and society within which he operated. With
extraordinary skill and vividness, drawing on a huge range of
sources, this biography paints a picture of brutality and failure,
yet one tempered with an understanding of Mussolini as a human
being, not so different from many of his contemporaries.
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