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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“The Force Of Destiny: A History Of Italy Since 1796”, by Christopher Duggan


688 pages, Allen Lane, ISBN-13: 978-0713997095

Professor Duggan has quite the tale to tell: the Risorgimento, its antecedents and its results, but more broadly, the intellectual themes and practical problems of the Risorgimento and how those themes and problems have affected the course of Italian history since 1796. Professor Duggan is obviously a master of his subject, which by itself would be a sufficient recommendation for this book. But as a wonderful bonus, he is also a talented writer with a brisk style, a dry sense of humor – “In life Victor Emmanuel had been a rather poor national symbol, in death he was to make amends. “(p. 305) – and an instinct for the telling detail – “D'Annunzio had always craved a beautiful death in a noble cause; throughout his life he had been haunted by the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. “ (p. 418) – The book includes dozens of quotations from contemporaneous sources illustrating Duggan’s main points, and I had the sense while reading this book that Professor Duggan probably had another 500 pages of materials he wanted to include, but his editors said, “Basta! Enough!” I, however, would gladly have read another 500 pages; the book was an absolute page-turner.

My only disappointment is that the book does not cover post-WWII Italy in much detail, although according to Professor Duggan, all the Risorgimento themes and problems are still very much present in contemporary Italian society. It doubtless makes sense to wind the story down in the mid-1990’s, but only about 10% of the book is devoted to the 50 years following 1946, or 25% of the time covered by the book. One can only hope that Professor Duggan is planning another book devoted solely to post-WWII Italy. That said, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all English-speakers who have fallen in love with Italy and want better to understand the object of their affections – and especially, her family quarrels and secrets. 

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