Alexander Stille

Alexander Stille’s Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families under Fascism and Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic are both published by Vintage.

Some writers are as interesting to read about as to read: writers such as Byron, Wilde, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and D.H. Lawrence, who saw their lives as extensions of their art and in many cases set out to shape their own time as well as to describe it in their work. Others, of similar ambition but more modest talent, defined their age as much through the defects of their work as its merits, and what they wrote increases in historical density as it loses literary freshness, becoming a kind of stratigraphic layer in an archaeological dig. The novels of Disraeli, Vita Sackville-West, Georges Sand and Jack London and the plays of Clifford Odets come to mind.

Eight Million Bayonets: modern Italy

Alexander Stille, 1 January 1998

Originally published in 1959 and revised ten years later, Denis Mack Smith’s Modern Italy: A Political History has been the standard work in its field for nearly two generations. Mack Smith has chosen to update it at a propitious moment, now that the Cold War is over and the political parties that governed Italy for the last half-century have been swept from power. As a result, it is possible to see the broad outlines of the postwar period as a distinct historical epoch and to think about contemporary Italy in the broader arc of its 136-year history. Given that the very idea of Italian national unity is currently being challenged by the Northern League, which seeks to divide the prosperous North from the bureaucratic capital in Rome and the poorer regions of the South, it is useful to reread Mack Smith’s account of the Risorgimento and the origins of Italian unification.

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