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The Art of Denis MackSmith

Jonathan Steinberg, 23 May 1985

by Denis MackSmith.
Weidenfeld, 292 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 297 78512 5
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Cavour and Garibaldi 1860: A Study in Political Conflict 
by Denis MackSmith.
Cambridge, 458 pp., £27.50, April 1985, 0 521 30356 7
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... by 1893: Mahan told an anxious British public what it most wanted to hear about its navy. Denis MackSmith is another. His Cavour and Garibaldi, published in 1954, told many Italians what they did not want to hear, but told them at a special point in their history when they had no choice but to listen. ...

Mussolini in Peace and War

Martin Gilbert, 6 May 1982

by Denis MackSmith.
Weidenfeld, 429 pp., £12.95, February 1982, 0 297 78005 0
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Mussolini Unleashed 1939-41 
by MacGregor Knox.
Cambridge, 384 pp., £22.50, March 1982, 0 521 23917 6
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... a detailed study of less than three years. The wider canvas is a delight to read, and through it Denis MackSmith will find an even wider readership for the formidable knowledge he has already shown in his more specialist writings. As a biography, his new book achieves an impressive balance in the difficult ...

Italy Stirs

Adrian Lyttelton, 22 June 1995

by Denis MackSmith.
Yale, 302 pp., £19.95, April 1994, 0 300 05884 5
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Verdi: A Biography 
by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz.
Oxford, 941 pp., £30, October 1993, 0 19 313204 4
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The Real Traviata 
by Gaia Servadio.
Hodder, 290 pp., £20, October 1994, 9780340579480
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... After his dismissive biography of Mussolini and his scathing treatment of Italy’s royal family, Denis MackSmith has turned back to a figure who fully engages his sympathies, and some may miss the darkly satirical tone of those earlier essays in denunciation. Mazzini is a work of passionate advocacy, which aims both ...

Eight Million Bayonets

Alexander Stille: Modern Italy, 1 January 1998

Modern Italy: A Political History 
by Denis MackSmith.
Yale, 534 pp., £35, October 1997, 0 300 07377 1
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... Originally published in 1959 and revised ten years later, Denis MackSmith’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 ...

Capos and Cardinals

Jonathan Steinberg, 17 August 1989

Fascism and the Mafia 
by Christopher Duggan.
Yale, 322 pp., £19.95, January 1989, 0 300 04372 4
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A Thief in the Night: The Death of Pope John Paul I 
by John Cornwell.
Viking, 301 pp., £14.95, May 1989, 0 670 82387 2
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... one of Garibaldi’s generals called them. Duggan, who learned how to debunk myth from Denis MackSmith, did not waste his time with the maestro. He has a similar eye for the absurd and the same finely honed prose style. Yet behind the fun he has a serious purpose. The myth-making allowed the new rulers of ...


David Gilmour: On Richard Cobb, 21 May 1987

... historians. No one would ever suggest that Raymond Carr thought like a Madrid teddy-boy or that Denis MackSmith wrote like un ragazzo di borgata. A ‘sense of place’ is perhaps a commoner attribute, although Cobb’s descriptions of places, often in sentences of about 250 words, are unlike other people’s and ...

Bloody Glamour

Tim Parks: Giuseppe Mazzini, 30 April 2009

Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalisation of Democratic Nationalism 1830-1920 
edited by C.A. Bayly and Eugenio Biagini.
Oxford, 419 pp., £45, September 2008, 978 0 19 726431 7
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... he was not present. Even discounting the fact that all the accounts we have of his life, including Denis MackSmith’s authoritative 1994 volume, tend to hagiography, it’s clear that from the earliest age Mazzini was both physically attractive and immensely charismatic. Briefly united under Napoleon, Italy was ...

Verdi’s Views

John Rosselli, 29 October 1987

Verdi: A Life in the Theatre 
by Charles Osborne.
Weidenfeld, 360 pp., £18, June 1987, 0 297 79117 6
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... often write in vain: not even English-language historians’ revisionist accounts (say those of Denis MackSmith and Stuart Woolf) have got through to biographers. Osborne is the latest to write such things as that the Milanese audience at Nabucco identified themselves, ‘Italians suffering under the Austrian ...

Orders of Empire

Keith Kyle, 7 March 1985

Waugh in Abyssinia 
by Evelyn Waugh.
Methuen, 253 pp., £9.50, September 1984, 0 413 54830 9
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Remote People 
by Evelyn Waugh.
Penguin, 208 pp., £2.50, January 1985, 9780140095425
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Haile Selassie’s War 
by Anthony Mockler.
Oxford, 453 pp., £17.50, November 1984, 0 19 215867 8
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... go public over Walwal since it was this that drove the Duce to go over the top. On the other hand, Denis MackSmith. In his biography of Mussolini (which is not cited in Mockler’s bibliography), lists a number of occasions from 1925 onwards when the Duce showed every Intention or using force. At the end of 1932 he had ...

Stewing Waters

Tim Parks: Garibaldi, 21 July 2005

Rome or Death: The Obsessions of General Garibaldi 
by Daniel Pick.
Cape, 288 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 224 07179 3
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... to have been sent by God – is everywhere evident. In his otherwise excellent biography of 1958, Denis MackSmith frequently referred to Garibaldi as ‘simplistic’ and ‘ingenuous’, made fun of his habit of wearing a poncho, and saw his decision to set up home on the barren island of Caprera as merely ...

It should have ended with Verdi

John Davis: The Battle of Adwa, 24 May 2012

The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire 
by Raymond Jonas.
Harvard, 413 pp., £22.95, November 2011, 978 0 674 05274 1
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... supporters included the king, the lobby’s influence was out of all proportion to its size. As Denis MackSmith demonstrated long ago, it was the monarchy’s extensive prerogatives that made it possible for Italy to embark on colonial conquest with only partial parliamentary scrutiny. The colonial delusions of ...

The Ruling Exception

David Cannadine, 16 August 1990

Queen Victoria: Gender and Power 
by Dorothy Thompson.
Virago, 167 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 86068 773 2
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... amateurs, and there is no book on the modern British monarchy comparable in scholarly stature to Denis MackSmith on the Kings of Italy. Dorothy Thompson’s study of Queen Victoria is thus the more to be welcomed, for she is a writer in a very different tradition from such conventional courtly biographers as ...

Qui êtes-vous, Sir Moses?

C.R. Whittaker, 6 March 1986

Ancient History: Evidence and Models 
by M.I. Finley.
Chatto, 131 pp., £12.95, September 1985, 0 7011 3003 2
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... the publication of his book on ancient Sicily in 1968, part of a three-volume history initiated by Denis MackSmith, that he attracted much attention and won the support of the publishing house of Laterza. Finley was one of the first English-speaking historians to be aware of the importance of the works of Ettore ...


Alan Brien: Finding Lenin, 7 August 1986

... A.N. Wilson tells a funny anecdote about Mussolini that was new to me, though I had just finished Denis MackSmith’s Mussolini. It runs: ‘Mussolini had in fact modelled his style of dress on that of his favourite film stars, Laurel and Hardy, whose sartorial distinctiveness he regarded as the embodiment of ...

An Invertebrate Left

Perry Anderson, 12 March 2009

... he had set out to oppose. Significantly, the most radical demolitions of his edifice came from Denis MackSmith in England, rather than any Italian historian. But if there was no real counterpart to the Historikerstreit in Italy, where De Felice could feel he had achieved most of his goals, there was also a less ...

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