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Sack Of Rome [Hardcover]

Alexander Stille


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Book Description

June 27 2006
What happens when vast wealth, a virtual media monopoly, and acute shamelessness combine in one man?

As the brilliant Alexander Stille demonstrates in this blistering, newsbreaking book, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has outdone himself, and undone his country. Many are the crimes of Berlusconi, and if you can shield your mind from the human costs, there's something appallingly entertaining about this extraordinary chronicle of rank criminality, cronyism, and self-dealing at the highest levels of power. The scale, the sums, the stakes, the backdrops: The Sack of Rome is a story of gargantuan appetites, diabolical cleverness, and ruthless maneuvering in a land where the normal checks and balances don't apply. If you combined the political might of President Bush, the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the media holdings of Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, the money of Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, and the real estate and personal arrogance of Donald Trump, and if this same media-political Frankenstein had also been charged with innumerable serious crimes, you would begin to get an idea of how long a shadow Berlusconi casts over Italian public life. And because Italy has long been a laboratory for bad new political ideas, Berlusconi's combination of media, money, celebrity, and politics is more than simply a dark, fascinating fairy tale; it is a glimpse into the future of modern democratic politics.

A monumental work of investigative reportage by one of the world's most celebrated Italy watchers: if a book can do any real damage to this man, then this book is the one.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (HC); 1 edition (June 27 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420053X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200533
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 16.6 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #627,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this astute analysis of contemporary Italian political culture under Berlusconi, Stille intricately yet seamlessly traces the prime minister's rise from Milan real estate developer to international political phenomenon. "A troubling avant-garde figure, a kind of Citizen Kane on steroids," Berlusconi has and will continue to have an impact that far outreaches his political career, Stille argues. A calculating master of the Italian proverb, "Se non è vero, è ben trovato" ("If it's not true, it's well said"), Berlusconi is a global archetype rather than a particularly Italian anomaly. Stille (Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic; Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism) has exquisitely analyzed not only contemporary Italian political culture but the ominous rise of an international political culture in which figures such as Berlusconi can flourish (though the recent election leaves his political future in doubt). Stille writes with such wit and verve that this book will easily appeal both to close followers of contemporary Italian politics and to those simply interested in a prescient, fascinating portrait of a politician and the international cultural shifts surrounding his ascent. The last chapter in particular solidifies this book as an absorbing tour-de-force. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The unorthodox political journey of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi receives a generally caustic appraisal by Stille. Author of several perceptive books about the contemporary Italian social and political scene (Excellent Cadavers, 1996), Stille tempers his criticisms with his trenchant understanding of how a business magnate like Berlusconi was able to take advantage of a national political establishment that imploded in scandal in the early 1990s. Stille also does not neglect the tabloid quality to Berlusconi's persona and career that renders his story a rambunctiously readable one. A salesman to his fingertips, whose slogan was "Profession: Friendship," Berlusconi assembled a media empire in Italy through a great deal of chicanery, according to Stille; hence, various prosecutions for bribery and consorting with mobsters have dogged the politician. He, though, pleads persecution from leftists resentful of his pro-market, pro-American policies. Somewhat dense in details but clear in plot, Stille's account is an informed, even entertaining, access point for understanding Italy's political present Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
first saw Berlusconi in the flesh in early 1996, at a Forza Italia rally when he was gearing up for a new round of elections, which, as it turned out, he would lose. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this the Future of Democracy? Aug. 20 2006
By L. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I hope this is not the future of democracy becasue I find it scary to contemplate. A well written, hard-to-put down book that is not difficult to follow. I found the last chapter particularly interesting as it pertains to US politics.

Younger American readers who do not remember a less politicized media atmosphere may well wonder what the fuss is all about: Fox is the norm to them, and to many, the print media is a bastion of the left. If anything, the book reminds us that there is a difference between fact and opinion. A very timely read and, for those of us who love Italy, a very upsetting view of what politics in Italy has become.

The only fault I found with the book is some repetition from chapter to chapter with respect to examples/quotes, although this may be because the chapters could have been printed separately in various publications. Still a worthwhile read.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for Americans and Italians alike. July 28 2006
By Enrico Ferorelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I recived the book from Amazon just a short while ago. I started it and could hardly put it down. What an incredible job Stille has done!

To make order and organize all the material, on this endless italian tragedy, must have been an Herculean task. The story is told with clarity and riveting

prose, with richness of facts and documentation and from a perspective that is historical and not detached, caring and profoundly analytical. This book is of great relevance not only for Italian readers but for Americans as well.

I agree with the author through the whole book and admire his work.

I thank him for it.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully Not The Future of Democracy! July 17 2006
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Silvio Berlusconi is Italy's richest man - the owner of its largest television and publishing empire, department stores, a national soccer team, and an insurance and financial services company. In the early 1990's he joined them together into a political machine to elect both a number of candidates to Parliament and himself to Prime Minister. Advertising executives contacted the companies that bought ads on his channels, his employee stockbrokers and insurance agents set to turning clients into supporters, the personnel department of his TV advertising company selected over 100 of its top salesmen to be candidates for parliament (they were also required to buy a special kit explaining his new party's program, as well as lessons on how to speak in public and on TV), and his TV media experts conducted focus groups to hone Berlusconi's message.

Another important act was starting thousands of "Go, Italy" clubs (the favorite chant of his soccer team fans) to "promote values of freedom and democracy.

Prior to initiating his political run Berlusconi had been a night-club singer in college, and then a real-estate developer. Bribes and shady deals (eg. promise that a development would only reach five stories in height, then hire the enforcement officer and immediately build out to eight; commission a biased environment report from supposedly disinterested parties; use a double-dealing attorney to take advantage of an absent young and distraught inheritor by

convincing her that low-ball amounts were appropriate and using a stock-swindle as payment; using political connections to reroute noisy airline landing paths from his holdings). In addition, his main aide was a strong and long-time Mafia connection.

Berlusconi's campaign was deliberately vague - simply promising work, freedom, individualism, generosity, and prosperity (borrowing from both opposing parties). His focus was not on programs, but personality - thus, his "self-made" life story was emphasized. His TV programs (and campaign) were both aimed at the lesser educated. Berlusconi parroted Reagan's "Morning in America" theme, while railing at his enemies ("Communists, using Nazi propaganda techniques" - repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth), while doing so himself with preposterous point (eg. his "enemies" enjoy a media monopoly and use it against him - Stille offer documentation that this was not true; there was no conflict between his public and private roles; the many criminal investigations of him turned up nothing). Another Berlusconi tenet was to make up quotations and attribute them to renowned authorities in an effort to convince people.

One of Berlusconi's first acts after being elected was to replace the boards and heads of the rival government TV networks - so much for avoiding conflict of interest! Investigations into him were thwarted by dirty tricks, including planted evidence against his prosecutors.

In 2004, Berlusconi's run as P.M. ended after a close election (he claimed fraud, in spite of being in charge of it). Economic growth under his administration was poor, though he did save his media and financial empires from negative legislation and derailed his criminal prosecution.

The "bad news" is that Stille sees parallels between Italy and Thailand (its president is also the countries richest man and a large media owner), Russia (Putin has gained control over virtually all of Russia's TV), and the U.S. (Bush II doing away with restrictions on media concentration and paying for media coverage, the aggressive, partisan style of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, et al. Hopefully not.

My only complaint is that often the material becomes too detailed - especially for an American reader not familiar with Italy.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading on Berlusconi and Democracy in the Media Age Nov. 5 2006
By Loves the View - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stille has put together a thought provoking book. Presaged by Orwell, the SB story defines the age we are living in, and those of us who care about democracy need to understand it.

To achieve his vast wealth, SB and his associates broke and skirted many laws. By selling himself through his monopolistic media empire (and the image of his new party named for his popular soccer team) in three months time, he achieved prosecutorial immunity by taking over the reins of government.

As Prime Minister, with most of Parliament on his personal payroll, SB effected the release all imprisoned for corruption. Ousted as PM, still powerful, SB got a law enabling witness to opt out of testifying. Back again as PM, a law whereby those accused can chose their prosecutors! This is no where near the tip of the iceberg!

Stille gives us a step by step of this rise and how he used the power he got to avoid prosecution for ever growing lists of crimes. He used the media to polarize the country and create crises. He cast his enemies as scum who hated him for his virtue & would destroy the country if given any power. By controlling the media he was able to discredit everyone who criticized the least thing about him. Each different media outlet (which he controlled, although he made them seem independent) echoed his point of view and made his distortions the conventional wisdom. Books, journals, and higher brow newpapers (permanance and nuance) being the province of the small group who knew about and could document his abuses of power, he discredited it as elitist. The many who spent 3-5 hours a day watching and glimpsing TV integrated the reality he fed them and believed his stories to be facts. He saw to it that the few journalists who might divulge his crimes would never work again. Pay offs of money, influence and/or career opportunities worked too and controlling the judiciary took care of everything else. Stille documents all these with specifics.

I'd like to know more about the brave Italian prosecutors who press on despite the dangers of the Mafia and Berlusconi.

While there is analysis throughout, Stille ties the story up with comparisons to the highly concentrated media developing in the US and its desire for federal approvals for further concentration. One parallel he doesn't bring out here is that of the two comedians who break the chorus praise for SB. Hopefully, the 100+ cable channels, a vibrant internet, the size and nature of our country (the US), and the economics of our entertainment exports will protect us in the US from this sort of monarchy.

This is an excellent book. It's a slow read for those not familiar with Italian politics, but very worthwhile.

The metaphor is so important that I hope that some cable channel can give us a Dallas or West Wing style series based in it. Hear me HBO! This is as big as the Sopranos! Call it "Rome II".
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well annotated and balanced Aug. 31 2007
By John Harpur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Unlike several other well-known Berlusconi tomes, Stille's book is unusually balanced. Like the other books however, he is forced to rehash much biographical material and if you have read other Berlusconi bios this can deaden the pace at times. In my opinion, what makes this book interesting and lip-quavering at points, is its explanation of Berlusconi as a peculiarly Italian phenomenon. Without the context of provincialism, anti-competitiveness, and the endemic corruption of the political establishment, Berlusconi simply could not have flourished. Whether one approves or disapproves of Berlusconi's political forays, surrounded by cadres drawn often from his own business interests, the reality as Stilles shows is that Berlusconi emerged at the right time and in the right place (Milan). What is shocking (leaving aside revelations of Mafia interests, blatant disregard of national broadcasting codes, planning laws and so forth) is Stille's underlying, subterranean, thesis that Italy is constitutionally tuned to corruption and moral laxity in high places. There is no point in retelling the many of the wonderfully unnerving vignettes about Berlusconi's intrigues that are often cited as an affront to liberal democracy in the book, suffice it to say that without a horde of supporting characters, the Berlusconi phenomenon could never have flourished. Reflect on that for a moment to appreciate the real service done by this book.
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