Sack Of Rome Hardcover – Jun 27 2006
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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.
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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".
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