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The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European…

The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History…

by Alexander Stille

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This book fills a real need in my life. I lived in Italy as a young student in 1996-1997 and earnestly tried to read the newspapers (and watch TV on the rare occasions I had access) to understand current events. It was nearly impossible to make sense of it--most of the time I couldn't even grasp who they were talking about! Now it seems obvious that I was frustrated by a heavy cultural barrier on top of the language barrier.

Here is a book that translates contemporary Italian political culture for the curious but confused statunitense. It didn't exactly transport me like the Italian chapter of How soccer explains the world--the writing wasn't nearly as engaging and tight. But it describes tycoon Silvio Berlusconi's rise to political prominence in the context of major cultural shifts and with enough gory detail that I just might be able to follow an Italian media report now. At least it gives me the courage to try again.

Complaints: It was slow to start and sometimes unnecessarily repetitive--Stille repeats many of the shocking and outrageous Berlusconi, Inc. quotes in multiple places, which I found distracting, since I got it the first round. I was also vaguely alarmed to read only on page 306 of 351 (when the book is practically over!) that the author's father was the editor of the Corriere della Sera (one of the major Italian newspapers discussed throughout) from 1987 until 1992, not long before Berlusconi entered politics. In a book so focused on wild conflicts of interest, I wish the author had gone out of his way to disclose and elaborate on any potentially juicy (or plain old benign) personal connections to the story early on, in, say, the introduction.

For instant gratification, the Salon.com and New York Times reviews serve up great summaries.
  rarewren | Dec 11, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159420053X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:42 -0400)

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A profile of modern Italy as reflected in the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi traces the president's career and influence, contending that his wealth, power, and ties to corruption have resulted in a dangerous new form of political populism.

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