The greatness of Italy's culture and way of life have had a powerful attraction for many generations of visitors. This has created an overwhelming sense that Italy is a fundamentally benign and easy going country. "The Force of Destiny", Christopher Duggan's immensely enjoyable new book, lays waste to this idea. While sharing everyone's enthusiasm for Italy as a place, he strongly distinguishes this from its political role over the past two centuries, which has been both vicious and ruinous for Europe as a whole.Verdi's great opera "The Force of Destiny", one of the key works celebrating Italy's wish for independence, also points to Italy's fundamental problem. Throughout the 19th century Italy struggled to unite under one rule all Italian speakers, throwing aside a multitude of corrupt old rulers and colonial occupiers. Through all these struggles, the politicians of Italy felt impelled by a 'force of destiny' hideously at odds with Italian reality. After immense struggle and with endless sacrifices, a united Italy was at last created which proved to be as impoverished, backward and marginal as it had been before.The resentments this created fed into Italy's overwhelmingly destructive role, as colonial predator, as a faithless and ruinous element in the First World War: these resentments in turn led to the rise of Mussolini who, far more than Hitler, wrecked the European order in the '20s and '30s. It was only the humiliation and disaster of the Second World War that, at last, made Italy into a reasonably 'normal' and constructive country.
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