A complex and contradictory figure, Mussolini won the fascination of many statesmen and writers, and their wives. From his early years raised in the traditions of revolutionary Italian Socialism, to his violent execution by Communist partisans at the end of World War II, we watch Mussolini's power ambitions erode his political ideals, as he evolves from brilliant orator and journalist to empire-building dictator enforcing his authority by death squads.
A man initially praised and admired by such Western luminaries as Winston Churchill, or underestimated as a posturing buffoon, Mussolini eventually showed his true colors as a racist and persecutor of the Jews. He sought equal stature with Hitler, but his alliance with him would prove disastrous. Ridley's account of this unforgettable 20th-century figure is even-handed and indispensable.
©1997 Jasper Ridley; (P)1998 Blackstone Audiobooks
"[A] well-researched, articulate, journalistic account." (School Library Journal)
"Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler, apart perhaps from John Burns of the New York Times, that the conflict has produced." (Publishers Weekly)
"It is a pleasure to find a work that strives for balance, fairness, and understanding in surveying the causes and course of the ongoing Iraqi war....This is a troubling but deeply moving examination." (Booklist)
This is my first review, so I will keep it short and come right to the point.
I had just finished the huge, unabridged "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by W. Shirer, read by Grover Gardner. I had read this book before and finished the audiobook mostly during my commute to work and on weekends, over a period of several weeks if not months. Mr. Gardner is the perfect speaker for this book and I was captivated from the first page all the way through to the end.
I decided to look up the life of Mussolini to complement my knowledge about the period, and found Jasper Ridley's book. But right from the start, I was feeling uneasy and somewhat disinterested in the narrative, and without having read the book beforehand, I can't quite put my finger on why.
I simply can't be pulled into the story. I can listen to it for a few minutes or half an hour, and never feel bad switching it off and waiting for another opportunity to continue. In particular, the first half of the book feels like a long sequence of snapshots glued together, as much as one may feel by reading several pages of chronologically sorted proverbs and bonmots. Interesting facts, but not much coherence. It does get better from the 1930's onwards. The other issue is that Nadia May's style of reading just adds, or perhaps creates, this feeling of detachment. I'm sure that if read by Mr. Gardner, some of the flaws of the original text might bave been covered up. There is very little in Ms May's voice that keeps me alert. Add to that some issues with a background hiss that is present during the reading, but disappears between paragraphs. This emphasizes the "glued together" quality of the reading, it goes "hissssss...silence...hissssss...silence" all the time, giving the impression that each paragraph of the book has been recorded separately and later edited together.
I will probably buy the book on paper to check the reason why I'm not delighted with this recording.
I teach American college students in Italy occasionally and this has been a great resource in learning to understand Italy. This is a serious biography that provides a reasonably balanced view of Mussolini. He wasn't a clown or a monster, but a deeply troubled man who did very bad things to Italy. Ridley is convincing that his biggest character flaw was wanting to choose winners -- and his biggest mistake, of course, was betting that Hitler was a winner.
I love Nadia May as a reader . . . but the book is the point!
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