Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City

Published March 17, 2012 by myliteraryleanings
A Review of  Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City by Borden W. Painter, Jr.
Overview from After coming to power in 1922, Mussolini spent two decades rebuilding Rome as the foremost site and symbol of the new fascist order. Through an ambitious program of demolition and construction, he sought to make Rome a capital that both embraced modernity while preserving and glorifying the city’s ancient past. This intriguing book reveals Mussolini’s tremendous and lasting impact on the city to which millions flock each year.

My Review:

As you may have noticed, this is the first time that I have reviewed a nonfiction title. Although I occasionally read a few nonfiction books, I try to avoid them. And when I do read them I usually prefer not to revisit them in any form. Hence the lack of nonfiction book reviews on this blog. I had recently begun debating with myself as to whether or not I should change that policy. I finally decided to do just that.

But, this does not mean that I will be devoting a lot of my blogging time to nonfiction book reviews. I still prefer fiction. What it does mean is that I will no longer shun nonfiction like I have in the past. I have found that there a lot of great nonfiction books out there that still tell a great story and/or help me learn something new. I like to learn something new.

Mr. Painter’s book educated me a lot. I learned a lot of new things from him. I have to confess that it was a little dry to me at times but I think that part of that is due to the fact that I have little interest in architecture. Painter writes frequently about architecture which, I guess, makes sense if we are talking about the transformation of a city. He explains from the beginning that in trying to create his dream of a fascist state, Mussolini admired Rome above all others in the Italian peninsula and vowed to make it his capolavoro (masterpiece in English), the centerpiece of his fascist dreams.

Painter tells us how until shortly before he wrote his book, most Italians wanted to sweep Fascism under the rug and forget it ever happened. Therefore, it was not studied. It was as though studying it could somehow make it as though it could never exist.

“These interest and attitudes rejected any notion that fascist art, architecture, and culture were subjects worthy of study. As the Italian intellectual Norberto Bobbio put it, ‘Where there was culture it was not fascist and where there was fascism it was not culture. There never was a fascist culture.'” p. 15

Now (that is 2007 presumably when Painter wrote the book), he says, things are changing. Various experts, Italians included, have decided that perhaps there are some things in the fascist period that are worth studying. Or maybe they just realized that pretending it never happened is futile, I thought as I read this.

Although I am proud of my Italian American heritage, I can’t say that I wouldn’t also like to pretend that certain negative aspects of Italian culture such as Fascism or the mafia didn’t exist. But ignoring something doesn’t make it go away so it is better to study it than to play ostrich and stick our heads in the sand.

Painter has done this and done it very well. He gives us Mussolini’s dreams and visions and showed us how they played out in the architecture of the new buildings that he built. I was surprised to find out that he even added some new villages in the areas around Rome and one of them still exists today though under a different name.

Having the photographs of Rome in this book made all the difference. Many of them were taken during the fascist period so that one not only gets a sense of what the building looked like but also of what Mussolini must have envisioned when he hired an architect to fulfill that vision. And Painter also tells the reader about the architects themselves. I learned how they saw themselves and their visions fitting into Mussolini’s plan for Rome.

In short, this is a great book on the history of Rome under Fascism. I learned about Rome and its players during this time period as well as how Rome changed, both for the worst and the better. I would recommend it to anyone who has in interest in Rome or this time period of Italy’s history.

Contains: only very minor mention of war violence. I was so little I am not sure that it is even worth mentioning.


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