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Christopher Duggan is Professor of Italian History at the University of Reading. He is the author of Fascism and the Mafia.
The Italian national project is a potent but erratic force, argues historian Duggan (A Concise History of Italy) in this thoughtful history of Italian politics from the Napoleonic Wars that jump-started the nationalist movement to the present-day rise of secessionist parties that want to bury it. The romantic patriots of the 19th-century risorgimento, Duggan contends, faced daunting challenges in unifying their homeland: a peninsula fractured into squabbling statelets speaking mutually incomprehensible dialects; citizens whose civic allegiance extended no further than the local church tower or mafia boss; Northern Italians' contempt for the corrupt and backward South; a militantly antinationalist Catholic Church. Making a virtue of necessity, he contends, patriots made nation building into a quasireligious moral reclamation that they hoped would infuse order, discipline and martial vigor into the allegedly degenerate Italian character, a vision that inspired liberal democrats but culminated in Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship (of which the author offers an especially insightful account). Duggan's lucid, wide-ranging but conceptually focused narrative examines the tension between exaggerated aspirations for a united Italy-in literature, art and opera, as well as political ideology-and the often disappointing, fractious reality. The result is an illuminating study not just of one nation but of nationalism itself. Photos. (Apr. 28) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.