Synopses & Reviews
In Civilization and Its Discontents
, Sigmund Freud claimed that Rome must be comprehended as "not a human dwelling place but a mental entity," in which the palaces of the Caesars still stand alongside modern apartment buildings in layers of brick, mortar, and memory. "The observer would need merely to shift the focus of his eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other."
In this one-of-a-kind book, historian Richard Bosworth accepts Freud's challenge, drawing upon his expertise in Italian pasts to explore the many layers of history found within the Eternal City. Often beginning his analysis with sites and monuments that can still be found in contemporary Rome, Bosworth expands his scope to review how political groups of different erasand#8212;the Catholic Church, makers of the Italian nation, Fascists, and "ordinary" Romans (be they citizens, immigrants, or tourists)and#8212;read meaning into the city around them. Weaving in the city's quintessential figures (Garibaldi, Pius XII, Mussolini, and Berlusconi) and architectural icons (the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and EUR) with those forgotten or unknown, Bosworth explores the many histories that whisper their rival and competing messages and seek to impose their truth upon the passing crowds. But as this delightful study will reveal, Rome, that magisterial palimpsest, has never accepted a single reading of its historic meaning.
"Using the map of Rome as a guide, Bosworth (Mussolini's Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945) undertakes a dense examination of the Italian capital in an attempt to uncover its 'historical messages and import.' Bosworth focuses on the changes to this mercurial city over the last two centuries and the myriad ways that Italy puts its own history to use. It's heritage versus history, with classical Rome, Papal Rome, and Italian Rome (the republic), followed by the Fascists, the Red Brigade, and quite a bit of history-for-profit, creating the Rome of the early 21st century. The primary interpreter of Rome's story has always been the Catholic Church, whose dominance in Rome over 2,000 years has tended to overwhelm other influences. For the 19th century, Risorgimento and all who came after (most notably Mussolini and the Fascists), adaptive history was the preferred way of influencing contemporary impressions of Rome: If an event fitted the desired image, it was included; if not, it never happened. The author's long love affair with Rome and its history makes him a well-suited guide to the city, and his observations-right down to Berlusconi's tactics of hand picking events to commemorate 'sellabrations' and 'infotainment'-are astute. Despite some rather academic writing, Bosworth's Rome is an absorbing antidote to the pap of the mighty Italian tourist machine.
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About the Author
A renowned Anglophone Italianist, Richard Bosworth is Professor of History at Reading University and Winthrop Professor of History at the University of Western Australia. In 2011, he will become a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. He divides his time between Australia and England.