Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Book I Read In July

'Benito Mussolini' by Christopher Hibbert
This is an old biography of Mussolini, published in 1962.  It is not bad on specifics but the focus is terribly imbalanced.  I think most readers would expect more on Mussolini's behaviour when in office.  However, what we get is far more on his life before becoming prime minister and 60 pages out of the 392 pages of narrative, focused on his last few months with some chapters looking at a single day.  This detail of Mussolini going back and forth in his final days adds very little to the picture of him. Even his wife and mistresses really only appear in relation to his fall.  We have little idea of how they came into his life or what they meant to it during his rise and at his height.

The material about his character as a young man and his move from left- to right-wing politics is good.  Then for the bulk of his career the book is far weaker with years of things such as his view on foreign or domestic policy, skipped over far too quickly.  It is interesting on Mussolini's relationship with Hitler.  However, this comes over very much as biography-as-story.  There is no need for the specifics of the furniture of the rooms he was confined in or what he ate at particular meals.  Thus, the book feels very unsatisfactory and as if it needed much stronger editing to produce a thorough look at Mussolini's life rather than a clutch of unnecessarily detailed sections against the background of other rushed elements.

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