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Mediterranean Quarterly 15.2 (2004) 103-106
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What is Italy? Is it simply the boot-shaped peninsula located south of the Alps? What about the "frontier" region of the Piedmont, which was excluded from Italy proper by the ancient Romans, or Trentino and Alto-Adige, which have strong influences from Austria, or Sicily and Calabria, with their ties to Africa and the Mediterranean world? Can Italy be defined by where Italian is primarily spoken? What of the multitude of dialects spoken within Italy, not to mention the Italian-speaking areas of Switzerland? Are there any clues to be found in Italian politics, economics, culture, or society? Not really, as author Roy Palmer Domenico aptly points out in his excellent book Remaking Italy in the Twentieth Century. Italy, like most other Mediterranean countries, is something of an amorphous entity whose current borders are partly based on centers of ancient and medieval civilizations and partly on nineteenth- and twentieth-century political realities. In the case of Italy, Domenico properly notes that
the Po Valley of Bologna, Pavia, and Allesandria is far removed from Apulia's Tavoliere, while Sardinia's is closer to Barcelona's than it is to Venice's. Milan and Turin are nearer to Zurich and Paris than they are to Sicily. Such matters have influenced what a country should look like and have accentuated the differences between wealthier European Italy in the north and poorer Mediterranean Italy in the south.
Italy is as diverse and divided a country as any, and defining exactly what Italy is poses a serious challenge to historians. Indeed, it is Italy's indefinability that has posed a constant and ongoing challenge to Italian leaders and revolutionaries ever since the Risorgimento (resurgence), which began with Napoleon's invasion in 1796. Every Italian [End Page 103] leader from Crispi to Craxi, Garibaldi to Giolitti, Il Duce to De Gasperi, and even Berlusconi and Bossi today, has been forced to balance and compromise with numerous competing forces both within and outside of Italy. Domenico is clearly up to the challenge and has written a very accessible, concise, and balanced introductory history of Italy from the formation of the kingdom of Italy in the mid-nineteenth century to the republic of the present day.
As the book's title suggests, Italy is a country that was made and remade several times during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This volume consists of five well-written and fast-paced chapters, beginning with the revolutionary struggles, which beset Italy prior to and immediately after unification. As Domenico shows throughout his book in subtle ways, Italy continually underwent political, economic, societal, and even cultural metamorphoses, which made governing the country a very challenging task. Four main competing forces in Italy—the Liberals, the Catholic Church, the Fascists, and the Marxists—have been in constant conflict with each other in bids to shape the future Italian state, a conflict that has survived through various permutations even to the present day.
The Liberals, the primary architects of Italian unification, attempted to bring a politically, economically, socially, and culturally disparate entity into being. This began with small though important measures brought to the fore by Domenico. Dante's "standard" Italian, for example, which was spoken by approximately only 650,000 Italians in a country of 25 million in 1860, was made the official, national language of government, commerce, and education. Even so, Domenico, who has at hand a bevy of statistics to make his history flow fairly seamlessly, shows that even with the invention of the wireless radio by the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in the early twentieth century, and later with the proliferation of television sets in Italian households, "polling results revealed that as late as 1991, only 48 percent of Italians used the national tongue when speaking with friends and colleagues."
One of the primary themes in Domenico's book is Italian foreign affairs. The country under Liberal leadership generally...