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The Sack of Rome: Media + Money + Celebrity = Power = Silvio Berlusconi Paperback – July 31, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this astute analysis of contemporary Italian political culture under Berlusconi, Stille intricately yet seamlessly traces the prime minister's rise from Milan real estate developer to international political phenomenon. "A troubling avant-garde figure, a kind of Citizen Kane on steroids," Berlusconi has and will continue to have an impact that far outreaches his political career, Stille argues. A calculating master of the Italian proverb, "Se non è vero, è ben trovato" ("If it's not true, it's well said"), Berlusconi is a global archetype rather than a particularly Italian anomaly. Stille (Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic; Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism) has exquisitely analyzed not only contemporary Italian political culture but the ominous rise of an international political culture in which figures such as Berlusconi can flourish (though the recent election leaves his political future in doubt). Stille writes with such wit and verve that this book will easily appeal both to close followers of contemporary Italian politics and to those simply interested in a prescient, fascinating portrait of a politician and the international cultural shifts surrounding his ascent. The last chapter in particular solidifies this book as an absorbing tour-de-force. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Arriving after the recent ouster of Silvio Berlusconi as Italy's prime minister, this fluent account of the tycoon's media and political careers frames his ascent as both uniquely Italian and disconcertingly universal. Berlusconi used an acute sales instinct to forge political alliances and to appeal to a vast middle class of Italians. Along the way, he developed alleged ties to the Mafia, dodged charges of bribery and cronyism, and exploited his position to preserve his media dominance. Some of Stille's most colorful anecdotes are pressed into service more than once, but his exposition of the various abuses and scandals is clear and damning. Pointing to the rise of super-rich politicians in America, the trend toward a depoliticized electorate, and the increasing consolidation of media under a few corporate powerhouses, Stille also makes an impassioned, if occasionally unpersuasive, argument that Berlusconi "is a reflection of ourselves in a fun-house mirror, our features distorted and exaggerated but distinctly recognizable."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker - click here to subscribe. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The caustic venality of Berlusconi's takeover of government and the sputtering of Italy when the wheels start coming off around the time of the book's 2007 publication is depressing in its familiarity: here we sit six years later and Berlusconi - even when not ostensibly in the driver's seat - continues to dominate the stage with his machinations. Even in a world where "Bunga Bunga Party" and "Ruby Heartstealer" have entered the global 'wink wink, nudge nudge' lexicon, Berlusconi seems impermeable to both shame and loss of influence.
Stille's triumph as a writer is to give the non-Italian reader a sense of why this guy is no mere buffoon. While the book broadly hints at the nefarious roots of Berlusconi's business empire, it also lays credit at his undeniable success and talent at business. For example, when television was being deregulated it was "Berlusconi [who grabbed] this historic moment for the Italian economy and -- underestimated by everyone -- starts out on his own with an extraordinary idea. Companies found an incredibly strong anchor in television advertising in order to address the consumer. And Berlusconi -- as an entertainer -- understood what they wanted. [T]he key to Berlusconi's success in television is that he approached it from the opposite angle to his competitors'. The book publishers thought that the key to television was editorial content; Berlusconi understood that that the lifeblood of television is advertising."
He also elicits some great stories from his early employees about "The Doctor's" winning, convivial personality and salesmanship. Here's a passage I loved that is emblematic of that Berlusconi:
Being in shape, looking good, feeling well, liking yourself are keys to a radiant self-confidence. "You must have the sun in your pocket," he told his salesmen. "We must have a warm heart and the sun in our pockets. Because we must give this sun to others, it must always be there ready at hand, so that we can offer it, with a smile, to the person we have in front of us. Not only to our clients, but to all those around us, our officemates, our loved ones; remember this, when we go home the sun must enter with us, our loved ones expect it, they live waiting for it.... When we enter a room people must see and feel a positive, true presence.... With a smile, a gesture, a word, we must give to others what we have inside.... Along with the sun in our pocket for others, we must have one for ourselves as well, our own personal sun. Only this way can we have self-esteem, can we be satisfied and happy. Therefore, `the sun in your pocket' always."
And, from those days, Stille brings forth person after person who can testify that no one lived these words more fully than The Doctor himself. One particularly memorable story has Berlusconi remembering a small personal detail about a mid-level executive:
"With all the commitments and problems he has, to remember me...it was one of those messages and attitudes from which you can really learn something. After something like that you realize the effect that remembering the birthday of your clients and their families can have."
And for those of us here who look at Berlusconi as some sort of purely Italian phenomenon and eye-rolling joke, Stille offers these sobering, trenchant words about America's own political backyard:
"The formula Berlusconi developed -- money + media + celebrity = political power -- is the winning formula in many advanced democracies, not least in the United States. With the dominance of television in politics, money has arguably never mattered more in our political life. The billionaire in politics -- Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, New York mayor Mike Bloomberg -- has become an unsurprising figure in American political life, multimillionaires able to finance their own campaigns are commonplace. Bloomberg spent $75 million to become the mayor of New York. The personal fortune allows an otherwise unknown person with little or no political experience to immediately dominate the political campaign by buying massive amounts of television time."
Younger American readers who do not remember a less politicized media atmosphere may well wonder what the fuss is all about: Fox is the norm to them, and to many, the print media is a bastion of the left. If anything, the book reminds us that there is a difference between fact and opinion. A very timely read and, for those of us who love Italy, a very upsetting view of what politics in Italy has become.
The only fault I found with the book is some repetition from chapter to chapter with respect to examples/quotes, although this may be because the chapters could have been printed separately in various publications. Still a worthwhile read.
To make order and organize all the material, on this endless italian tragedy, must have been an Herculean task. The story is told with clarity and riveting
prose, with richness of facts and documentation and from a perspective that is historical and not detached, caring and profoundly analytical. This book is of great relevance not only for Italian readers but for Americans as well.
I agree with the author through the whole book and admire his work.
I thank him for it.