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Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony Hardcover – June 17, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Having had the misfortune of more than 50 governments in the postwar era, Italy is often seen as the politically bumbling least of the great powers, thus obscuring the significance of its current prime minister. With his newest volume, Ginsborg offers an excellent exegesis of the Berlusconi phenomenon. Ginsborg, who teaches history at the University of Florence, is also the author of analyses of postwar Italian history and society, A History of Contemporary Italy and Italy and Its Discontents. Here he does readers a service in pointing out that the Berlusconi phenomenon is not only unprecedented but also a mortal threat to democracy. Ginsborg's short book proceeds chronologically from Berlusconi's shadowy beginnings in the Milan construction business to his leap into television. As Ginsborg convincingly demonstrates, it was Berlusconi's revolutionary rethinking of the staid medium in the 1980s that laid the base for his political trajectory. Most brilliant is chapter five, "Berlusconi's Project," where Ginsborg lays bare the political and theoretical underpinnings of what some might call a more benign form of fascism. A concluding chapter examines the possibility and methods of resisting such a regime. This volume offers a succinct explanation of contemporary Italy by a man who has been in the forefront of a new movement, not formally allied to any political party, to restore and reinvigorate democracy in that country.
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“A scholar with thirty years’ experience in Italy and the author of perhaps the best history of contemporary Italy in English or Italian ... [his] left-of-center sympathies don’t prevent him from examining fairly the evidence he assembles.”—New York Review of Books
Top customer reviews
"There are not enough books about Silvio Berlusconi in English! Basically, I found two. This one, and one called The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi. I was hoping to find an objective biography (ha!) and of the two, I settled on the Ginsborg one thinking that The Sack of Rome, in its title, pretty clearly indicated its bias.
Upon receiving the Ginsborg book, I noticed that it was published by Verso Press, a subdivision of New Left Books. Realizing this, I did some research and it turns out that this one was going to be anti-Berlusconi as well. I was grateful, however, that the author never really tries to hide his bias and does, in fact, give Berlusconi praise where praise is due.
Overall, I think this is a decent book to get a basic picture of who Berlusconi is. While slightly outdated (it was published in 2004, well before Berlusconi's loss in the 2006 Italian elections and his subsequent reclamation of the prime minister's seat in 2008), the book gives a decent recounting of where Berlusconi has come from and what motivates him.
Reading it knowing the leftist stance, I found myself asking "Well, why is that so bad?" or saying "Yeah, I agree with Berlusconi here." Even though I disagreed with the author on many points, it was not so overbearingly liberal to make it unenjoyable to read. I was able to parse through the pieces that I needed to in order to pull out something of a sketch of Berlusconi.
One point of agreement I have with Ginsborg lies in the power of television and mass media. Through his companies like Fininvest and Mediaset, Berlusconi has essentially duopolized the Italian TV market (with Rupert Murdoch and the Italian government). Italians watch a lot of television and as such, greatly inform their worldview based on what they see there. The proliferation of television advertising, which led to the bulk of Berlusconi's wealth, also helps inform people and promotes a sense of hyperconsumerism among Italians, even more so than in other Western nations. Ginsborg has a big problem with this, and so do I. I have more an issue with the hyperconsumerism while Ginsborg extends the argument out to include the image television presents of Berlusconi himself.
On the negative side, I wish it had been a little more in depth. It was a great survey across Berlusconi's life and his business and political career. The book was definitely written as a warning, though, to Italy's left (along with the left of the rest of the world) about Berlusconi. The author says as much in his introduction. Since that was the case, the author did not feel a need to be overly biographical. What I mean by this is that Ginsborg only added pieces of information crucial to his overall thesis, which is this: Berlusconi presents a sort-of soft fascism and Italians need to become aware of this. I'm hoping that if Berlusconi stays in power for a while longer, more English-speaking people will be interested and that it will lead to more books and more balance in what is published."
As relentlessly critical as Ginsbourg is to Berlusconi, it is hard to ignore the facts of his presidency, both rise to and the policies to follow. It is also hard to ignore the remarkable similarity between the current state of Italian politics and those of the U.S. As Ginsbourg writes, "All this will have a familiar ring in Anglo-Saxon ears."
Democracy is becoming increasingly about television and leadership about being televised. What happens to "freedom" in a community connected only by cable? Ginsbourg makes a couple claims of his own, but the exciting aspect of the book is the fact that it raises such questions at all.