'No one understands him,' wrote Fernando Mezzasoma of Mussolini during the last week of both their lives. 'By turns shrewd and innocent, brutal and gentle, vindictive and forgiving, great and petty, he is the most complicated and contradictory man I have ever known. He cannot be explained.'
During the eighteen years between the March on Rome in 1922 and the outbreak of war in 1940, numerous books were written in an attempt to explain this extraordinary man; most of them were by Fascists or by expatriate Italians who had cause to hate Fascism. But not since his death has a full-length biography, taking advantage of the great mass of documentation which has come to light in the last sixteen years, been written in English.
Ever since I came home from Italy after the War I have felt the need of an impartial book which answered at least some of the questions which had puzzled me. I wondered how much Mussolini resembled the monstrous buffoon of war-time propaganda and how much the demi-god of Fascist doctrine; I wondered how it was that some Italians could shoot at his corpse as it swayed upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan and yet others, who were, so it seemed to me, just like them, could weep in the streets when told that he was dead; and I wondered whether it could really be true, as Mr Churchill had said, that 'one man and one man alone' had plunged Italy into tragedy. I wondered, too, how Mussolini had retained this power so long and how during the final, twilight phase on the shores of Lake Garda, when defeat was certain and death likely, he had still been able, though physically and morally decayed, to find so many men still willing to follow him.
It was with these questions in mind that I went back to Italy in 1960 to read books and papers about Mussolini and the Fascist dictatorship which are not available in London, to talk to people who knew him, and to discover as much as I could of his last years, about which so little reliable information is available. Not being qualified to pass judgment on him--even if such a judgment were yet possible--I have written the book in the form of a historical narrative, hoping that in telling the story of his life I have given at least the more important of the evidence about him upon which opinions can be based. There are no references to sources in the text, but at the end of the book I have commented on the material that I have used and I think that the authority for any controversial statement and the sources of all direct or indirect quotations will be found there.
For their great help in a variety of ways I want especially to thank--