The urge to write this book grew in me out of the bewilderment I experienced several years ago when in the course of checking dates and events for another book I began to discover the "true" Mussolini, I thought I knew what he had been like, for I had lived in Rome until 1938, when I came to the United States with my family, and Mussolini had been in power sixteen years. Although I had seen him but seldom in the flesh, his physical aspect, his mannerisms and voice, his actions and feats, all were familiar to me. I had formed a well-defined picture of the man in my mind, a picture which I have reason to believe many people, both in Italy and abroad, shared and accepted.
It was then with an acute shock that, having chanced on biographical material published after Mussolini's death, I came to realize how incredibly distorted my mental picture had been. And not only distorted, but incomplete as well, because in the mild political apathy common to large sections of the Italian middle class of that time, I had never asked myself, let alone taken the trouble to find out, what Mussolini had been and had stood for before he came into the limelight. But now, in the nineteen fifties, I could easily read about him from his origins to his death: I had at my disposal, along with the biographical, much documentary material and an exceedingly vast literature on fascism. As I read further and further my whole perspective changed, historical events acquired new values, different reasons for their being, and different correlations. But the greatest transformation occurred in my view of Mussolini himself: the man who had committed, to be sure, errors and sins, but who had been all of one piece . . .