Although Italy has a distinguished past, the country’s modern history seems to generate a significant amount of controversy. Frequently, one-sided historical views vie for attention from students and the general public with commonplace assumptions based on insufficient knowledge and stereotypes. Interpretations also seem to differ wildly depending on events occurring in the country and filtered through poor press coverage, academic disputes, or Italian writers with their own ax to grind. Examples of controversial subjects include fascism, the strength of the former Italian Communist party ( PCI), terrorism, and crimeall of which projected images in the foreign press of Italians as Fascists, Communists, terrorists, or mafiosi. In this interplay of clichés, Americans seem to have a special problem: the tendency to interpret Italy through the eyes of the descendants of poor emigrants who fled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This inclination has produced an especially distorted understanding of Italy in a country that believes it has special ties with the peninsula.
Counterpointing this "popular" image of Italy are the academic ones that frequently reflect the Italian political milieu. During Mussolini’s rule, Fascist interpretations of Italian history had influence; following World War II, liberal outlooks prevailed; and after the 1960s, leftist views predominated in the universities. Thus the Risorgimento, once interpreted positively as a dramatic fight to liberate the peninsula, encountered criticism because it allegedly failed to involve the masses. The Christian Democrats, praised by the U.S. government for successfully keeping Italy out of the Soviet bloc, were condemned by professors for excluding the "different" Italian Communists from power.
Although it has a point of view, this book attempts to provide different interpretations of Italian history where the usual ones appear inadequate or overly influenced by particular political positions. The technique employed supplies a diverse emphasis from the prevailing one where such a viewpoint seems warranted. This method includes putting events into historical context and comparing them with similar developments during the same period, rather than judging them according to the criteria of later generations. For example, the masses did have a significant role in Italian unification and, under Socialist guidance, in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Italian society and poli-