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Book Review: Forza, Italia by Bill Emmott

Forza, Italia by Bill Emmott

I’ve just finished reading Bill Emmott‘s Forza, Italia book, the subtitle of which is, translated from Italian: ‘How jump start post-Berlusconi Italy’.

Forza, Italia made for interesting reading, and was not entirely what I expected, in that it did not home in on Berlusconi’s deficiencies, even if they were mentioned from time to time.

Overall though, the book portrays Italy as being a land of enormous, but as yet unrealised, potential.

Actually, Bill Emmott’s view of Italy matches my own, in that after writing about all things Italy for a good few years on this blog about Italy, I came to that very same conclusion. Not that I’m an economist like Bill Emmott who studied PPE – Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University in England.

Nor am I the man who managed to more than double the weekly sales of The Economist from 500,000 to 1.1 million. Emmott is no longer the editor of The Economist, by the way.

Forza, Italia by Bill Emmott
Forza, Italia by Bill Emmott

Aside from doubling sales of The Economist, another claim to fame for Bill Emmott, if you can call it that, is that while he was the editor of The Economist, the cover of the 26 April 2001 edition of the weekly was ‘Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy‘.

Within the magazine was an article on Italy’s current prime minister Silvio Berlusconi which was not overly complimentary.

The cover and article sparked some consternation in Italy with Berlusconi bringing a case against The Economist for libel. Berlusconi lost.

All the furore surrounding The Economist’s criticism of Berlusconi piqued Emmott’s curiosity who, after being labelled ‘anti-Italian’ set off on a tour of the Living Museum to prove his critics wrong. The tour culminated in his Forza, Italia book.

Did he manage to prove his critics wrong?

The answer, I’d say, is a big ‘yes’. Far from being what I half expected to be an outright attack on Berlusconi and his tricks, in actual fact, Emmott shines an enormous amount of light on Italy’s many positive aspects. Many of the names and initiatives mentioned I knew of already, but not all.

Emmott travelled the length and breadth of the peninsula speaking to people from right, left and centre, both geographically and politically. Indeed, Emmott spoke to Italy’s President Napolitano – who speaks impeccable English – as well as to Nichi Vendola, an up and coming new political star who leans towards Italy’s left.

While Emmott found Giorgio Napolitiano to be a sort of wise grandfather, on the other hand, he was not certain whether Vendola, a 30 year veteran of Italian politics, was a really a breath of fresh air, or not much more than yet another of Italy’s dubious bunch of power hungry politicians. The view that Vendola may form part of Italy’s old school group of politicians has also been voiced by Vendola’s critics who clearly suspicious of the president of Puglia’s motives. Still, that’s another story.

Good Italy, Bad Italy

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In Emmott’s account of Italy, there are two sides to Italy’s character, the good Italy and the bad Italy. Although it is left unsaid, one can understand from the book on which side Silvio Berlusconi falls.

Unsurprisingly, well for me, Emmott concludes that one of Italy’s greatest problems is its political class. Yes, the mafia does get a mention too, and the kiss of death for Italy is politicians and mafia mobsters working in league with one another. The boundary between politics and organised crime is exceptionally hazy in Italy.

Emmott the Perspicacious

I have to admit that I am impressed – Emmott is one perspicacious gentleman and seems to have understood Italy better after chasing around the country for a year than many of its natural born residents.

Not only has he worked out what makes Italy tick, or not, but he’s even come up with a series of suggestions for how Italy can reshape its future and in doing so, realise its inherent potential.

Now all Italy needs to do is to pay heed to Emmott’s wise words – but that is unlikely, knowing Italy.

A Book For Italians to Read

As far as I understand, Bill Emmott’s Forza, Italia book is only available in Italian – I did try searching for English language versions on both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, but could not find them. Really though, this is a book which all far-sighted Italians should be reading.

Young Italians should read Emmott’s book too: it might provide them with some hope for the future.

As a matter of interest, Emmott’s book did receive quite a bit of media attention here when it was launched last year, but I found I had to order his book from my local bookshop here in Milan, Italy.

A Slight Problem

While I think Italians should read the book, I wonder whether some may be put off by the book’s cover, as well as the fact that it was written by, shock horror, someone who is not Italian.  I did ask a few Italians about the cover, and some did get the impression the book was either too political and, possibly, too critical of Mr Berlusconi, or that it might even be a book singing Berlusconi’s praises.  It’s neither.

The title of the book is a play on the name of Silvio Berlusconi’s former party: Forza Italia!  – Go Italy!, but with the subtle addition of a comma: Forza, Italia. Some may not notice the innocent little comma.

Bombo

One other tiny little problem is a reference in the text to a ‘bombo’. I did not know what a ‘bombo’ was, nor did quite a number of Italians I asked. ‘Calabrone’ is the more common Italian word for what in English is a ‘bumble bee’.  Got a bee in my bonnet over that, I did!

Another Slight Problem

Not everyone agrees with Bill Emmott’s generally optimistic view of Italy, as this recent New Yorker article by Italy expert and writer Tim Parks demonstrates: Booted  – What Ails Italy?

If you read Italian, then I thoroughly recommend Forza, Italia and it can be found here on Amazon.com and here on Amazon.co.uk.

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