In the first part of this impressive volume, Ginsborg examines the infrastructure of Italian political life. The economy has evolved, but family capitalism remains a major force and North-South divisions persist. Civil society has developed but still has not overcome traditional clientelism. The middle class has split into two groups: one made up of "localistic, consumerist" shopkeepers and small entrepreneurs, "exquisitely Thatcherist without Mrs. Thatcher"; the other of educators and civil servants who view modern consumption in a social context (and are, according to Ginsborg, no match for the first group). Little is said about the Church.
The second half of the book focuses on the political system, particularly its "subterranean side, a secret history made up of hidden associations, contacts, and even conspiracies, some farcical and others more serious." Ginsborg is particularly interested in, and interesting about, the Mafia and its links to civil society and the political class. He outlines the deficiencies of the existing political parties and the insufficiency of reform efforts (despite major advances that allowed Italy to join the European Monetary Union). He also addresses the rise of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the 1990s, exhibiting full awareness of his political skill and his shortcomings. This is an indispensable book for anyone concerned with Italy's future in the European Union.