Nearly all books on Italy draw the same dichotomy between the saint and the sinner. Italy’s good qualities include its art, beauty, warmth, family values, individual creativity, and sparkling postwar economic record. Bad Italy is a land of bureaucracy, legalism, hierarchy, corruption, violence, and present-day economic doldrums, all abetted by irresponsible and self-dealing politicians. This book is not the most nuanced, well-informed, or original such analysis to appear in recent years. Still, Emmott -- a former editor of The Economist who raised eyebrows a decade ago by questioning former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s fitness for leadership on the magazine’s cover -- writes clearly and succinctly. His bottom line: the current crisis could purge Italy of its evil dealings and spur labor, budgetary, and regulatory reforms. This is precisely the agenda the current prime minister, Mario Monti, is pursuing today. Yet the absence of a fine-grained analysis of Italian politics, society, and culture leaves the reader with little insight into exactly how this plan can succeed. In the end, as the book’s subtitle suggests, the reader is left with little more than a religious metaphor to point the way forward for this lovely but exasperating nation.
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