Winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize
Winner of the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies
A New Statesman Book of the Year
“As Fellini did in film, The Perfect Fascist takes us into the dark and complicated heart of Italian fascism…It is an extraordinary story that illuminates the ways in which the all-consuming nature of fascism distorted Italian society and destroyed the lives of individuals. I could not put it down.”
—Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919
“With lyrical precision, The Perfect Fascist reveals how ideology corrupts the truth, how untrammeled ambition destroys the soul, and how the vanity of white male supremacy distorts emotion, making even love a matter of state.”
—Sonia Purnell, author of A Woman of No Importance
Through the story of one exemplary fascist—a war hero turned commander of Mussolini’s Black Shirts—the award-winning author of How Fascism Ruled Women reveals how the personal became political in the fascist quest for manhood and power.
When Attilio Teruzzi, Mussolini’s handsome political enforcer, married a rising young American opera star, his good fortune seemed settled. The wedding was a carefully stage-managed affair, capped with a blessing by Mussolini himself. Yet only three years later, after being promoted to commander of the Black Shirts, Teruzzi renounced his wife. In fascist Italy, a Catholic country with no divorce law, he could only dissolve the marriage by filing for an annulment through the medieval procedures of the Church Court. The proceedings took an ominous turn when Mussolini joined Hitler: Lilliana Teruzzi was Jewish, and fascist Italy would soon introduce its first race laws.
The Perfect Fascist pivots from the intimate story of a tempestuous seduction and inconvenient marriage—brilliantly reconstructed through family letters and court records—to a riveting account of Mussolini’s rise and fall. It invites us to see in the vain, loyal, lecherous, and impetuous Attilio Teruzzi, a decorated military officer, an exemplar of fascism’s New Man. Why did he abruptly discard the woman he had so eagerly courted? And why, when the time came to find another partner, did he choose another Jewish woman as his would-be wife? In Victoria de Grazia’s engrossing account, we see him vacillating between the will of his Duce and the dictates of his heart.
De Grazia’s landmark history captures the seductive appeal of fascism and shows us how, in his moral pieties and intimate betrayals, his violence and opportunism, Teruzzi is a forefather of the illiberal politicians of today.
[A] fascinating book on the Fascist years, and particularly its social mores…Teruzzi was indeed the perfect Fascist: disciplined, unscrupulous, brutish, fanatically loyal to Mussolini… The brilliance of de Grazia’s book lies in the way that she has made a page-turner of Teruzzi’s chaotic life, while providing a scholarly and engrossing portrait of the two decades of Fascist rule.
[A] captivating investigation into the trials and tribulations of Attilio Teruzzi—one of Benito Mussolini’s most trusted high-ranking officials…A work of serious historical research by one of the great historians of Italian history…Not unlike the popular thrillers on Netflix in its suspense and surprises, but this story is told with a scholar’s eye in reading, analyzing, and interpreting archival documents, and a historian’s experience in placing it all within the context of Mussolini’s Italy.
On the question of contemporary fascism, and the debate between those who see in Trump & Co its resurgence and those who do not, few writers have matched Victoria de Grazia for coolness of observation and depth of insight…A singular work that chronicles the life of Attilio Teruzzi, an army officer who became commander of the Blackshirts under Il Duce. Through the story of Teruzzi’s marriage to Lilliana Weinman, an American-Jewish opera singer, de Grazia has produced a masterwork on the nature of fascist politics and culture.
The book’s appeal goes well beyond its diligent scrutiny of life under Fascism…There is the perverse pleasure of checking off its foreshadowing of our own recent moment: the sleaze, the incompetence, the militias, the cynical embrace of religion, the gilded son-in-law…And there is the elemental satisfaction of the story itself, which progresses like a classic war novel, private passions unfolding against a backdrop of steadily escalating public strife, in settings ranging from New York to Addis Ababa, boudoirs to battlefields, silk-lined music rooms to colonial churches palisaded by shards of exploded poison gas canisters.
Explore[s] toxic masculinity and the contradictory relationship between the public roles and private lives of Fascist elites.
[A] pioneering work… It examines the hypocrisies of totalitarian leaders and the contradictions inherent in the regimes they build…One of the lessons of De Grazia’s epic microhistory is that to truly understand dictatorships, we need to understand the aspirations, behaviors, and vanities of those just beneath the leaders in the hierarchy and the role they play in advancing the goals of the totalitarian state.
Engaging, well-written, and thoroughly researched…The Perfect Fascist has contemporary political relevance, as ultra-nationalist politics have gained traction in several western democracies.
As solid an explanation as any work I have read about the lure of Fascism in a stressed society, the type of people most subject to that lure, and how a totalitarian regime takes hold in a nation…Definitely a biography for our times. It helps us understand how and why business and religious leaders, and other elite sectors in Italy, embraced Fascism, and appeared to do so out of an inordinate fear of anything approaching ‘socialism.’
This dive into the first half of the last century purifies us of many ills—including the idea of a ‘fascist temperament’ or ‘authoritarian personality.’ De Grazia sets out to show how ‘fascists are made, not born’: how the ‘decent man’ she takes as her subject wound up leading gangs of thugs and collaborating with the SS…The story De Grazia tells us is emblematic of a certain age, although its plot couldn’t have been dreamed up even by Hollywood’s most twisted screenwriters.
With lyrical precision, Victoria de Grazia’s The Perfect Fascist reveals how ideology corrupts the truth, how untrammeled ambition destroys the soul, and how the vanity of white male supremacy distorts emotion, making even love a matter of state. Mussolini’s concept of a virile, nationalist, all-conquering New Man continues to hold a terrifying grip over political and personal thought today, just as it did for Attilio Teruzzi nearly a century ago. De Grazia sheds welcome light on the mystery of why some women, who practically always lose out, also sign up.
This is a perfect book! Original, thoughtful, and timely, The Perfect Fascist beautifully exposes the homogeneity of fascist aspirations and reveals the personal conflicts and paradoxes these aspirations bring with them, including for fascists themselves. Its two entwined narratives—one political and public, the other personal and private—perfectly complement one another and help us understand why the personal is political for those who insist on reshaping people and society.
The Perfect Fascist is an original and important book. It tells a dramatic story, based on rich documentation, and delivers a probing analysis of the fascist ‘strong man.’ De Grazia’s attention to Teruzzi’s private life, his behavior as suitor and husband, deepens and enriches our understanding of the nature of leadership in Mussolini’s regime and of masculinity, virility, and honor in Italian fascist culture.
As Fellini did in film, The Perfect Fascist takes us into the dark and complicated heart of Italian fascism. With the expertise of the distinguished historian that she is and the sensibility and writing skills of a novelist, Victoria de Grazia tells of the Italian war hero turned fervent supporter of Mussolini and his glamorous Jewish opera star wife from New York whom he adored and then renounced. It is an extraordinary story that illuminates the ways in which the all-consuming nature of fascism distorted Italian society and destroyed the lives of individuals. I could not put it down.
A fascinating exploration of Italian fascism through the career and intimate relationships of Attilio Teruzzi (1882–1950), one of Benito Mussolini’s closest allies…Offers both incisive scholarship and juicy biographical details.
Offers uncommonly remarkable insights into Fascism, Mussolini and his regime, and culture and society more generally.
- 2020, Winner of the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies
- 2021, Winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize
- 528 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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