The political history of modern Italy began in March 1861 when Count Camillo Cavour proclaimed a united Italian kingdom. For a country which, in earlier centuries, had often held a central position in western culture, it was a late entrant to nationhood, and the very suddenness of its national revolution brought problems. In this fully revised edition of his classic history of the country, Denis Mack Smith provides a narrative of the fate of Italy from Risorgimento to the present day. For 60 years after 1861 Italy was governed by a liberal oligarchy under a parliamentary constitution. It gave way, after 1920, to Europe's first fascist dictatorship until Mussolini led the country into a catastrophic military defeat in 1943. Torn and bruised by the resulting civil war, Italy rediscovered liberal democracy, and under a new republican regime became one of the major industrialized countries of the world. What Italy still lacked was political stability and an effective constitution that could check political corruption and contain the criminal activity of the mafia and camorra. In 1992 a revolt by the electorate brought a complete collapse of the old party system.
Some argued for a change to federated state; a few even harked back to the authoritarianism of Mussolini. But most, Mack Smith argues, looked to the formation of a second republic, learning from the past mistakes to fulfil the noble ideals that took their inspiration from Cavour and Mazzini in 1861. First published in 1953 as "Italy: A Modern History", the book has been substantially rewritten for the current edition, with a section on the period after 1945, a new bibliography, new maps, and updated factual appendices.