1. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War. A vivid and entertaining look at a major European fascist who remains neglected by Americans (I don’t even think this book has a U.S. edition). I was surprised how readable this book was, given its length and subject matter. The words “rollicking” and “psychopath” come to mind. He was nonetheless one of the most influential European writers of his time.
2. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-1945. One of the classics, readable and comprehensive and one of the best places to start. One thing I learned from this pile of books is how hard some of those leaders worked to have the mid-level bureaucracy on their side. The centralization often occurred at higher levels, for instance Mussolini had 72 cabinet meetings in 1933, but only 4 in 1936. The Italian Fascist party, by the way, was disproportionately Jewish, at least pre-1938.
3. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism. Along with Payne, one of the core books to read, stronger on analysis while Payne has more historical detail. He is especially clear on how the fascists built up and refined their political coalitions over time, and the conflicting roles of party and nation in the history of fascism.
4. R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Dictatorship. I’ve only read parts of this one, but it seems to be the best detailed historical account of a non-Nazi fascist regime. If you wish to know, for instance, how and why the Italian fascists reformed Italian public holidays, this is your go-to source.
5. Alexander de Grand, Italian Fascism: Its Origin and Development. Highly focused and to the point, also has an A+ quality annotated bibliography. It considers regions of Italy, demographic issues, looks at the arts, and for such a short book gives the reader a remarkably broad and multi-faceted perspective. Overall this book emphasizes how deeply rooted fascism was in so many other Italian institutions and ways of life.
6. I’ve also been reading plenty of Benedetto Croce, including his history of Naples and History, its Theory and Practice. He is oddly boring and non-concrete, but was a consistent opponent of the Italian fascist regime, except for the first two years of Mussolini’s rule (he later claimed that was for tactical reasons). In any case, the reader learns that the opposing side doesn’t always have a good ability to articulate why bad events are happening. I can recommend Fabio Fernando Rizi’s very good history and survey, Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism.
7. Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. This beautiful short novel (also a movie) is especially good on anti-Semitism in Italy, how youth process political collapse in their countries, and how events can outrace your expectations and leave you in a haze.
Some books on Italian futurism are coming in the mail.
Overall I did not conclude that we Americans are careening toward fascist outcomes. I do not think that notion is well-suited to the great complexity of contemporary bureaucracy, nor to our more feminized and also older societies. Furthermore, in America democracy has taken much deeper roots and the system of checks and balances, whatever its flaws, has stood for a few hundred years, contra either Italy or Germany in their fascist phases.
Still, I did not find this reading reassuring, as people will support many bad things in politics. The Italian war in Ethiopian was remarkably popular, but exactly why? We Americans could (again) do something quite bad, but without being fascists.
Less directly on fascism, but by no means irrelevant to the topic, I can recommend two new books:
Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: A Biography. Long, thorough, but readable treatment, focusing on more on his poetry than the political writings.
And I have been enjoying my ongoing browse of Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life.