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Looking for Livy

In response to:

The Bad Tooth from the June 15, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

In reviewing The First Duce: D’Annunzio at Fiume (NYR, June 15), Luigi Barzini writes that Michael Ledeen knows more about modern Italian history than all living Italian historians with the exception of Rosario Romeo and Renzo de Felice. This judgment, delivered with breathtaking assurance to an audience for the most part unable to verify it, demands immediate refutation, not because it exaggerates the value of Ledeen’s written work (which I respect), but because it suggests a poverty of Italian historical scholarship which is not in accordance with the facts.

The work of Franco Venturi, Leo Valiani, Roberto Vivarelli, Nicola Tranfaglia, Mario Isnenghi, and Emilio Gentile, along with the recent collectively authored Storia d’Italia published by Einaudi, can stand comparison with the best history of the modern and contemporary periods being produced in other Western countries, including France and the United States. Mr. Barzini may deplore the recent furor over Renzo de Felice’s interpretation of Mussolini, as I do; but he should not allow his conservative political inclinations and his justifiable concern over Italy’s present situation to distort his evaluation of Mr. Ledeen’s work, which deserves more serious treatment than Mr. Barzini has given it.

Robert Wohl

University of California, Los Angeles

Luigi Barzini replies:

Most contemporary Italian historians, including some of the distinguished names mentioned above, have the understandable habit of deploring the way things turned out and would prefer events to have followed a different course. To be sure we all share such or similar regrets. Nevertheless a real historian (like Rosario Romeo and Renzo de Felice) always suspects that things turned out the way they did because that was the only way they could turn out. He also tries not to force events into the Procrustes; bed of tidy ideological explanations, no matter how attached he is to them.

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