Alexander Stille is San Paolo Professor of International Journalism at Columbia. His most recent book is a memoir, The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace.
 (October 2019)

Follow Alexander Stille on Twitter: @a_stille.


Breaking the Silence in Calabria

A flag with the anti-mafia slogan ‘I see, I hear, I speak’ and a picture of Lea Garofalo at her funeral, Milan, 2009. Garofalo was killed by the ’Ndrangheta after testifying against her husband and brother, who were members.

The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World’s Most Powerful Mafia

by Alex Perry
When I traveled to Calabria in the early 1990s, its mafia, known as the ’Ndrangheta, had a far more pervasive and suffocating hold on the region than the Cosa Nostra had on Sicily or the Camorra had on Campania. In the plains around the port city of Gioia Tauro, the …

The Sins of Celibacy

On August 25 Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò published an eleven-page letter in which he accused Pope Francis of ignoring and covering up evidence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and called for his resignation. It was a declaration of civil war by the church’s conservative wing. Viganò is a former apostolic nuncio to the US, a prominent member of the Roman Curia—the central governing body of the Holy See—and one of the most skilled practitioners of brass-knuckle Vatican power politics. He was the central figure in the 2012 scandal that involved documents leaked by Pope Benedict XVI’s personal butler, including letters Viganò wrote about corruption in Vatican finances, and that contributed to Benedict’s startling decision to abdicate the following year. Angry at not having been made a cardinal and alarmed by Francis’s supposedly liberal tendencies, Viganò seems determined to take out the pope.

Not So Funny

Beppe Grillo

Siamo in Guerra: Per una nuova politica [We Are at War: For a New Politics]

by Gianroberto Casaleggio and Beppe Grillo

Comico e Politico: Beppe Grillo e la crisi della democrazia [The Comic and the Politician: Beppe Grillo and the Crisis of Democracy]

by Oliviero Ponte di Pino
The immediate future of Italian politics is now in the hands of a famous comedian whose party might form an alliance with a far-right party that once advocated the secession of the northern regions of Italy. Both parties share an antagonistic attitude toward the European Union. How did all this …

The Last Slaves in Mauritania

Noura, an elderly haratin woman in front of her house in the village of Tejala, Mauritania, 2013

Prêcher dans le désert: Islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie [Preaching in the Desert: Political Islam and Social Change in Mauritania]

by Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem
You can both see the desert and feel its presence in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, which goes months at a time without rain. Although it is a city of one million people, rivulets of sand collect along the main paved thoroughfares of the city center, in front of a …

The Pope Who Tried

Monsignor Francesco Borgongini-Duca, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Francesco Pacelli, Benito Mussolini, and Dino Grandi at the signing of the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, February 1929

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe

by David I. Kertzer
During the past fifty years, most of the debate on the Catholic Church’s relationship with fascism has focused on the wartime period and the Vatican’s response to the Holocaust. Did the virtual silence of Pius XII, who became pope in early 1939, about the mistreatment and extermination of Europe’s Jews …


A Film Without a Country

A scene from Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital

Rightly or wrongly, we expect something different from the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars—something specific to the country that produced it, something that takes us out of the usual Hollywood way of making movies. The case of Human Capital, which was Italy’s entry for this year’s Oscar but was not nominated by the Academy, may be instructive in this regard.

Dancing to Nowhere

Toni Servillo and Galatea Ranzi in Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)

Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza is a visual feast, one of the few films that takes full advantage of the hallucinatory beauty Rome. The overripe city stands in stark contrast to the dull, futile, and empty life of the film’s main characters—the frenetic partying, the not-so-hidden desperation and the endless “blah, blah, blah” of their conversation.

From Cocaine to Fascism

Benito Mussolini; drawing by David Levine

Behind Italy’s official façade of bourgeois morality, traditional family life, and patriotism, the early twentieth-century novelist Pitigrilli saw a world driven by sex, power, and greed. Cocaine, his most successful novel, describes a world of cocaine dens, gambling parlors, orgies, lewd entertainment, and séances; the principal occupation of the characters is distracting themselves from the horrors of real life. Cocaine appeared in 1921; the following year, Benito Mussolini and his fascist party came to power. Interestingly, Mussolini, himself a deep cynic and perhaps the shrewdest interpreter of the post-World War I mood, appears to have been a fan of Pitigrilli’s novels: “Pitigrilli is not an immoral writer; he photographs the times. If our society is corrupt, it’s not his fault.”