The great illusionist: Silvio Berlusconi and Italian politics, James L. Newell,Manchester University Press, 2018

This book is about one of the most remarkable European politicians of recent decades, the four times prime minister and media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi, and about his contribution to the dramatic changes that have overtaken Italian politics since the early 1990s. Since 2013, Berlusconi’s career seems to have entered a new and possibly final phase, in which he is occupied less frequently in setting the political agenda than in reacting to agendas set by others. Consequently, the time is now right to consider his legacy and how and why he has changed, or failed to change, Italian politics in the period since his emergence. The basic question underlying the text is thus: from the vantage point of 2017, would Italian political history of the past twenty-five years look substantially different had Berlusconi not had the high-profile role in it that he did? Ultimately, we can never conclusively answer such a question; but asking it makes it possible to contribute to a broader debate of recent years concerning the significance of leaders in post-Cold War democratic politics. Having considered Berlusconi’s legacy in the areas of political culture, voting and party politics, public policy and the quality of Italian democracy, the book concludes by considering the international significance of the Berlusconi phenomenon in relation to the recent election of Donald Trump, with whom Berlusconi is often compared. The book will appeal to anyone with an interest in Berlusconi the man, in Italian politics or in the growing significance of populist leaders.

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