(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

To create his portrait of the life and career of Mussolini, Lyttle follows three lines of inquiry simultaneously: Mussolini’s political career, his personal life, and the historical events and forces that shaped them. Woven together, these three themes help the reader to understand Mussolini’s personality and his importance in the history of the twentieth century.

Lyttle’s primary focus is Mussolini’s lifelong quest for power. The future dictator grew up in a small village in northern Italy. His early views were influenced by those of his father, a blacksmith and a leader of the local branch of the Italian Socialist Party. It would also seem that young Benito had an innate rebelliousness against all forms of established authority and that, although very intelligent, he was a great discipline problem in school. After graduation, he could not settle into a life as a teacher, instead wandering off to Switzerland and drifting into a job as a bricklayer.

Throughout his life, Mussolini apparently took great pleasure in breaking laws and ignoring conventions. He was thrown out of Switzerland when he became a Socialist agitator, and he was often jailed for his political activities in Italy after returning. He became the editor of several Socialist newspapers, and his editorial positions were always revolutionary. Mussolini also led several violent antigovernment demonstrations and, upon being arrested, would use his trials as opportunities to skewer the government in powerfully emotional speeches.

Lyttle explains how Mussolini’s disdain for conventions also characterized his personal life. In a very Catholic country, he lived with...

(The entire section is 682 words.)