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4.3 out of 5 stars63
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 7 January 2014
The subject of this biography Gabriele D'Annunzio is a truly strange character that almost none of us has ever heard of, but who had a profound influence on Italy before and after the first world war.

I think Francis Wheen nails it with his comment on the back that "This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character..."
D'Annunzio was so strange, riddled with odd character traits, he really was a person you just couldn't make up. I won't go on and on, if you read it you'll find out what I mean.
I have to mention that Lucy Hughes-Hallett writes with amazing fluidity and elegance. She seems very psychologically acute and it's really hard to see how anyone else could have done this better.

A couple of things I didn't like about the book:
it doesn't start from the beginning, the timeline chops and changes at the beginning so you get to hear about really extraordinary exploits when you have no measure of the man, and then it goes into linear time again and you have the young D'Annuzio who is brilliant at school and always seeking mentors and women etc...

It's just too long. At 644 pages, I was getting fed up to the back teeth of the perverse pathological nature and antics of the eccentric subject and I thought that it would have been an even better read at about 350 pages. I suppose she was really comprehensive and did not want to leave any telling details out.

In conclusion
An extremely interesting, really well written book about an unforgettable character, you will learn a great deal if you read it and you may not agree that it's too long, so all in all 4 stars instead of 5.
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on 8 December 2013
I teach an AS-level History paper in totalitarian states, which includes Mussolini's Italy. So I'd heard of D'Annunzio and his seizure of Fiume. Amazingly, as a child I'd even visited Fiume (now Rijeka) in what was then Yugoslavia on a school cruise, which time it was a faded, shabby, and plaster-peeled shadow of its former self. But I knew very little about D'Annunzio's astonishing life and career. This book has the great virtues of being about a modern phenomenon and being written in an extremely readable way. I couldn't put it down. D'Annunzio was completely reckless in every way with himself and everyone else he came across. A shameless lothario, adventurer, an aviator who pioneered aerial bombing, a fantasist and visionary, he was horrifically misguided with his indulgent love of violence and nationalism that made him a proto-fascist. No wonder Mussolini admired him. The author paints her picture brilliantly through a narrative that is essentially a flashback from where she starts the book. Frankly, at well under a tenner the book is a bargain - if you have the slightest interest in history this will grip you with the opportunity to read about someone who created his own mythical image. Best historical biography I have read for years.
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on 27 January 2014
This is the best biography I have read in recent years. The timeline is unusual but gets to the essence of the character far more quickly than the alternative of working out the nursery years in detail and then losing energy just when the character becomes truly interesting. D'Annunzio himself remains beyond my understanding and despite his many obsessions, it is really only in his final years in virtual exile at Gardone freed of financial worries by the state to build his Vittoriale that there is any predictability in his life. The book gives a fine and unusual view of the developing Italian nation, the need to unite disparate peoples by the shedding of blood in wars that could have been avoided, the shameful waste of compatriots' lives in the doomed assaults on entrenched Austrian troops in the alps, the influence of the distant Versailles Treaty negotiations on the early development of Italian fascism, and the role of form and rhetoric in shaping political function. D'Annunzio was never far from this action, although while the prototypical fascist leader he never endorsed the particular strain practised by Mussolini. The book is highly readable, in fact even exciting towards the end. A very few parts (mainly vernacular sexual terms and references to current technologies) might have been written or omitted to please me better, but those are minor quibbles.
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on 3 December 2013
This is a fascinating biography of a character largely unknown in the UK who exerted an unfortunate influence on his contemporaries and posterity. His larger than life persona is well covered in this absorbing if long biography.
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on 4 February 2014
I had never even heard of d'Annuzio and I do not consider myself to be ignorant on 19th and 20th C history so this was fascinating. I really recommend it for its very clear prose and its beautiful style - but with two exceptions.

(1) For a biography it jumps around a little instead of being a chronologically progressive story which does make the book harder to follow. There are reasons for this but I still think it could have been more sequential. (2) I object to the word "cunt" which is not the same as Nancy Mitford's "my golden cunt" but refers to a part of the female anatomy rather than a mole embossed on her letterhead. A lot of female readers will object to the C word and there must have been a less objectionable way of saying this in a book which is laden with sexual language.

Very good writing and gets it five stars but has a few problems.
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on 12 February 2013
I was very interested to read a review of this book in the Daily Telegraph. I've been to d'Annunzio's house on Lake Como and seen what an extraordinary character he was, so I was keen to get this study of the man and the artist. It is well-written in an interesting, non-chronological way and the author's considerable scholarship is evident without being obtrusive.

My first 'serious' purchase for the Kindle and I find I forget that I am holding a piece of electronica, as the writing draws me in.
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on 6 October 2015
Brilliantly readable book from start to finish. Being partly Italian I was hoping that I would get to like the man. No! He just got more and more despicable despite the fact that clearly the author was fascinated by him as were hundreds of men and particularly women! My only criticism of the book was where she justified d'Annunzio's insistence that on a particular occasion the army shoot Italian prisoners of war visible across the enemy lines in the belief that they were cowards. She blandly justified his actions by stating that Italian law allowed this. On the basis of such arguments Nazis who tortured and shot Jews, communists and partisans were justified in using the 'I was following orders' excuse because German law allowed it! At the end one could not help but agree with somebody in Mussolini's high command who on hearing about d'Annunzio's death said 'At last!'
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on 9 September 2014
Exceptionally well researched, very worthy and consequently dull to read, award-winner or not. How do you make a man as colourful as this so monochrome ?
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on 22 February 2014
Memo to author: next time you drop a MS and get the chapters all over the place (or have a PC glitch) - and don't re-arrange the final draft because it would mean missing a deadline - own up. I am sure your publisher will give you more time......
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on 28 December 2013
Above all, I enjoyed every minute spent reading this book.

I can see why it has won an award: it is obviously the product of a lot of research (and the author cites her sources quite carefully - how refreshing in a popular biography); she writes in engaging prose; she does not hide her personal view of her subject (an appalling man but an irresistibly interesting one); and she gives us everything we need to form our own view of him - though admittedly it's likely to coincide with her own.

I wondered for a while whether the author's narrative device really worked, giving us snapshots of D'Annunzio at several points in his life before she returns to the beginning and starts the comprehensive chronological narrative. On reflection, I think the introductory chapters give us a bare-bones portrait of the man and his character, giving the reader a perspective which fills out as the conventionally ordered narrative progresses.

What the book isn't is an evaluation of D'Annunzio's literary output. While his own self-publicity and self-aggrandisement account for part of his popular following in Italy, nevertheless he would never have become a national hero without his literature - poems, stories, novels and plays - making him, at least in popular perception, a Renaissance man transplanted into the late 19th/early 20th century.
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