A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism

Written by Caroline Moorehead
Review by Sarah Bower

I have to confess I had never heard of the Rosselli family before reading this biography. My ignorance may be partly symptomatic of the way in which Nazism came to overshadow fascism in the 20th century. In this meticulous and very readable book, Moorehead gives a clear account of how the fascist phenomenon arose in Italy out of a combination of political idealism and naiveté and the bitter aftermath of World War I. The Rossellis—Amelia and her two sons, Carlo and Nello—were well-off intellectuals from Florence. They were Jewish, but that is largely incidental to the story of Italian fascism, which set itself against intellectuals far more than against Jews. Carlo, in particular, was a visionary political activist who aspired not merely to a democratic socialist Italy but to a united Europe. His efforts foundered, however, among the kind of rowdy political divisions which characterise Italian politics to this day.

Although this is in many ways a tragic tale, full of great suffering and deprivation, Carlo and Nello Rosselli are endearing figures, large, roly-poly optimistic men, devoted to their families, great dispensers of humour and nicknames, and this comes through in the book, as does the sheer eccentricity of Italian fascism—d’Annunzio and the occupation of Fiume, Marinetti and The Futurist Cookbook. The story often made me smile, but just as often seemed chillingly timely in this time of rising nationalism.