Denis Mack Smith, "whose myth-destroying interpretation of Italian unification infuriated many Italian historians but established him as the pre-eminent British writer on modern Italy," died July 11, the New York Times reported. He was 97. In his first book, Cavour and Garibaldi, 1860: A Study in Political Conflict (1954), Smith "upset a well-defended orthodoxy that had been entrenched for almost a century," historian David Gilmour wrote in 1997.
In Italy: A Modern History (1959), Smith "caused further outrage by refusing to regard Italian fascism and the rise of Benito Mussolini as an aberration," the Times noted. In 1985, Jonathan Steinberg wrote: "There are not many historians who matter. Not many whose works have changed the way people see themselves. Of that little list, there is an even smaller number whose works have mattered to those in another society." Smith, however, was a writer whose early work "told many Italians what they did not want to hear, but told them at a special point in their history when they had no choice but to listen." An expanded version was published in 1997 as Modern Italy: A Political History. Smith's other works include two books on Mussolini as well as Italy and Its Monarchy; Mazzini; and Cavour.