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Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: "BERLUSCONI" by Alan Friedman and Hachette Books

Image credit:
Courtesy of  Hachette Books.

An American journalist, Alan Friedman, chronicles the spectacular life of the Italian man for all seasons, Silvio Berlusconi, in an authorized biography with unprecedented access to the protagonist.

Discussion Items:

1. Organized Format
2. Writing Style
3. AC Milan: The Crown Jewel
4. Notable Quotes
5. Conclusion
6. About the Author

"He is a relentless entertainer, an unabashed salesman, a seller of dreams." --- Alan Friedman quoted on page 6.

"I am a natural-born seducer! When my enemies accuse me of being a natural-born seducer they think it is criticism. But I am always open to others, and I always try to imagine myself in the shoes of the other person. So when somebody is convex I become concave, and if somebody is concave, then I make myself convex. In this way I always succeed in establishing a personal rapport, a feeling, a chemistry with the person I am dealing with."

--- Silvio Berlusconi quoted on page 9 in "BERLUSCONI: The Epic Story of the Billionaire Who Took Over Italy," published by Hachette Books in October 2015 with a list price of  US $28 and US $14.99 for the Kindle edition.

Real estate development. Media. Politics. Sport. It is rare for one person to dominate all four sectors in their country of birth. But Silvio Berlusconi is not an ordinary man. He was born without any advantages in terms of family name, inheritance or influence. Yet he became a self-made man in all facets of the word.
"I wrote an honest book neither pro or con. An intimate book about the most influential man of the last 20 years."

Translated from the Italian by Steve Amoia.

Berlusconi selected a notable and respected foreign financial journalist and provided him with rare access to tell his story. Let's take a longer look at this book's content about a young man from humble origins who aspired to much more in life.

1. Organized Format

Mr. Berlusconi discussing this book in English.

"I agreed to cooperate with Alan Friedman because I trust him. As Steve Jobs said to his biographer, 'I will tell you my story. You will write what you like'."

"Quindici mesi fa, quando questo progetto ebbe inizio", rivela in una nota Alan Friedman, "dissi a Silvio Berlusconi che non gli avrei fatto sconti e che non stavo scrivendo la storia di un santo, ma la storia di una vita straordinaria, nel bene e nel male".

"Fifteen months ago, when this project first began," Alan Friedman disclosed in a note, "I told Silvio Berlusconi that I wasn't going to make any concessions and I wasn't going to write the life story of a saint. But a story of an extraordinary life, for better or worse." 

Source: Repubblica Politica, "My Way," Alan Friedman scriverà la prima biografia autorizzata di Berlusconi, 15 giugno 2015.

Translated from the Italian by Steve Amoia.

There is a prologue, fourteen chapters, and a detailed index. The author also included a generous section of images from the protagonist's personal and professional collection.

According to Mr. Friedman's Twitter account on 15 October 2015, this book will be translated into 13 languages. The author's mastery of the protagonist's mother tongue should also be noted. Mr. Friedman carried out over 100 hours of interviews with Mr. Berlusconi which encapsulated a myriad of complex topics and diverse global leaders. Chapeau.

In many ways, this is more of an American success story than an Italian one. His father, Luigi, imbued a reverence for Americans in a young Silvio that never departed him. Berlusconi embraced American ideals and business practices that most Italians of his era shunned. He is the classic entrepreneur constantly looking for the next deal. It was a trait that began at a young age when he tutored classmates at his Salesian high school. He would later sing Frank Sinatra songs on the Costa Cruise Lines before earning a degree in Commercial Law at the University of Milan.

2. Writing Style

With President Obama at the White House on 15 June 2009.

This book was patterned after the Richard Nixon-David Frost interviews in the late 1970s that left an indelible impression on the author. "I always told Berlusconi that my model was the Frost-Nixon interviews. I said it on many occasions. I said it when he signed the release forms for this book and for the TV series..." (Page xii)

The author's writing style is journalistic, engaging, humorous, personal, educational and above all, honestly objective. The story is presented as a long organized interview with a documentary level of detail.

Friedman clearly won the trust of Silvio Berlusconi and perhaps morphed into a father-confessor figure. Berlusconi stops a little short of pushing the ball over the line, so to speak. Especially in the "Bunga Bunga" discussions and speaking about his many legal battles where the protagonist adamantly claims he is beyond reproach as much as Caesar's wife would ever be. Even after 61 lawsuits and to date, one guilty verdict. In many ways, Berlusconi is the ultimate survivor.

Perhaps after spending 100 hours discussing the twists and turns of his long life, Berlusconi saw Friedman in a different light. I sensed that Berlusconi was talking to a trusted friend who simultaneously was kept at a safe distance and told enough to do his job. We also have to remember Berlusconi's early training as a lawyer and the fact that several lawsuits against him are still pending. Which might make his responses seem boring or controlled to some reviewers such as the respected Italian football/Italy historian and English academic, John Foot.

This book also chronicles the social, cultural and political climate in Italy during Berlusconi's lifetime which makes it a valuable historical resource in and of itself. There is also significant geopolitical analysis of other international leaders from Berlusconi's era. This may be interpreted as a negative aspect depending upon your stance. Political aficionados will enjoy this type of deviation from the protagonist's life story. Others won't appreciate Friedman's analyses in this arena, even though they are crafted by an expert journalist, because Berlusconi isn't the main focus.

3. AC Milan: The Crown Jewel

Image credit: AndhikaMPPP.

Silvio Berlusconi purchased Milan at a time when the historic club was on its knees. A betting scandal in Italian football during the early 1980s along with two relegations saw the Rossoneri in a distinct rebuilding phase.

The author provided only one chapter for Berlusconi's Milan and it was entitled, "Apocalypse Now." The title reflected how the team was first presented, helicopter style with cinematic affect, to its fans when Silvio took over the team. Friedman does not specialize in soccer; however, thirty years of living in Italy has made him an astute observer of Italian calcio. This chapter impressed me as one written by someone who clearly understood the importance of AC Milan for Berlusconi and why the topic needed to be discussed in acute detail. I thought that more than one chapter could have been dedicated to Milan given its influence in Berlusconi's life.

A few key quotes:

" 'So tell me, what does the coach shout from the bench' demands Silvio Berlusconi. 'Come on, say it! I can't hear you! Louder!' Inzaghi (Filippo) was once a striker, a key player for both Juventus and Milan, one of the most prolific scorers of all time. But today he is like a rookie before his first professional match. He almost shivers as Berlusconi eggs him on, clearly uncomfortable.

'Attack!' he responds weakly...

'No. No. No,' scoffs Berlusconi. "Is that the best you can do? We are in a stadium. Let me show you how it is done.' Berlusconi puffs out his chest like Popeye and screams at the top of his lungs the word "ATTACK!' " Silvio Berlusconi, Alan Friedman and Filippo Inzaghi quoted on pages 62 and 63.

"He may not have dictated the formation but Silvio Berlusconi certainly loves to talk about the game, the technical and tactical aspects of the game. He loves to talk with the coaches, sort of in the way the owner of a newspaper likes to speak with his editor. The owner appoints the editor and the editor is free to decide his editorial line. But the owner can change the editor if he wants to. Same thing with the owner of a club and his coach" --- Adriano Galliani of AC Milan quoted on pages 68 and 69.

"The real significance of Milan for me is that Milan reminds me of my childhood, and it reminds me of my father. My father and I would talk about Milan almost every night when he returned home from work... So when I was first contacted in 1986 about the possibility of buying Milan, I immediately thought of my father, and went for it." --- Silvio Berlusconi quoted on pages 69 and 70.

"I thought Sacchi (Arrigo) would be the right coach form Milan because I had been observing how his team played, a team that was not playing defensively, like so many Italian teams. For many years Italian soccer was a game that was played defensively, as though a tied score was good enough. Sacchi was exhorting his team to play hard and to win, to want to attack. I remember first meeting him for lunch, together with Galliani (Adriano). I liked him a lot even though he seemed to be a difficult character." --- Silvio Berlusconi quoted on page 73.

"Ancelotti (Carlo) was a hard worker, and he was always open to new ideas. We were always in total harmony, in total synch about the formation. He also had an excellent rapport with the players. A great coach is not just technically competent but someone who acts like a father to the team." --- Silvio Berlusconi quoted on pages 74 and 75.

"The day at Milanello seem to have revitalized him. He has been talking soccer. His passion. Indeed Berlusconi's lifelong obsession with soccer is one of the defining elements of the man's psyche. It informs his approach to business, to entertainment, to politics, and to life in general.

'I think of soccer as a universal metaphor for life. It is not only a national passion in Italy but around the world. It is a contrast between good and evil, between friends and enemies, and there is a referee who must be impartial. Just like in life. There is an adversary, and you have to face him, and you have to want to be better than him, and you have to beat him with elegance and style, you have to play beautifully and not in a careless manner. You have to convince everyone who is watching that you are the best of them all, just as one must do in life'. " --- Alan Friedman and Silvio Berlusconi quoted on page 80.

Silvio Berlusconi and Alan Friedman discussing AC Milan, Fabio Capello, Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Ancelotti:

"The media was all against us. The newspapers said that it was I who truly wanted to be the manager and by choosing Capello, I wanted to send my butler on the bench. But things weren't this way and Capello demonstrated it immediately with a string of successes."

'You, as a club president, did you ever impose a starting lineup on your manager?'

"Imposed? No. Suggested? Yes. Quite frequently. I'm always in communication with my managers. We speak about the lineups and each player before every game. Sometimes, I don't agree with the manager. In these cases, he always comes out on top."

4. A Few Notable Quotes

On closing his first real estate partnership deal at the age of 25:

"He (Pietro Canali) offered me five percent. I told him I preferred to have a zero attached to that five, meaning fifty percent. I wanted to be a fifty-fifty partner. He said I was crazy, that I was just a kid." Page 26

On how he took on Italy's state television monopoly to create TeleMilano58:

" 'For us in Italy, like everywhere else in Europe, public television was the only TV available. It was a state monopoly that nobody ever thought of taking on... It seemed impossible to scale this Mount Everest, impossible to take on the state broadcaster. I guess you could easily call the battle which ensued an epic battle'. "

"The battle would indeed be epic, it would be highly controversial, and it would make Berlusconi into a billionaire..." Pages 42 to 43.

On if he went into politics to save his business holdings:

"All his life he has been accused of going into politics only to save his business empire and to achieve immunity from prosecution. 'These are absolute lies. This is the opposite of reality. I would have done a greater service to my companies if I had remained on the job, if I had not gone into politics.' " Page 89

On George W. Bush and Berlusconi's love for the USA:

"There are not many politicians like him. What I liked best about Bush was that his 'yes' meant yes and his 'no' meant no, just like me. So we had a lot in common." Page 107

I told George the reasons why I loved America and why I considered it the greatest democracy on the planet." Page 116.

Vladimir Putin on Berlusconi:

"Putin, years after they had met, would call Berlusconi 'the last of the Mohicans' and would laud him as being among Europe's great leaders, an opinion not universally shared... 'Well, I might be wrong but in my view Mr. Berlusconi is a man who does not just think in terms of election campaigns and the next electoral cycle. His life is not measured by electoral cycles: He has a strategic vision'." Page 127

On the infamous "Bunga-Bunga parties:"

" 'Would you like to see the famous bunga-bunga room? Do you have the courage? Do you dare?
Follow me! Here we are!'

The so-called bunga-bunga room seems to be just a big dining room... 'Of course it is, because this is a dining room, it is the room where the soirees took place,' he explains with a big smile.

There was no sex, only dinners with music?

'I might add ... that even if there had been sex, here in a private house, it would not have been a crime'..." Pages 139 and 140.

"I'm seventy-four years old, and although I'm definitely naughty, the idea of thirty-three girls in two months seems a bit much, even for a thirty-year-old." Page 142

On a guilty verdict in August 2013:

"After nearly 20 years of court proceedings, Berlusconi's fate was decreed in just one minute and fifty-six seconds by the chief justice. Berlusconi remembers these as the worst two minutes in his life. Across Rome, jubilant anti-Berlusconi crowds took to the streets to cheer the court sentence..."

"The law under which I was convicted says that in order to be convicted of this crime, you need to have personally signed the tax return... I never signed a single document at Mediaset." Pages 242 and 243.

On the new Asian investment into AC Milan:

"The Milan brand is worth a lot, and when we quote AC Milan on the stock exchange in Asia, probably in 2016, it should achieve a great market valuation and become a company which earns a lot of money. I will put up one hundred fifty million euros myself to buy new players, and the Asians will put in five hundred million. But I will keep control." Page 266

5. Conclusion

Pablo Picasso once said, "It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction." This wonderfully crafted book chronicled the incredible life journey of "A natural-born seducer," Silvio Berlusconi. Mr. Friedman captured the complexity, essence, passion, sheer force of will and vision that defines  Silvio Berlusconi. This biography will become a seminal work on the man in a life that was always experienced as "a seller of dreams."

Please Note:

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the American publisher of this book, Hachette Books. I was not financially compensated by the author, publisher or by any party who would benefit from a positive review.

6. About the Author

Photo credit: Basso Cannarsa.
Courtesy of Hachette Books.
Alan Friedman is a journalist, bestselling author, television personality and producer, and documentary maker who has spent the past 30 years as an award-winning correspondent and commentator with The Financial Times of London, The International Herald Tribune, The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal Europe, and Italian television. Mr Friedman is also a former contributing editor at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. He is presently an opinion columnist for Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

His last book was widely credited with causing the collapse of the last Italian government in February 2014. He was the first American journalist to receive the Gold Medal of Honor from Italy's Parliament.

Biographical text about Mr. Friedman courtesy of Hachette Books.

--- Text courtesy of Beyond The Pitch and One World Sports. 

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015.

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